“[If outsiders] came down here, they would love it. They would learn that we’re not just hillbillies. We are people of America. And, yes, we’re smart. I try to be smart. I do well in school. My favorite subject is math. Chemistry is my second favorite. I try not to be a hillbilly but it just happens. That’s all you see, around here [is hillbillies].“
Jacob Renfro, Age 15; Evarts, Kentucky:
“I’ve lived here all my life. I love it down here, it’s so peaceful, and everyone knows everybody. It’s just a good community to live in. [I would like to always live in Harlan County] because I love it here. It’s special because of the people around here, and the mountains. The people are all nice. They can relate to you. They’re all really friendly. Whenever you go to big cities, most people aren’t as friendly as they are here.
I travel a lot with my family and they always say, you can’t forget these mountains. Every time I leave this place, it always makes me remember the mountains. It feels great to see the mountains for the first time, after being away.
I’ve lived with my grandmother since I was little. I’m happy about that. She’s a good person; she does about anything in the world for me. She’s part of the City Council so she stays tied up with that a lot. Before she was on City Council, she was a teacher, at KCLC. She’s taught me manners.
Other than [working on the council], me and her like to go out and do stuff; go to the movies or out eat or something. She’s a good cook. She makes meatloaf, roast beef, soup beans, cabbage, greens …. I could go on and on! And cornbread, too. I like cornbread.
[My grandma doesn’t have a garden but] my aunt does. I help with the garden. I do terrible stuff. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. You’ve got to dig all day, pick up flowers, the dead leaves, and rake. It’s terrible. A lot of work! [But] I do get to eat some of what she grows and that makes it worthwhile.
It’s really fun going in the mountains and stuff, too. I like to hike, ride 4-wheelers, hunt. I mainly go hunting with my friends. We hunt deer turkey, raccoons, and squirrel. I’ve never tried squirrel but the craziest thing I’ve ever tried is probably hickory chicken. It’s like a mushroom. It’s awful.
[For fun with friends] We play basketball every weekend. Or play a video game if it snows, or there is bad weather. I [also] like to fish, play basketball. Michael Jordan’s probably my favorite player. I love the ‘Cats (Kentucky Wildcats). I saw them beat Duke and I was so happy.
[One of the happiest times in my life was] going to an NBA game. We saw the Pelicans and the Kings. I was rooting for the Sacramento Kings because I like the players they have on their roster like Willie Cauley-Stein, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins, too.
[One of the saddest times in my life was] When my little brother died. I was eleven. He was a month and four days old. He suffocated while he was sleeping. I was devastated. My family helped me cope.
I don’t currently speak with my dad. My mom lives in Cincinnati, works in a store there. I go visit her a lot. We usually stop and get food on the way there so that’s a bonus. And usually whenever I go there, she has a lot of stuff planned. We’ll go to the museum, to the aquarium, the zoo, sometimes baseball games, roller-skating and stuff. It’s always funny watching her [my mom] go out there and try to skate. Cincinnati has a lot of nice things, but I don’t like it better than I do, here. I feel glad that I get to see my mom, but I just really hate it in Cincinnati. When we’re driving home and I first see the mountains it’s awesome, compared to what I’ve just seen [in Ohio]. I just don’t like the people there [in Cincinnati] and I feel it looks better here, with the mountains. It just brings our community out better.
[If outsiders] came down here, they would love it. They would learn that we’re not just hillbillies. We are people of America. And, yes, we’re smart. I try to be smart. I do well in school. My favorite subject is math. Chemistry is my second favorite. I try not to be a hillbilly but it just happens. That’s all you see, around here [is hillbillies].
I have [experienced racism] a couple of times. One time at school, this bus driver was giving me some racial slurs. He said that my type of people don’t sit in the front, because we’re black - this will be a segregation. Things like that. It made me really mad. I told my aunt because she works at the County Attorney’s office. She called the school board and we had to get interviewed over it.
I want to be a lawyer or a nurse. I wouldn’t mind being a teacher. Those are just the two things that stick out to me. Or a physical therapist. Not sure what I would do as a lawyer, I haven’t given it much thought yet. But that would probably be my go to thing, being a lawyer.”