“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today we commemorate the life and service of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is well we do so.
There is little I could add here to the volumes that have detailed the times and wisdom of King. Certainly on this day there have been many words written and spoken that rightly place him in the lexicon of humanity. In recent years we have also began making this a day of service to others, a fitting tribute I think. As I have thought of America’s civil warrior the past few days, my mind has settled on these simple questions. Would he do it again? Was the America that he pointed toward the America we are today?
Have we earned the life of a King?
At a time when too many Americans had accepted the idea that discrimination would remain a fixture in American life, a young Baptist minister said no. He said it calmly and without malice, but no less forcefully. Suffering personal violence and imprisonment to further the rights of all Americans, Dr. King quickly became known as America’s chief advocate for “civil rights.” On one hand that term was appropriate. The approach was civil, and the requested reforms seem today beyond question- unthinkable to deny. On the other hand, the America that King challenged was anything but civil. The degradation suffered by minorities in America were inexcusable. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were the norm. To be black in America was at best a condemnation to second class citizenship, at worst an endangerment to liberty, happiness, and life itself. To be poor and uneducated or from certain regions or population centers was also. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged a nation to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed”. At the time he spoke those words in 1963, in the greatest speech ever given concerning American civil rights, it seemed to be only a dream.
Still, he was not deterred. Dr. King had that ability common within visionaries. An ability to see past the confines of present circumstances and glimpse the possible. To see within a nation filled with so much hate and injustice a new beginning. As he stated “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” It was true. Many Americans who were not of color were beginning to realize that as Lincoln had stated 100 years before, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” King shook a nation and forced us to look at ourselves, our ugly parts, our failings. As has too often been the case in American leadership, change cost him his life.
Less well known than the “I Have A Dream” speech, the last speech ever given by King was in Memphis just hours before his assassination. It seems eerily prophetic in predicting his own death. “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”, he said that night.
But that was not all he spoke of, not nearly. King spoke of imagining looking through history at many of the high points for humanity. The Exodus, Greek and Roman empires, Reformation and Renaissance. Still, he would choose to live at exactly the time in which he did, he explained. The reason? It was then that action was required of mankind for peace and justice. It was there in an America ignoring its promises to itself that he would choose above all. In the jail cells of Alabama, aboard the dangerous buses of the Freedom Riders, marching into the teeth of the Bull Connors of America with their dogs and hoses and hate. In a church in Memphis fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, or a balcony unguarded that terrible next day. King would choose the struggle to which he devoted his life and eventually gave it. He would not shrink from his duty, nor refrain from calling us to our own.
I am not a person of color. I have never pretended that I can imagine what it must feel like, even today in much of America, to be a minority. To celebrate the man that was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, one need not be. King was not a “minority leader”, not even just an “American” leader. He was and is one of those special people who grace our lives and memories but seldom. Those with a righteous strength and faith in their cause. Those who can see beyond the conditions of present failings and inside the hearts of men and nations to a better tomorrow, a better society. A man of vision, of dreams.
In recent days West Virginia has been forced to take a look at our ugly parts. Derelict and irresponsible government leaders and industrial practices have created a crisis. So too has the negligence of “we the people.” More difficult than the inability of many of our citizens to find safe water supplies, more disturbing than the health risks associated with inane practices regarding the storage of dangerous chemicals, more frustrating than the inexplicable failure to have an immediate fail safe for such a disaster, has been knowing that in the end, we are responsible. Like the segregation and hatred Dr. King battled, it has been something we have long turned away from. A condition within that we do not want to acknowledge.
West Virginia is on its knees because of the promises we have broken to ourselves.
To fix it, we must remember the lessons we were taught by King. We have been promised more, and we should demand it. Of ourselves, and those who govern us. Of those who would profit from our resources as well. There is no shame in being governed, no shame in profit either. They are the hallmarks of our great nation. So too is the consent of the governed. Not the apathetic complacency of a people who look away from injustice, but active consent of proper stewardship. We need only have the vision to see past our current failings- to the home that is truly “Almost Heaven.” A West Virginia that benefits from the fact that we are rich in resources, not cursed to be poisoned by them. A home where it is not a health risk to be less than wealthy, or not politically connected.
America has watched West Virginia the past days and some have wondered, ‘how could they let that happen?’
My answer to them is, ‘the same way you have.’
The same way you have allowed someone to tell you what size soda you may purchase. The same way you have allowed someone to tell you what shirt your child may wear to school, or when and what prayer may be uttered. The same way entire sections of your city are unihabitable, or will not even be traveled by your police forces. The same way your banks and investment houses have robbed you, and you paid them bonuses for it.
Judge us not too harshly America. We are you. We have all been lying to ourselves.
So, on this day when we celebrate service to one another and a nation that rediscovers the content of its character, I issue a challenge. Who will join the path of King? Who will speak to a nation and wake it. Who will march and sing in the face of oppressors? Who will demand a nation fulfill the promises we have made to each other? Who will choose to live in this time that demands action, answers, and justice?
Who will earn the life of a King?
“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”
I want to begin this piece by telling you a little bit about myself and where I come from. I grew up in a small town named Eunice that really is no more than a dot on the map, about 45 minutes drive west on Rt. 3 from Beckley. Almost exactly half way between Beckley and Charleston. I went to Pettus Elementary, Marsh Fork Middle School, and Marsh Fork High School…none of which still exist today. Except in the memories of the hundreds who passed through their halls and were forever changed, overwhelmingly for the better.
My grandfather worked in the mines, as did my father and my father-in-law, not to mention countless other friends and their families. My livelihood growing up was strictly provided for by the mines, as was nearly every one of the families that I grew up with. My house was even heated with coal growing up. We would spend hours going to different mine sites that allowed you to load your own truck of coal for personal use. I have had family members who suffer with black lung from years of breathing the dust in the mines. I have had dear friends who died doing the job and ones who still do it and support their families by it to this day.
I have never lived anywhere other than West Virginia, as much by choice as anything else. This is the place I love and the place I want to be. I vacation here, I work here, I shop here, I live here and good Lord willing I will die and my ashes will be scattered here. I tell you this so you can understand that when I speak to the things going on recently in our state, I am not speaking as an outsider or someone looking in. I AM southern West Virginia coal country born-and-bred and wear that distinction with as much pride as anyone from any other part of this great country we call home. I am NOT a number, a statistic, a stereotype or a cause.
