Most of you know I was born and raised in Kentucky. I have a deep love for my home state and am more than a little proud of the bluegrass area. I have traveled all over the world in my thirty some years but I still think Kentucky is one of the most lovely places to be on any given day. The last year has really seen a rise in Kentuckians using social sharing platforms and while going from one username to the next I stumbled upon the Kentucky Project. What I love about this project is that it couples the beauty of an area with the issues that are affecting Kentuckians.  I hope you enjoy this quick look into my home state and take the time to explore the Kentucky Project- Anna

A: First things first Chris, tell us a little about you away from social platforms

C:I am 30 years old.  I was born and raised in Kentucky.  I‘ve lived here my entire life, except during a failed month-long pilgrimage during which I lived in Florida.  I am the oldest of eight brothers and sisters.   I married the love of my life this past May and couldn’t be happier.  I am somewhat of a serial hobbyist but I usually focus on playing guitar, exploring the outdoors, and  photography.  I camp whenever I can.  I try to play guitar every day.  And photography usually fits somewhere in between. I do also have a day job dispatching trucks at a moving company.  It is less than fulfilling.

A:  What spawned the idea to do the Kentucky Project?

C: The Kentucky Project came about somewhat by accident.  First I started the Kentuckygram Instagram account, which had a pretty simple premise: to share pretty pictures of Kentucky.  That got such a great response that I started thinking, hmm, what else can I do with this?   I soon realized that this was an opportunity to do something good for my home state. There were issues in the state that I had heard about through unconventional sources.  For example, I learned about mountaintop removal, a method of coal mining that is literally destroying mountains and causing health problems in Appalachia, at a folk music festival.  I had heard of the heroin problem through word of mouth; from friends that it had affected both directly and indirectly.  But I wasn’t seeing these topics prevalent in the local media.  So, I decided to create a website based off the idea of sharing Kentucky’s beauty and culture through photography but also raise awareness of important Kentucky issues that may be falling through the cracks.  I have a friend from high school , Amanda Joering, that used to write for the Cincinnati Enquirer.  I asked her if she would write a series for the projectcovering the heroin problem in Northern Kentucky, which is unfortunately spreading to other parts of the state.  She was excited to write the series and has been a really big help not only with her articles but her ideas for the project.

A: What do you hope to accomplish?

C: I hope that the Kentucky Project can be truly helpful in both raising awareness and helping to create positive change. Right now, the plan is to continue publishing articles and taking photographs that show all the great things aboutKentucky while shining a spotlight on issues that could benefit from some more attention. This includes the countless natural wonders throughout the state and great businesses and organizations that are helping their communities.  I am active every day on social media, making phone calls, writing, planning, and sending emails in an effort to build an online community around the Kentucky Project.  The more people that I can get to “like” our facebook page, follow the blog, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, the more people will hear the messages of the organizations that we are trying to help and learn about the issues on which we are reporting.  It’s really all about creating a community of people that care about Kentucky.

A: What are some of the issues you would like to highlight?

C: I already mentioned our series covering the heroin epidemic, and we have more articles in that series planned. But, that series could turn into coverage on other drug problems in the state.  Meth is another problem in parts of the state and that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, so I am sure we will address that issue. I am working on research to do a series on the obesity problem in our state, and really our nation.  Kentucky is one of the most obese states in the country!  We are in the top 10.  Now, I recognize that there is debate on the legitimacy of using BMI to measure/define obesity, but when one looks at the upward trend in the statistics, and the correlation between an increase in obesity and an increase in diabetes and other diet related diseases, the data becomes hard to ignore. A related issue that will be addressed is hunger in our state, which will include people that don’t have access to quality whole foods (food deserts), and also people that don’t get enough food at all. Other issues that we plan to cover include the complex problems in Eastern Kentucky, which we have already touched on with our article on the recent SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) Summit, and education and youth development.  Investing in the youth of Kentucky is essential and is how, I believe, we can make a greater and sustained impact on the future of our state.

A:  How do you think photography will enrich your project?

C: Photography is really the cornerstone of the project.  The whole idea was based on photography and I intend to continue to use it to emphasize the mood behind each issue or topic.  You’ll never see an article posted without a photo to accompany it.   I also post a photo taken somewhere in Kentucky at least once a day Monday through Friday to the Instagram account. It enriches the project by amplifying the impact.  The written word is powerful, but when paired with a striking photo, I believe, it is even stronger. Right now I take all the photos for the Kentucky Project, but I’m finding it difficult to keep up.  I would love to continue to be the sole photographer simply because I enjoy it so much. I love travelling to other parts of the state to capture the sights, but if it gets to the point where I need some help I’ll consider finding one or two other photographers who share the values of the Kentucky Project to help me out.  I live in Northern Kentucky so I’d probably look for someone in the far eastern part of the state and someone in the far west to balance out the coverage.

A: Do you have any existing partnerships with existing groups in Kentucky?

C: While there haven’t been any formal partnerships made at this point, we have worked with Drug Free NKYto raise awareness for their fight against heroin.  People can get involved by donating money to them, which can be done directly from their website  or by spreading their message by word of mouth or through social media.  Sharing links to their site or facebook page, or sharing our articles about their cause, which includes links to their website and page, really helps spread the word.  Social media is an amazing tool for spreading this type of message. In the future we hope to partner with more organizations to raise continued awareness to a number of different causes. We have been contacted by several organizations that would like the added exposure and are currently discussing ideas, doing interviews, and writing for the website.

A: How do you think stereotypes from media, like the show Justified,  have impacted our state? I have definitely been asked by some of my West Coast friends if I own a tractor.

C: I’ve never seen the show Justified, but yeah the stereotypes for Kentucky in general are often inaccurate, and sometimes even insulting.  I’m from Northern Kentucky so my upbringing may have been different from people in other parts of the state.  I lived in a subdivision; not out in the sticks but certainly not in a big city either. My parents never owned a tractor like your friend thinks all Kentuckians do, but I worked on my cousin’s farm occasionally growing up so, I was often around farm life. In my opinion, people seem to have a difficult time separating fact from fiction, and they tend to believe what they want to believe.  So, if a fictional TV show makes KY, or any other place for that matter, look or feel a certain way, then people’s opinions on that place are almost certainly influenced. Honestly, It’s hard to comment on this because I am on the inside looking out.  I’m not entirely sure what people in different parts of the country think of Kentucky. So, we are not setting out to break down the stereotypes.  I don’t think the people that believe the stereotypes will have much of an interest in the Kentucky Project.  For all I know, the Kentucky Project may even strengthen some of those stereotypes. That’s because while, sharing the beauty and culture, we are also spotlighting some of the problems in Kentucky.  But, everyone in KY isn’t on heroin, everyone in KY isn’t obese, everyone in Eastern KY isn’t unemployed, but the fact is that too many are and that’s what we are aiming to break down; the problems, not the stereotypes.

A:Do you have any specific stories to share with our readers?

C: I don’t have a specific story to tell as  The Kentucky Project is young and with our launch in November 2013 and development in December we have laid the groundwork for 2014, which will be our first full year in existence.  People can expect to see lots more Kentucky photos, more Kentucky culture, and most importantly information on the Kentuckyissues that we will address so we can all work together to make Kentucky, which is already great, even better. If anyone knows of an issue that is affecting Kentuckians that could benefit from greater awareness, please let us know about it.

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Anna Cox