Whitesburg KY

Pondering state’s 225th birthday

Kentucky’s 225th birthday — Happy quasquibicentennial anyone?! — has been a time filled with toasts and reminiscing about the many things we’ve gotten right.

That’s as it should be. This frequent defender of our state’s honor is among those revelling in what we have done and do best.

Self congratulation is hard sometimes in a place and for a people regularly reminded of our shortcomings. Some of them are so persistent they have not only reached legal bourbon drinking age, but could collect a pension — so long as those last.

That reflex to look critically comes from a deep and abiding love — sometimes in spite of reason — that makes so many of us want to embrace the past and fight for the future. It also leaves us wanting for leading lights who can chart a course for a long-term future while acknowledging we need serious help curing our longtime ills.

It’s been a lengthy search.

Clearly, having a thing for state capitals, this columnist spent his childhood and later part of a career in Danville – the state’s first seat of government. Growing and working in a place where the state’s founding fathers did their founding, where they convened to plot to cleave from Virginia’s power and geographical tail, gives you a sense of history.

It gifts you with chapter-andverse knowledge of some success stories trumpeted this week. There’s the towering and intrepid Daniel Boone’s and stalwart Isaac Shelby’s. There are athletic successes too many to name, although I would love to, women and men of letters from Ann Mason to X Walker and the music of Loretta and Lionel, Monroe and My Morning Jacket.

Moving to the current capital has offered a different perspective on what it means to maintain a government. It’s also tough not to trip over historical markers here.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History here has a tremendous exhibit looking at the “People of Kentucky” in a way that respects the moniker and gives equal esteem to a wide crosssection of the people who have not only ascended to glory but succeeded in helping to enrich and uplift.

That is a great place for us to pivot.

There is an awakening of branded self-esteem that borders on evangelism in Kentucky that is great for the state. Kentuckians are working hard for Kentucky. There is a renewal in our larger urban areas that will continue to trickle down.

But pride in the place doesn’t earn pride of place among the 50 other states. It also won’t help those who live out their lives here now, or help keep and convince those on the creosote fence about residing here. Our intern Austin Horn, who just began his first week, gives his own frank assessment of taking his talents to New York City and the difficult decision of whether to come home.

We need to cultivate excitement, but also get real about about the problems we don’t talk about on birthdays. We need to remember how many people weren’t celebrating the, bicenquasquigenary, because they were suffering from our interconnected and endemic health and socioeconomic problems. We need leaders who acknowledge them and those problems while cultivating and attracting more “People of Kentucky” people.

To do that, we need a generational shift toward creative and competent planning and people who abhore the current politics to pull them off. Asking where we see ourselves in 225 years may be a fool’s errand. Envisioning 10, 25 or even 50 — and following through — will make upcoming birthdays even sweeter.

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