I love the forests, the waters, the wildlife and the people of this place as dearly as I love myself. My entire identity is intertwined in the sense of place being from these mountains has instilled in me. That being said, the recent events with the leak by Freedom Industries into the Elk River has shed light on a troubling trend I see in this home that I love. The effects of the spill are still being studied and debated, often hotly. Those who say it is alright to drink the water and those who disagree. There is a grain of division even deeper. An historic trend when anything relating to industry in West Virginia comes into question.
That division is between the people themselves and one that, I would argue, is unnecessary. The driving force behind the division is the same on both sides. I have always viewed myself as a mender of things – be it a friend’s broken heart, a work process that is no longer relevant or a toy car that the wheel has popped off of. I hope to add a little perspective that may bridge the divide. Call me Gorilla if you will (as in the glue, not the animal) or even call me a fool. Still, I feel there is opportunity in every mistake and a chance to learn and grow with every event. Essentially, the division I have seen (both with this disaster and with prior ones our state has suffered) is the division between those who are perceived to support industry and those who are perceived to not.
I use the word perceived because, to me, that is the most important and misunderstood aspect of the whole thing. My own experience and what I think one would find, is that those who are perceived as being ardent supporters of industry (whether chemical or coal) in this state have no fewer questions, doubts and concerns about its impact on the area than those who are perceived as anti-industry. In the same token, those who are touted as “anti-industry” often fully understand the economic and human impact, in terms of livelihood and way of life, that a complete lack or failure of industry in the area would have. Those who work for or with the industries of the state can immediately become defensive at any attempt to question their actions. To them it is a direct attack on their livelihood and a shared history that has gone back in many families for generations. This ardent support of industry doesn’t stem from some great love of coal or chemicals, but more often from a love of family and of place, and the impact loss of industry would have on both. Likewise, those who argue the environmental impact the industries of West Virginia have on the land and the people is too great also share a common driving force. Love of family and of place. Many either live directly in the areas in question, or have family and friends that still do.
I propose that both sides come together and realize there is a common ground and a common goal between them.
The power of the people of West Virginia to see real and positive change in this state- to not repeat the disasters of the past- is best served when all the people stand together as one, undivided. Surely differences of opinion will always exist. Still, we must recognize that the goal itself – preserving our families and protecting our place – is the driving force to overcome any barriers that differences of opinion create. To do so, both sides are going to have to concede some points and let down their guard in the interest of the greater good. Those who ardently defend industry and all things (good and bad) about it, are going to have to realize not everything is an attack on them personally. Simply asking for answers to some very important questions does not equate to a blasphemy of industry in general. To question why an event happened, what led up to it, and what we can do to prevent it from happening again is not being argumentative or irrational. Particularly with one of such magnitude as this recent chemical leak.
I would propose that it is not only our right, but our duty, as citizens of this great state and of society as a whole, to question. Why were thousands of gallons of an unknown, unstudied, and unregulated toxin allowed to be stored in inadequate facilities upstream from a water supply source for literally hundreds of thousands of people? What is the impact, not only on the human population, but the countless numbers of wildlife who have drank from the tainted water supply? What will it do to the aquatic life and future generations of flora and fauna that rely on the river for life? As it travels to areas outside of Charleston, how will it impact greater watersheds that supply sources of water to millions of Americans? How can it be said that it is at a safe level, when those saying it have NOT studied the chemical in question?
These are questions that, regardless of which side of the fence you land on, should be first and foremost on your mind. Likewise, those who fall in the “anti-industry” or “pro-environment” camp need to understand, respect and appreciate the link between the people of this state and industry- the economic impact a collapse of the industries in this state would cause. I love the forests and streams in our state as much if not more than most. Yet I fully understand that if you are worried about how to buy groceries to feed your kids, where you will get the gas money to take an aged parent or sick child to the doctor, or where you will live if you can’t pay your rent this month, there is little joy to be found in the beautiful scenery that surrounds us.
Unlike practices of the past with the industrial giants of this state, I would adamantly argue that you do not have to sacrifice the health of your workers and the people who live in the areas where you do your business to make a profit. You don’t have to poison the environment and disregard basic common sense principles in your business model and practices to make a buck. If you want to do business in West Virginia, I will support you 100 percent. I will also hold you up to a standard of practice that doesn’t treat our people, our resources, and our environment as second class or disposable goods. Show me an industry that makes a profit AND is accountable, and I will show you my full support.
It IS possible to be both environmentally and socially responsible as a company, in addition to being profitable. That should be demanded by the people of this state for any industry – chemical, coal, gas or otherwise – that intends to do business here. In short, the differences that divide us are far less a gap than appears on the surface. We are not so polarized that we cannot bridge the distance between them and come together. United as one West Virginia. Stronger, wiser and just a little more prepared to show the world what we are truly made of. Exactly why we are all so dedicated to this great state of ours. Those bridges we build can and should withstand the test of time. Even when they are built over troubled, poisoned waters.
United, we can demand answers, action, and positive change for West Virginia.
Just one full week into 2014, already there is much to say. As Editor-in-Chief and owner at Beckley Online, I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to our readers. This is something I plan to do more often as we expand our format this year. So, welcome to Beckley Online 2014 and the first installment of The Editor’s Desk.
Let’s begin with a look back.
Not yet two years ago, I was a recently unemployed coal miner due to a downturn in the industry that saw nearly half of all coal miners in West Virginia layed off in a 60 day period. It was sobering. I realized that the industry was not likely to return to its former strength anytime soon, if ever. I decided to say my goodbyes to an industry I had grown to love over the previous five years, and return to my entrepreneurial roots.
An idea I had begun thinking a lot about as I busied myself underground was a new form of journalism for southern West Virginia. A new forum that concentrated on the stories of our people and events. Not a “breaking news” outlet, but one that looked deeper and shined more light on the individuals and issues that are here. One that also moved from the traditional mediums of radio, television, and print into the medium of the new millennium. We needed an interactive media that gave ordinary people an outlet to be heard and informed, local artists to be celebrated, and local businesses to be marketed in a more cost effective way. With a background in marketing, and rarely at a loss for words, what I needed now was a web guru.
At a chance meeting in a local business, I ran into a Beckley native who had recently returned from nearly ten years in Baltimore. His name was Josh Allen. As we talked, Josh began to describe an idea he was developing for an online magazine devoted to the people and issues of southern West Virginia. An interactive forum where all things local could be celebrated. He was designing it himself, as he was a gifted web designer. It was uncanny! After a brief conversation we both knew that this was no coincidence, and decided to join forces.
