Grappling with Equality in one of W.Va.'s Poorest Communities


High-profile confrontations between African-Americans and police officers have fueled racial tensions across the country. How do we in Appalachia talk about how these issues affect us here in the mountains?

In cities like Baltimore, New York City, or Ferguson, Missouri, there have been many widely reported, violent incidents these past few years between police and people of color. Here in Appalachia, we don’t hear a lot about these types of confrontations, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. 

Like many places across the country, people in West Virginia have a range of views about race relations and the police. This week’s episode of Inside Appalachia explores a series by Us & Them about issues of gun violence, race, and urban revitalization in Charleston’s West Side, the poorest neighborhood in the city.

This neighborhood also has higher crime, higher drug activity, and higher incarceration rates. Many people in other parts of Charleston think of the West Side as a dangerous place.

Reporter Trey Kay grew up in Charleston, but he admits he rarely visited the West Side. In this series, he explores how this community and the Charleston police are trying to reduce crime. Host Jessica Lilly speaks with Trey about his reporting on these issues in West Virginia.

Deanna McKinney’s Story

And we hear a recent episode of Us & Them, which features the emotional story of Deanna McKinney, whose teenage son was killed on their front porch in Charleston, West Virginia. She shares what she’s doing to try to prevent more deaths by gun violence.

The Struggle to Stay

We’ll also hear the next chapter in our ongoing series The Struggle to Stay. Lately, we’ve been following 21-year-old Derek Akal, a native of eastern Kentucky. We’ve met several generations of his ancestors, and heard the stories of how they moved to and from the coal-camp town in Harlan County, where Derek lives. It’s a place where Derek was cheered on as a star of the football team, but was also attacked while someone called him the “N” word.

“It can happen anywhere. You know it’s just crazy, you know to think, anywhere it can happen. Anywhere. I was so friendly with everybody around here, you know I didn’t think it would happen toward me, but it did. It didn’t push me to move, but it did push me to start looking somewhere else,” Akal said.

When we last left him, Derek had just decided to leave Kentucky, and go somewhere far away. Reporter Benny Becker brings us this next chapter of Derek Akal’s Struggle to Stay.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from The Ohio Valley ReSource, WMMT radio in Whitesburg Kentucky, and the Us and Them Podcast.

Music in today’s show was provided by Marisa Anderson, Ben Townsend, and James and Emma Meadows.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Roxy Todd and Jessica Lilly. Ibby Caputo edited this week’s episode. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Claire Hemme helped with our digital correspondence. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.