Before I began working on this story, I worked with a team to research the community on Charleston’s West Side. Our initial research on age and demographics showed the area is one of the poorest communities in West Virginia and has a higher percentage of Black residents than the rest of the state.
One number that particularly stood out to me: around 25% of the West Side’s population is under the age of 19, according to a 2015 report.
Martec Washington, West Side native and longtime community activist, spoke with me during the initial research for this project and set me on the course that would lead to the eventual story.
I’ve had many conversations with West Virginians about the issues their communities face that often lead to talking about kids. Across the state, they are leaving for better jobs and opportunities in other places. The jobs aren’t here anymore.
But Washington started our conversation with the kids, specifically their safety. Last year, KJ Taylor, an 18-year-old at Capital High School, was shot and killed along Central Avenue in the heart of the West Side.
Washington said the deaths of Taylor and other teenagers on the West Side show that community leaders are not doing enough to get kids involved in activities that keep them away from drugs and gangs.
He spoke about every topic through the frame of the kids in the community. Half-mile walks to the grocery store, rundown playgrounds, basketball courts with fences around them, streets without lights where a kid could be hit by a passing car. Every time the sirens went by his house late at night, he wondered if another kid had been killed.
Everything was about the kids.
Before working on this project, I had interned in Charleston at Mountain State Spotlight, so I was familiar with the West Side but hadn’t spent much time in the community.
The community leaders I spoke with kept talking about the kids, so I decided to do a story about some of the programs that exist for them and what programs are needed.
I encountered a few issues getting in touch with program directors, but once I did, it was fairly easy to find people who wanted to speak with me.
There are more opportunities for reporting about the challenges faced by kids growing up on the West Side. The ones that stand out to me are: How can community leaders improve health outcomes? How can there be better access to healthy food?