Beckley Online was born.
Along the way, we formed a larger company to encompass the design and multimedia talents that Josh brought to the table, as well as some of the non-journalism marketing skills that fill the needs of small business. We called this umbrella business 1ne Creative. On March 17, 2012 we launched our online magazine. We were met with mixed results. Some understood and enjoyed our ideas immediately, some thought we were crazy. How could a small Appalachian town provide the base for a multimedia company? What would there be to discuss in an online magazine, and furthermore, who would care? We had a different view, and we still do.
2013 was a big year for us at Beckley Online. We have been fortunate to bring you stories of our local universities and colleges transitioning and expanding, local artists and musicians, and feature some of our shining stars in local business. We have grown to reach new audiences in new places, covered many stories of interest, and met many new friends. Without a doubt, we have many reasons to say thank you.
In July 2013, an amazing thing happened for us. We were contacted by a local USMC veteran, Chris Senopole. Chris was walking across the nation with fellow USMC veteran Adam Shatarsky in support of wounded veterans. Their effort is called The Wounded Walk. As I got to know Chris and Adam and their efforts, I knew this was a very special story. I am still not sure I understand why we were so fortunate to be given exclusive access to this national story, but we are grateful and honored. I like to think it had something to do with how we cover our region and its people.
What resulted from our conversations with these fine Americans was a series of articles that received national attention and recognition. Our work was shared in a national magazine. Our articles were shared and enjoyed by an audience from coast to coast! Heady stuff for our little online magazine that many questioned could survive. In less than two years, little Beckley Online went national.
As gratifying as the professional success has been, it has been the personal contacts with our new friends, local and across the nation, that has made the real impact on us. We have been blessed to know the stories and the hearts of amazing people, and it has forever changed us. Far from resting on our laurels, we are reaching for the stars.
2014 will see many changes for us here. As a result of our growth at Beckley Online and Josh’s design work, our company is expanding. Beckley Online and our marketing and advertising efforts will remain centered here in Beckley. 1ne Creative’s design work will operate under the new name of Allen & Banasky Media (with new partner Andrew Banasky) from Asheville, North Carolina. It is an expansion we are very excited about, and I look forward to my friend Josh having the additional exposure of a larger market that his work deserves. Local clients may still contact us here in Beckley for new design work and customer service.
Already this year, we have a new Mayor for Beckley- the first in more than 26 years. We look forward to conversations with Mayor Bill O’Brien and a new day for our city. Mr. O’Brien brings a love for Beckley and it’s people to the job along with new ideas and energy. Beckley Online is excited about this new opportunity for our community, and being a forum for the city to interact with the new leadership.
Just this week, we set records for low temperatures in Beckley. Beckley Online interacted with city officials to ensure none of our citizens were literally “left out in the cold.” Thankfully, we are aware of no one being without shelter during this time. Our thanks to all involved for making that happen. Also, for our readers in areas affected by the Freedom Industries water contamination, stay tuned. This story is still unfolding, and we will do our best to keep you informed. Our Facebook page will have updates as soon as we receive them throughout.
Late in 2013, we added two enthusiastic and dedicated writers at Beckley Online. Sheree Henderson and Matt Binion are passionate about southern West Virginia. I am honored to work with them. The people they are is even more impressive than their formidable writing skills. I am very proud of our team.
I am also happy to announce to our audience that The Wounded Walk will be active again this April. USMC veteran Ross Delafield will be our champion for this stretch. Ross will walk from New York City to Washington, D.C. raising awareness for suicide prevention among our veterans. Beckley Online welcomes a new brother to the cause, and we look forward to giving coverage and support to Ross as he works for the best among us. We can never do enough to thank our veterans.
I would be remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to thank our advertisers. Many of them have been with us from the start. From the $20 one-time event advertisers, to our annual partners, all of you make Beckley Online possible. Your confidence in us is something we take very seriously. We look forward to giving you even more bang for your buck in 2014!
So, we will be busy in the year ahead. We will be expanding coverage in some existing areas, as well as offering brand new subjects. We will work tirelessly to keep you informed of the people and issues around us. We will celebrate the home we love, but we will also question it when we see the need for answers.
There is a saying I have used my entire adult life. “The only valid form of protest is a better solution. All the rest is just noise.” This principle will guide us in 2014. With your continued support we will fulfill our duty to be something different for southern West Virginia. A venue for interaction. A forum for your thoughts and questions. A celebration of our region and people, and speakers of truth to power.
In previous years, a resident of southern West Virginia had limited options, were he or she interested in pursuing a post-secondary education. In many cases, taking that proverbial leap and moving away simply was not feasible to some prospective students. Fortunately, over the past several years, southern West Virginia has grown to include options for those who may be interested in either a technical field or a college education.
One of the fastest growing educational institutions in the area is New River Community and Technical College. In the ten years since its founding, New River has offered the community of southern West Virginia affordable options with a wide variety of educational and technical programs. Also, in those ten years, the institution has experienced tremendous growth- with its initial facilities on Dye Drive in Beckley, and also at locations in Ghent, Lewisburg, Summersville, and Princeton. New River also offers courses online and through an interactive video network.
In keeping with their evolution as an institution, New River has plans underway to continue to expand- both in physical facilities, as well as curriculum.
Early this year, New River began their Central Administration/ Raleigh County Campus project. The anticipated completion date is set for early fall of 2014. The current Central Administration building and Raleigh County Campus will be moved from its current location on Dye Drive to the new locale gradually over the course of the fall 2014 semester.
The New Raleigh County Campus Under Construction. Photo courtesy of New River Community and Technical College.
So, what does this new campus mean for Beckley?
For starters, the new campus will be much larger in size and will be independently visible, as it can be seen from Interstate 64. Student enrollment is expected to grow as more people become aware of New River. This expansion ultimately means a better experience for students, with larger facilities, state-of- the-art technology, and a more easily accessible location for student services. Additionally, New River will no longer be using its state appropriated funds to pay for leased space, which means those funds can be devoted to other needs.
New River’s presence in the Raleigh County community is undeniable. New River has made it possible for students to attain post-secondary education while offering them the option of staying close to home in their pursuits.
