When I was a young, I would place a card on the back tire of my bike and pedal, noisily, through my neighborhood. I built forts and etched my daydreams on the concrete in chalk. I grew up in a safe, thriving community. I graduated from a good school with invested teachers, who prepared me to continue my studies at WVU. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to realize that not everyone would get the same opportunities that I had.
As a member of WVU’s debate team, I began to observe, and process widespread disparity in opportunity. Often, opportunity alone determines one’s circumstances.
I researched rigorously, and traveled the country arguing for community-driven policy solutions. Then I came to realize that I had spent weeks, hours, whole days researching and advocating for solutions, but nothing had measurably changed.
I would spend the rest of my college career working with local nonprofits, and politicians attempting to level the playing field in tangible ways, mostly through workforce intermediaries.
West Virginians commonly refer to our little slice of the map as, “Almost Heaven.” Though, outside of West Virginia – to those who haven’t travelled through our Mountain Mama – our state is not as uniquely placed.
Despite the inconsistencies and falsehoods, the negative image of West Virginia tends to be the more indelible one.
That image could not be further from the truth. As our population ages, this problematic image will make it more difficult for West Virginia to retain young talent, and to attract it from elsewhere. Further, it will make it easier for others to ignore the positive things that are happening here.
We, all of us, must work to change it.
If we are to posit a more accurate image of West Virginia, it will take all of us from every corner of the state pulling together, and sharing our stories genuinely.
For the next year, I will be working with communities across the state to circulate positive, community-focused pieces about what is working here.
This is where you come in. If you are interested in discussing what’s working in your community, I would love to hear from you! I look forward to diving into this project with you, and spreading the insight that I gain from the experience widely.