Tears and Laughter: Wilcox needs pride, not pity

I like all of the outside coverage about Wilcox County lately. Regrettably it is loss that has us remembered again. It needs to be written about until it no longer seems like a foreign land lost in the middle of Alabama. Until people become so comfortable with it and familiar with it they can look at it straight – not for its history or its haunted past – but for what it is today.

I thought Sumter County had won out over Wilcox in 2014 as the “poorest county in the nation.” Wilcox was poorest in 2012. It was the same year over 200 million dollars in tax abatements and corporate incentives funneled through here, and it hardly made a ripple. Money – or the lack of it specifically – is only one of the areas problems.

Not to single them out, but take the Wilcox County public school system. It is the sixth most well-funded school system in the state and it is of course controlled by the locally elected Wilcox County Board of Education – a six member board with six year terms.

Over the past five years, the Wilcox County School system has had six different superintendents. There have been five different principals in that time, several vice-principals and just about as many football coaches. Point being, the example of leadership being set for the majority of children and young people in the county has not served them well. There has not been a graduating class in nearly a decade that was able to go through four years of high school under the same strong and united core group of school officials.

It is unfortunate. Especially here where so many of these same students are from broken homes or single-mother households. They need to see competent and moral leadership. They do not learn from just a curriculum. They model what they see.

So look at the next step. Look at what students become, they become our workforce. There have been ample hard feelings toward Golden Dragon Copper for initially not hiring enough people from Wilcox County. Golden Dragon officials did not mince words in responding. They said the workforce in Wilcox County is not qualified.

Another problem was that a good portion of applicants could not pass the drug test. Some lost interest when they found out a drug test was even required. But that is another sad issue that results in areas of high unemployment, both in the Black Belt and beyond. Here we just don’t talk about it much. Just like we don’t talk about how the federal funds meant to help us sometimes hurt us because they at times compete with privately owned local businesses. And we definitely do not discuss how granted money helped build facilities that unintentionally turned out to be in direct competition with Roland Cooper State Park. Its closing helped initiate this most recent surge of coverage. I just hope it continues and no one turns their attention away now. Maybe they can help trace problems back to the source and follow them to a solution, documenting findings all the way.

Wilcox County is probably not going be changed from the outside. It is not something we can be given. It can’t be granted. Nobody can come in and give us higher standards. Nobody can make us choose better. Demanding accountability will help, but Wilcox does not need pity. We need pride. Simple pride, that starts with knowing we are doing our best with what we’ve got.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.