This exciting new growth isn’t limited to Raleigh County, though. New River has also expanded their Greenbrier Valley campus in Lewisburg by acquiring the former Lewisburg Elementary School, where they now offer Allied Health programs. New River is also renovating a building adjacent to the main campus building for the Fine Arts program, a student center with a café, as well as additional classrooms and faculty offices.
Additional plans are also underway to construct a new Nicholas County Campus in Summersville. Furthermore, New River is also working with the City of Princeton to relocate their Mercer County Campus to a building owned by the city.
In addition to the campus relocations and expansions, New River has been gradually expanding its curriculum over the past few years, as well. In 2012, the school was awarded a $3 million Department of Labor grant, which has allowed them to add their Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapy Assistant programs, with plans to launch a Medical Laboratory Assistant program in the near future. Also, a Health Information Technology program has been added to prepare people for the rising demand of electronic medical records management.
A number of new technical programs have been introduced since New River acquired the Advanced Technology Center in Ghent in 2010. Training programs offered there include: Line Service Mechanic, Welding, Residential Energy Management and Industrial Technology. New River plans to continue adding new programs based on the needs of employers in the region.
As a Community and Technical College, New River’s mandate is to be a two-year institution with a mission of providing affordable, accessible quality education and workforce training. Because they do not serve the same population as a four-year institution, and it is not their mission to become one, New River’s curriculum will continue to serve and carry out its intended mission. New River does, however, support the four-year institutions in their service region by providing a more affordable option for students to get the first two years of general education classes here before they transfer. New River also serves students who are uncertain as to their readiness for a four-year school; once they succeed academically at New River, they may decide to pursue a Bachelor’s degree elsewhere.
Fortunately for students, this growth and curriculum expansion will not be reflected in the price of tuition. The Raleigh County Campus and Greenbrier Valley Campus projects were funded by a higher education bond issue. Additionally, New River has pursued alternative funding sources, including private gifts and grants, for its other capital projects so that those costs do not come out of tuition payments.
Great things are taking shape in southern West Virginia. It’s an exciting time for those of us who call it home. Luckily, with area businesses and institutions working diligently and making big plans, area residents may not have to leave home in order to take a step towards a more promising future.
My mom asked me the other day if I was ready for the next stage of my life….my reply was, “it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not, it will happen regardless.” I wasn’t being at all disrespectful, just merely making an observation that prepared or not, life happens. So often, we make plans, set schedules, make appointments, color code our calendar with an agenda of activities (alright, maybe that is just me)…then something comes along that, in an instance, stops all of our well-laid plans. Be it an unforeseen diagnosis of a serious health condition, the unexpected death of a loved one, a divorce you didn’t want and didn’t see coming…whatever the case may be, life likes to show us on occasion that, try as we may, we often have little control over our universe.
I suppose you could meet such challenges with despair, and often many people (me included) do. It is disquieting to have to reshape your vision of the future and to feel you are giving up on dreams and hopes you had. Changing your course in life, though, doesn’t necessarily mean you are giving up on anything. Nor that the course you were on, or the one you now choose, is wrong. Often life is presented as being a crossroads – one road being the “right” path and the other being the “wrong”.
As I have loved and learned, grown and cried, laughed and grieved, I have found that life is more like the branches of a tree – as it grows, new directions sprout up all the time, some better, some worse. Some will produce a harvest while others will wither and eventually die off, or be cut back to make room for new growth. None are necessarily wrong or right, they are merely different – just as the choices in life we face every day. How you focus on these choices, and the way you choose to see them, often will make the difference in whether the branch, or path, you choose becomes fruitful and strong or if it bears bitterness and despair.
My own journey in this life has been one of many paths and many turns unforeseen. Soon I will take another turn in my life’s road as I plan to return to the mountains of my youth, my native Raleigh County, after 18 years away from them. I believe the mountains and streams, fields and forests of southern WV have a special power and draw on the soul – once you have seen them, breathed their air, felt their breeze on your face – you yearn to return to them. There is a healing power in coming home, and perhaps we could all use a little healing at different times in our life. For me, I was fortunate to never have to leave this great state I call home, but merely was transplanted a little farther north for the first half of my adult life. As I now return to the places and towns of my youth, that have always been home to me even after 18 years, I still feel the same comfort and sense of belonging that no other place on this earth can provide. Like a warm blanket, the people and lands of southern WV envelope you in their warmth and beckon you to return. For me, Raleigh County offers family, friends and hope – and really, if you have these things in life, there is not much more to want for.
As Thanksgiving draws near, and Christmas soon after, family gatherings, festive outings and merry visits will fill the calendars of everyone once again. The wonder of this life is that, no matter how much things change, fundamentally the world forever remains the same. The crisp autumn air brings the changing of the leaves, in a beautiful canvas no artist can mimic – followed by the barren limbs and frosty mornings, where a cup of hot cocoa and a warm blanket just out of the dryer are two of the finest things God ever created on this earth. And yet, in the coldness and harshness of the winter, even through the darkest of days and the fiercest of storms, the promise of Spring never fails, and even with a white blanket still on the ground in many places, the daffodils will make their appearance and the sun’s rays will shine down on your cheek with the promise of the Spring ahead, reminding you that this too shall pass.
On this holiday season, as many people post on social media of all the things for which they are thankful, and others grump and gripe about the weather and crowds and traffic, let us all take just a few minutes to be truly thankful, just for being. Being in this moment, breathing in this second of our lives, sharing in the wonder of just being alive – just be thankful. When you do, you may find that no matter what path you choose, or what roads life leads you down, your own tree of life will grow beyond measure in ways you could never imagine, and perhaps, in turn, spread a few seeds along the way that will one day form the strong roots and bonds that forever bind the people of southern West Virginia to one another, in this place that is truly Almost Heaven.
And so, as I prepare to journey down my life’s next path, I wish to leave all of you with one of my favorite wishes – I wish to leave you with enough. Enough food to fill your body, enough warmth to fill your home and enough love to fill your heart. For all of these things, and for many more, I am truly thankful.
When Winston Churchill called at the start of World War II for our arms and destroyers, he pleaded: “Give us the tools – and we will finish the job.” The people of West Virginia do not want the Federal government to do everything for them. They do not want charity and handouts. They are saying instead, with one voice, “Give us the tools – and we will finish the job.”
I promise you that voice will be heard.
Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy
Beckley, West Virginia, April 11, 1960
In the Spring of 1960, a young United States Senator who wanted to become President came to West Virginia. He arrived in a state ravaged by the worst parts of industrialization, and weakened further by the inevitable mechanization of those industries. The resources of West Virginia had long been drained by corporations headquartered outside our state, but the heavy lifting had been done by Mountaineers. In 1960, many of them were poor and hungry and often overlooked. There were many reasons to see stagnation and defeat here- many circumstances to skillfully avoid addressing as a newcomer to the national political stage. Instead, the young candidate embraced West Virginia and all of her people. He spoke forcefully for the less fortunate, while seeing their determination to create a better life.
John F. Kennedy chose West Virginia to project a new vision of America. Here he proved that the old requirements of belonging to a particular congregation and placating rooms full of the powerful could be replaced. Here the voice of the unemployed coal miner and the struggling subsistence farmer were given value. Here hungry children were spoken to softly, and made to feel that their place in the world mattered. It was a new model in American politics, and it worked. Kennedy chose us, and we chose him.
Watch Kennedy during the 1960 Democratic Party Primary in West Virginia here:
Propelled by a Primary victory in The Mountain State, Kennedy became the youngest American ever elected President of the United States. His was an administration reflective of such youth. There were missteps and failures. There were also many brave first steps toward a new America- more dedication to minority rights, more care for the less privileged, more detente in foreign policy. A new energy inhabited our national government and many of our citizens. Through it all, President Kennedy remained touched by his time in West Virginia. And for fifty three years, we have remembered that young man who cared to know us when many looked away.
I was not even a thought in 1960 when Kennedy first came to West Virginia, nor on that terrible day in 1963 when an assassin’s bullet cut him down. But I have spent a lifetime hearing how it felt from those who were. My first memory of hearing this story came from a class field trip to meet the long serving and much beloved Ken Hechler. Mr. Hechler had been a Congressman in 1960, and an early Kennedy supporter. By the time I met him in 1987, Hechler was the West Virginia Secretary of State. Though very active, he was well advanced in years. I will forever remember the transformation that happened before my eyes as he began telling us the story of John F. Kennedy and the 1960 campaign. A youthfulness returned to his movements. A light appeared in his eyes, along with the tinge of tears in the corners of them. At ten years old, I understood that there are people that can affect a change in us that lasts a lifetime.
As I returned home from that meeting, I had a new awareness of the value of service. I moved beyond the simplified notion of “being good” instilled in most of us as children. Service was personal. Service was finding a way to reach those who had been forgotten or ignored. Service made an old man young again before my eyes thirty five years later. I related my story to family members in the years after, and watched as they had the same reaction as Ken Hechler. It seems to me that I have lived my entire life knowing that John Kennedy truly cared about the plight of West Virginia in a way that has endeared him to us long after his passing.
To be sure, part of the Kennedy myth is just that. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I do not belong to Mr. Kennedy’s political party. I do not wish to persuade any historical or political argument, and would not do it here at any rate. What I can tell you is that the love for John F. Kennedy is real and lasting in West Virginia. I believe it is because Kennedy’s love for the people of our state was just as real.
As I complete this article, I am in the river town of Hinton, West Virginia. Kennedy spent much time here during his 1960 campaign. As I was leaving a local breakfast establishment this morning, I dropped some cash. Immediately and forcefully an elderly gentleman brought it to my attention. To be honest, he looked as if he might need it more than me. It was clear though, that never entered his mind. He was of a certain age that could have placed him on the streets of Hinton as a young Senator passed through some fifty three years ago. He is in ways the epitome of the average West Virginian that Kennedy would have come to know. Simple, hard working, and honest. Looking only for a nation to say that is enough. Perhaps the lasting legacy of John F. Kennedy in West Virginia is that he did.
Fifty years ago today, a nation lost a President. West Virginia lost a man that we felt was truly OUR President. A man who inspired a generation to tell of the time an aspiring President came to know us. I was not alive then. I did not know John F. Kennedy. It does not keep me from missing him.
On this 50th anniversary of his death, Beckley Online remembers a fallen President and a friend of West Virginia. Let us also remember his words calling us to action. The tools are at hand. Let’s finish the job. Thirty or fifty years from today, let us be sure that a young child can hear the story of a time of action and caring in West Virginia from an old man transported to his youth. We will forever revere those who made bright the torch of service. We must also acknowledge, it has been passed.
As a West Virginian I appreciate the hope John Kennedy brought to our state when we needed it most. I appreciate the simple realization that, as he said on his last visit here in 1963, “the sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do.”
In the year and half or so that we have been publishing Beckley Online, we have been urged to do an article about some things that need to change in our community. Often, we have declined. We are not bomb throwers. We love our community and we love celebrating all that it offers. Furthermore, we live by the rule that the only valid form of protest is a better solution. All the rest is just noise.
In recent days, southern West Virginia has been hit hard with bad news. Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), the world’s largest maker of mining equipment, plans to shutter a plant in West Virginia to curb costs as demand drops for machines used to dig up coal and copper. Production of highwall miners used in underground mines will move to Pennsylvania from Beckley, by the middle of 2014. There are a number of factors involved in this decision, and we could spend an entire article talking about those. That is not this article.
This article is about the fact that losses such as these are so devastating because our economy is not diversified in West Virginia. I am a former coal miner myself, and I love the industry. However, supporting coal does not mean (or should not mean) the exclusion of other industries in West Virginia. Our state must become a place where small businesses thrive, opening the door to a new and diverse economic base. We can end the exodus of bright young talent that has repeated itself for generations. We can do it ourselves, without much expense. We can do it now.
The bulk of this article has been sent to city, county, state, and federal public servants in advance of our publication here. The ideas outlined here can only succeed with their support. I believe they will join in the effort to renew the promise of The Mountain State. I invite you to make sure they do. Also, for the first time ever, I urge every publication in the state to republish this article at no cost. Add your own commentary. Love it, disagree, offer new or better ideas- I don’t care. Just join the conversation.
Most of the ideas mentioned here are the result of things that I have learned as a small business owner here. Beckley, and West Virginia in general, does not always make it easy to be successful. There are many unnecessary hurdles that must be overcome that do not exist in other markets. That said, we have chosen to operate here because it is home, and because we are convinced that conditions can change. We have never cowered in the face of difficulty. We have never lost hope when so many told us that it could not be done. With relatively little money and support, we have armed ourselves with our abilities and ceaseless hard work to create a success. Our company, 1ne Creative.
