We tell stories from the fault lines that separate Americans. Peabody Award-winning public radio producer Trey Kay listens to people on both sides of the divide.
Juvie: Why are so many young West Virginians incarcerated and at what cost?
Every year, West Virginia children are taken into state custody. Sometimes, a case involves parental neglect or drug abuse. Other times, kids commit crimes and are placed in juvenile residential facilities. The juvenile justice programs and agencies have been under a spotlight over the past decade - partly because West Virginia has had one of the highest rates of juvenile incarceration in the country. Lawmakers have passed bills to reform the system but the outcome is mixed. Meanwhile, juvenile incarceration means the system makes decisions for kids - and those changes can last a lifetime.
One hundred years ago West Virginia was home to our nation’s most violent labor uprising. For some, the Battle of Blair Mountain was a watershed moment when coal workers decided their rights were worth fighting and even dying for. The armed insurrection pitted 10,000 coal miners against 3,000 heavily armed coal industry guards and state troopers. The conflict came to a head because of the social and economic forces that hit West Virginia’s coal country after World War I. It was the largest labor uprising in American history and the largest armed conflict since the Civil War. And yet, the Battle of Blair Mountain is largely unknown to most Americans, including West Virginians. To learn more, we follow the path of the miners on their march to Mingo, and learn what precipitated the battle.
Grandfamilies of the Opioid Crisis
WVPB’s Us & Them introduces us to an unusual cultural divide, one that exists within families. It’s a generation split that comes when chemical addiction prevents parents from raising their children. Millions of U.S. households have become “grandfamilies,” a new kind of family structure. This generational Us & Them divide, puts pressure on aging adults and spotlights underlying financial issues that cause a strain between parents and their adult children. West Virginia and other Appalachian states are at the epicenter of this trend and West Virginia has created a unique support program called “Healthy Grandfamilies.” It’s a training program designed to support grandparents when they become caregivers the second time around. This episode originally aired in February 2020 and was recently honored with journalism’s national Edward R. Murrow award.
Hillers & Creekers
Our cultural divides start early in America - some even in childhood. As kids, we learn where we come from and where we belong. Those divisions can really run deep. When Us & Them host Trey Kay was a kid at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia, you were either a ‘hiller’ or a ‘creeker.’ The sorting followed class lines and separated kids based on their family’s income. Trey goes back to his old neighborhood to see if others remember it the way he does. Some of their differences were subtle while others were as basic as the clothes they could afford. But what he learned from these adult conversations is that they had a lot in common. They were all self-conscious and knew that even their shoes could define them. Another thing they all share? The pain of those 40-year-old wounds can sometimes still sting.
The Stigma of Sobriety
America has faced a pandemic, a polarizing election and racial equity battles in the past year. But there’s been another crisis continuing to fester — the opioid epidemic. Deaths are up with more than 1,200 West Virginians dying from overdoses last year. The fight for sobriety now deals with its own tragic divide — When is someone sober?
The road to recovery comes in many forms. For some abstinence works. But others, especially those addicted to opiates, find they need help to get off of such powerful drugs. For their recovery they turn to medication-assisted treatment. That approach has split the treatment world and created a stigma around sobriety.
A Band On The Right Side Of History
Fifty years ago, a band of Black musicians stood up to racism and now they’ve been honored for that action. Bass player John Smith is the surviving member of “The In Crowd,” a Charleston, West Virginia band that played popular tunes in the 1960s. One night at the Charleston Athletic Club, a multi-racial couple was refused service and the band took a stand. John Smith says, “If they couldn’t dance, we wouldn’t play.” There were consequences for that action and now, finally, John Smith and his deceased colleagues have been honored for the role they played in pushing back against racial discrimination.