Sinclair Community College Preble County’s campus welcomed motivational speaker, Nora Stanger to speak at the college Monday, Feb. 17, regarding overcoming poverty to achieve a higher education.
Born and raised in Appalachia, Stanger, the author of the book Diamonds in the Dew, is an “expert” in poverty.
“I understand poverty, and that’s not something that most people think is valuable,” said Stanger.
Born and raised in the Appalachian region of Lawrence County, Ohio, Stanger was one of eight children and faced poverty from an early age. Her mother, armed with only a high school education, was tasked with raising her children single-handedly in a home which was purchased for $125.
Ridiculed, as divorce was seen as shameful, Stanger’s mother faced criticism and harassment by men. Stanger on the other hand is a “daughter who cannot be loved by her father… Your daddy is supposed to be the one who fights for you, who protects you, who was there and provides. What was wrong with me? What was wrong that he could not love me?” Stanger said.
As a result of her “family situation” Stanger was denied friendship from other children her age, and describes her childhood as a “mom and her children against the world.”
Aside from their financial and family situations, Stanger’s mother was determined to have her children achieve a higher education. Hungry and mentally “tortured,” Stanger describes the every day struggles she faced while in the classroom.
Hearing names called at her such as “white trash” and “welfare trash” she said, “I was well aware your daddy paid for my lunch,” and said she knew she was a “burden to society.”
However, armed by the negativity, Stanger found the determination and motivation within herself to attain a college degree.
Of the eight siblings, six have a college degree, which includes five masters’ degrees, one doctorate, and one law degree.
Rocked by the Industrial Revolution, the people of Appalachia became desperate for financial stability, and turning to the city for employment was the only option for survival. Adapting to their new lifestyle was difficult, as the people of Appalachia were accustomed to bartering, growing, or relying on their own skill sets to overcome adversity.
“The problem was, is they were working 12 to 16 hours a day, if you were 14 and older, you probably had a job, too. Education has never been a real priority in our culture, it’s becoming that way more now. The focus was the family,” said Stanger. The influence of the Industrial Revolution on families, caused them to separate.
However, the Great Depression also took a toll on Appalachian families, as it called “everyone back home,” said Stanger. It was a rarity for the Appalachian culture to sell their farmland, and common for every member of the family to farm, as it is the trade in which they are most talented; “We could raise our food, we could take care of ourselves,” said Stanger.
The coal mining industry and the “War on Poverty” also shaped Stanger’s family life. Stanger tells of wealthy college students from big cities coming into more rural areas such as Lawrence County, and casted pity on her people.
“‘Oh you all are so poor. That’s just awful, here, you deserve this welfare check, you take it,’” said Stanger of the students.
“You know what they started doing to us? They devalued what was inherent in our history.”
Stanger describes the trades which no longer are of value to society such as wood carvers, musicians who have not been taught a formal lesson, but of their heritage. “I’m not trying to be sexist here, but I’m telling you the truth: The best way to break a man’s spirit is to take away his ability to provide for his family. And what our people were being told is, ‘You don’t live up to our standard, there’s something wrong with you, take this check.’ And I’ll tell you what, if somebody’s going to give me free money, I’m going to take it,” said Stanger.“But then you fall into generational.”
Stanger speaks of the 60s era, in which she describes busloads of used clothes that “nobody was going to wear again” and of “commodities,” similar to military rations.
“And then you were supposed to be grateful that they gave you that. But we had quit raising our own livestock, and we had quit working our land and we had lost our own pride,” said Stanger.
Enduring troubling times as a child has prepared Stanger for her “big purpose” in life, and attributes what she has been through to the person she has become today. “Endure, overcome, persevere, because you will then be able to find, closer and closer to what your purpose is,” said Stanger.
Stressing the importance of a higher education, Stanger noted, “You were created for something amazing, something really, really good. Fight for it, keep working for it. I don’t care how tired you get. You don’t give up, and believe me, there were many times where I was right on the edge of it,” said Stanger.