1ne Creative is a design and marketing agency of the sort that has never existed in southern West Virginia. Most of you probably know us best as the creators and publishers of Beckley Online. We were told by the titans of industry, and our current customer base alike, that it could not succeed. At times, we have certainly wondered ourselves. The one thing we have never done, is give up. We have instead educated community businesses and consumers, proven skeptics wrong, and created innovative techniques and business models to survive.
Born of a fusion of large market experience and hometown service, 1ne Creative has introduced an idea to small businesses that have too often felt under served. In the past, too much has only been available from large market vendors, who treat area businesses as unimportant and “last in line”. Our idea was simple. Make large market services available at small market prices. Including customized service that puts the small business first. “We make the macro micro.”
My point in telling you all of this is not to boast or complain. It is simply that there should never be so many barriers. My point is that because of these hurdles, most existing businesses choose not to headquarter here. Most of the people that should be creating new small businesses here, choose to do it elsewhere.
We must change that now.
West Virginia has often struggled to provide the industries and employment to enable opportunities for all of our citizens. Too often our youth and energy have been forced to go elsewhere to find economic viability. Recently, with the downturn in the coal industry and the struggles of the national economy in general, West Virginia has lost jobs and hope in the two industries that have kept us afloat in the past. Coal and tourism. There is a solution to these problems. It is the combination of technology that is truly a world wide web, and a brand of service cultivated for centuries in our mountains. West Virginia can be the small business service center of America.
We propose a public/private partnership that includes investment capital, training, and tax/regulation reform that will make West Virginia the “silicon valley” of small business service and innovation. The challenges faced by small businesses in our state are not entirely unique, they are often the problems faced by innovators everywhere in America. What can be new, for the first time in generations, our young people will not have to face the choice of leaving home to find success and opportunity. Further more, West Virginians will be faced to stay and struggle for survival.
Just as a group of young entrepreneurs in California forever changed the world with ideas and products that seemed impossible, West Virginia can change the environment in which small business operates throughout our nation, while changing our own. We can create a model that allows business to be done anywhere in our nation, and beyond, in a virtual space. Overhead becomes minimal. Support and expertise become readily available. Financing becomes a reality.
It is a model that has proven to be effective. It is no more complicated than taking an “emerging markets” approach, so often applied by large investors to foreign markets, right here at home. It will serve to brand our state as truly “open for business”. It will attract economic vitality on a scale that we have never previously seen here. Both in the form of real numbers, and in the form of diversification, which has been sorely needed for some time. It will serve to rebrand West Virginia as a true economic laboratory.
The needs are really very simple. We propose to begin the program in Beckley, for several reasons. First, Beckley is uniquely situated geographically to be within twelve hours of any location from southern Michigan to northern Florida, and all points in between. As we are proposing truly personal service for small businesses this is very important. This type of service will at times require face to face interaction, and onsite service. For instance, the only way to truly understand how to best brand and market a small storefront, is to see it in person. A $100 travel expense can enable market research and creative vision that many larger companies spend thousands of dollars to do remotely. This allows the resulting contract to be fulfilled at a fraction of the cost that many “national” companies offer small markets. It is exactly this type of innovation that makes our model work. West Virginians have never been afraid to do the heavy lifting. We fear futility.
Secondly, Beckley is truly the hub of southern West Virginia. For most West Virginians south of Charleston, Beckley is where employment, shopping, and entertainment are most available. By centering the program here, the entire southern portion of the state will have realistic access to the program. It will be feasible to come to Beckley on a daily basis to be employed or conduct business in a way that is not true of any other site in southern West Virginia. An added bonus is that the infrastructure to support such an influx already exists in Beckley, requiring no additional investment that would be required in nearly any other community in southern West Virginia.
Third, downtown Beckley has an abundance of business locations that have been vacant for years, a decade or more in many cases. While nearly seven hundred city, county, state, and federal employees spend their weekdays in downtown Beckley, the businesses to serve them have not inhabited the empty spaces that surround these workplaces. How can this be? It is because it is a daunting task to start a small business in our state, almost to the point of impossibility, a fact 1ne Creative understands well. In addition to the costs imposed by city, county, and state regulation/taxation, it is nearly impossible to access the funding and affordable expertise needed to be a successful startup. The result is a permanent state of unemployment and economic stagnation forcing the exodus of generation after generation of young, educated, and talented West Virginians.
It is a vicious and tragic cycle that we can end.
Our final justification for beginning this program in the crossroads, is a fact that we do not always advertise well, or at all. The talent pool of young professionals that exists at this moment in Beckley, West Virginia is staggering. Young attorneys, medical professionals, financial advisors, web/graghic designers, marketing experts, public servants, and artists of all disciplines fill this city. It is a unique community, one that I have never seen present at any time in my life. The visionary nature of this community, the talent and hard work displayed, is truly phenomenal. It is also extremely fragile. If changes are not made immediately, we are going to witness the next exodus. We will forever regret that we did not find a way to incorporate this generation of talent.
For the first time in several generations, talent has remained in our community after being educated in numbers that are very encouraging. It is no mystery why. In a word, technology. The ability to reach the world from home has persuaded a generation to give economic vitality in our fair city a real effort. The problem is that the conditions on the ground have not changed. Too many of them are struggling against the inherent difficulties of being a small business owner here. The desire to find success at home is losing to the reality that it is much easier to achieve from a number of locations within a short drive.
These are my friends. I speak to them on a daily basis. We are losing the battle, and it is heartbreaking. If we lose them now, it may be fifty years before we have this opportunity again. Certainly this group of talent will never attempt it again in their professional lifetimes. In addition to losing this pool of talent, we will lose the ability to institute the type of program outlined here. Without the readily available expertise in virtually all areas of business that can form the support network needed for small businesses to thrive, we will remain exactly where we are- spread across a nation. Ensuring the vitality of states and communities that win us over by treating us as if they ACTUALLY WANT us to succeed. Please help us stay home.
Here is a brief overview of what is needed:
Outdated taxation and regulations MUST be reformed, at least in the form of some holiday or empowerment zone. A few examples of this are the regulation of public transit as a public utility (restricting the ability for it to exist in a real way), and the inventory tax. Two examples cited in every business survey done in recent years. They are economic death nails for our economy.
Speaking of utilities, the fact that there are higher rates for businesses with fewer than ten employees than for individuals is asinine. These are metered services! What is the justification for higher rates? If an entity meters more usage, charge them accordingly. Every small business is infuriated by this.
A public fund of $1,000,000 to provide a budget of up to $10,000 for general operating expenses for small businesses. These businesses must of course submit to program requirements such as no use of these funds for personal salaries etc. Expenditures can also be independently verified within the program (many local accounting firms exist that could become program partners). The tax benefits afforded large corporations in West Virginia are many, and we believe them to be helpful in many circumstances. Such benefits have undoubtedly enticed corporations such as Toyota to center operations here. There has never been an effort to afford the same type of assistance to small businesses in West Virginia for some reason. Making expenses tax deductible is not enough. It does not help a startup business to deduct expenses at the end of a tax year, if they cannot maintain a viable business in the meantime. What is required is a relatively small operating budget that allows for investment in things such as equipment, inventory, and marketing. Just ask any small business owner, they will tell you this.
Also from this fund, must be monies available for local individuals/firms who choose to be a part of the program to provide services at a reduced rate to member businesses. The chief need of small businesses is the expertise and skills of this local talent. While services can certainly be provided at a discount because of a local volume market, they cannot be provided for free, nor should they. This pool of talent that has chosen to make a program like this possible should be utilized and celebrated. This serves to make new businesses a success, as well as ensure economic viability for the talent that exists at present.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the face of the program MUST be public servants and institutions- city, county, state, and federal. No private individual or entity can complete this task. There are two reasons for this. First, the way this program succeeds in the long term is by rebranding the state of West Virginia. This is in part a marketing effort on behalf of the state, though it is by no means a facade. West Virginia must become known as an exciting place to live, work, and thrive as an energetic new business owner. Secondly, fairly or not, the impression exists that our state and local economies favor large corporations and less than fair business practices enabled by “who you know.” If a new economy is to be sustained in West Virginia, this perception must be PROVEN inaccurate. Our public servants must become our heroes again. Without this element, this program cannot succeed.
That’s it. I hope you agree that this is a realistic, achievable, and inexpensive solution to the dire circumstances we find ourselves in as a state, a nation, and a generation. The building blocks that will allow us to be more successful than ever are all around us. If we are willing to be innovative and throw away old modes of thinking about business, a new West Virginia waits to emerge. It is a West Virginia that will not wait patiently or politely while ineptness and inanity are displayed before them daily. We will leave for more logical avenues and pastures. We will break our own hearts doing it, and we will encourage new generations to avoid the experience at all cost.
We know this to be a fact. It is what our mothers and fathers told us.
For Mikey, Wammy, Tom Wamser, Eric J. Levin, Lindsay, Josh Lopez and the thousands in #sorefeetnation
This is the final installment of a series of stories exclusive to Beckley Online. The series has related the experiences of Adam Shatarsky of Leesburg,VA and Chris Senopole of Daniels, WV- both USMC Veterans, as they walked to raise awareness across the United States. The walk began in support of the Wounded Warrior Project, and has done monumental work on behalf of wounded veterans. Along the way, a national community formed to support the effort, and expand it to a national forum for many with broken places. Beckley Online considers it the highest honor to have supported this historic effort, and we are grateful for the lasting changes it has brought to our individual lives.
In this final article of our series concerning The Wounded Walk 2013, we would like to show you some sights from the walk. Some have been viewed before, some not. It consists mostly of photographs from Adam and Chris themselves, but many from you also. After all, it is the nearly thirty thousand of you who are the most lasting effect of The Wounded Walk. Adam Shatarsky and Chris Senopole will forever be heroes, and they will forever command our respect. But it is us, a wounded nation who has been inspired to take those first steps, that will continue to expand the mission, focus, and reach of The Wounded Walk.
For my part, it is has been a great honor getting to know Adam and Chris, and being able to relate their story over the past few months. To come to know many of you in the bargain, your stories and your passion for our warriors, has been most humbling and encouraging. I look forward to joining with all of you in our next mission, wherever it finds us. I don’t believe any of us think we are done. So until then, know that you have all impacted my life in a very real way. You are not abstractions. Each and every one of you has my love and appreciation.
There are relatively few words in this article. The images of The Wounded Walk, and those who have supported it, will do the speaking. They are our story. Remember the image that first caught your attention, the first moment you knew something special was happening. Relive the hope of two Marines crossing a nation for all of us. Remember the amazing individuals who became part of the story. Relive the pride of the last steps toward 8th and I.
One last time, the steps of The Wounded Walk…Click Here
When I asked the two men who have brought us here for final thoughts, Chris told me “I am forever changed. I could literally spend the rest of my life under a bridge and die happy. I won’t because I like my iPad (laughter), but I will always know that whatever else I do, I did The Wounded Walk.” I asked Adam if he had any specific ideas in mind for where he goes from here. “I’m not sure exactly where we go from here, but I know we walk on” he told me.
In closing for now, I would like to relate a story Adam and Chris both tell. It is the story of a run they participated in as active duty Marines. It was grueling, and seemed to last forever. During that run, both men tell of encouraging themselves and their platoon with a call to carry on. After many hills conquered during the run, the two decided to start yelling a phrase that has since inspired national action. A call to remain steadfast no matter the burden, no matter the fatigue. A call to take every new challenge as if it will forever be your legacy, as if it is the only thing that matters.
This is the eighth installment of an ongoing series of stories exclusive to Beckley Online relating the experiences of Chris Senopole of Daniels, WV and Adam Shatarsky of Leesburg,VA- both USMC Veterans, as they walk and raise awareness across the United States in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. Beckley Online is deeply honored to have been contacted for this purpose, and very excited to be sponsoring a statewide effort on behalf of The Wounded Walk.
It is perhaps fitting that the subject of this article was to be a deeper look into Chris Senopole himself, and The Wounded Walk from the perspective of Beckley, West Virginia. Just last night, we learned that Chris will have to end his walk on October 5th in Leesburg, Virginia (Adam’s hometown). This article, in some ways, is our farewell to a man we admire greatly as part of The Wounded Walk. As I have reworked the article with that in mind, I have tried to give you, the reader, a more personal insight into what it is to experience The Wounded Walk- Chris and Adam in action. It is quite a task. It is almost unrelatable. One thing I do know is that Chris Senopole chooses to show you who he is, not talk about it. To get to know Chris, you have to witness him in action. As best I can, I will explain a few days from the trail, in the only way I can. How it felt to witness The Wounded Walk.
For over two months now, I have followed The Wounded Walk. I thought I had a sense of what it was. I didn’t. I have learned The Wounded Walk can never really be experienced from afar. It can be appreciated and admired. I have done that. It can change and inspire you, no matter where you are. To really FEEL what The Wounded Walk is requires you to be present. You can never know what it is to see the eyes of those who are touched by this effort, unless you actually see it. And you can never know how it touches you, until you walk it. Recently, Beckley Online was blessed to do that.
On Wednesday September 18, most of the staff of Beckley Online arrived in Ghent, West Virginia. Along with several others, we gathered with Chris and Adam to prepare for the walk into Beckley. First we established our route. We would walk US 19 North through Ghent, Flat Top, Cool Ridge, Shady Spring, Daniels, Beaver, and Raleigh, West Virginia. At the top of Raleigh Hill, we would turn onto North Kanawha Street, then Main Street, and finally onto Neville Street, finishing at Word Park in downtown Beckley, West Virginia.
There was also an interview with local media, but most important, a period of warm introductions and interaction. There were old friends of Chris’s, friends and family of mine, and some who just knew this was where they needed to be. I watched as something amazing began to happen. After meeting for the first time only minutes before, we were already making sure each other had any need met for the walk. The Wounded Walk had created a unit. By 8:00 am we were moving out.
Almost immediately, we found community support. Having walked less than a mile, we stopped in to get a morning snack and some drinks. We were met by a manager of The Little General store and a USMC veteran who told us to get what we wanted, it was covered. We accepted with thanks, and walked on. Realizing that the rest of our group could not maintain the pace that Chris and Adam usually do, we decided to have our support vehicles travel ahead and identify stops in the three to four mile range that would accommodate us stopping for a few minutes, such as large parking lots.
The first such stop was Ghent Elementary School. Arriving at the school we noticed a small crowd gathered just outside the entrance to the school itself. Moving closer, we found that a couple of classes of children, their teachers, and school officials had come out to greet The Wounded Walk as we passed by. I was starting to see that no matter where we went, there was a need for personal interaction with this effort. That, in fact, personal interaction has become a large part of what The Wounded Walk is all about. After resting for a few moments and speaking briefly with the children and staff, we continued our walk.
For the next few miles, I noticed as Adam and Chris took turns at different positions among the group. Naturally at the front, but also consciously at times in the middle of the pack, and even dropping back to those at the end of the line. Never was there a word spoken that they could have been making much better time. Never was it implied that anyone should be more exertive. They simply took time to speak to the whole group as we walked, wherever we were. Everyone was comfortable. Everyone was appreciated. Everyone was doing their part. Before we knew it, we were at our next arranged stop. Here we met the mother of an Army veteran who had recently lost her son, the mother of one of our walkers, a biker who had recently returned from Washington, D.C. as part of the 2,000,000 bikers who had descended on our nation’s capital in remembrance of 9/11, and members of the local community who just wanted to show their support.
As we shoved off for our next section of the walk, a section of US 19 notorious to locals loomed. The Cherry Creek Dip. It is a steep decline followed by an even steeper incline, all in the distance of a quarter of a mile. It is a thing of beauty when you drive it. I can remember all the rides with parents and grandparents as a child when I “lost my stomach” in the Cherry Creek Dip. Walking it is another thing entirely.
Once again, our unit held together. No complaining, no one daunted by the task, everyone focused and in good spirits. By now, many of us who had just met that morning were beginning to get to know each other. I was getting to know Chris’s younger brother Luke as we walked, among others. Luke is obviously very proud of his big brother, and was happy to get to share a day of his walk. He was not the only one. There was the local roller derby “Derby Dame”, also a USAF veteran, who was making the walk. Irena “Bodacious the Bull” Baxter is one tough cookie with a heart for service. Also during our walk through the dip, I had a chance to get to know Sherry Lewis. Sherry is a wounded veteran with limited mobility. She had plans of remaining in a support capacity for most of the day. She walked 10 miles. Zac Parks is a childhood friend of Chris Senopole’s, and one hell of a determined guy! His “FREEDOM” socks were a very big hit, and a source of comradery throughout the day. I even saw new things in many I thought I knew well. The US Army veteran James Tate, a personal friend for years, seemed to have a pride and determination this day that I have perhaps taken for granted. My business partner at Beckley Online and friend, Josh Allen, who only days before learned he was diabetic, and was having issues with blood glucose as we began walking. He carried the American flag with a pride and determination that would be the envy of any unit. My nephew Chance Ruff is eleven years old. His father passed away when he was very young, so I have always felt very close to him. I explained to Chance that he did not need to do the entire walk if he didn’t feel he was ready. With steel eyes he responded, “if you think I am not doing this all the way, you’re crazy.” I remembered a statement I had heard the two heroes leading our charge say many times over the past few months. “I was glad I was wearing sunglasses”.
With a feeling that I was beginning to understand how Adam and Chris have found the strength to cross a nation, we topped the other side of the dip. I thought, this day just couldn’t get any better! Then it did.
At the crest of the hill we had just climbed sits Shady Spring Elementary School. As The Wounded Walk came into view, a cheer erupted. We were caught off guard to say the least. As I looked I saw that the ENTIRE school was out front! EVERY child, EVERY teacher, EVERY staff member. Hundreds of cheering smiling faces. As best I could, I asked Adam if this was commonplace throughout their walk. “This has never happened to us” he responded. After a warm greeting from Vice Principal Josh Grant, a US Navy veteran, Chris and Adam did what I have come to expect of them. They plunged into the crowd to shake every hand and speak to every child, staff member, and member of the public who had gathered. It was not just a kindness from them. I now understood this to be how they walked at all. Born of the determination of two young Marines, it was Americans who had propelled The Wounded Walk across a nation. These two warriors knew how to arm themselves for this battle. It is to be completely disarmed. It is to give a hungry nation the comfort it has sought, one interaction at a time. In the space of ten minutes, a few hundred children, a caring staff, and a Vice Principal who somehow knew what it would mean to us, had changed eleven lives forever. We were ALL wearing sunglasses.
As our day continued, we were met by business owners and employees, local media, members of the general public, veterans and active duty personnel. Everywhere there was love and support. Within our Unit, there was a determination and brotherhood I have not seen since I was active duty myself. There were almost unbelievable instances of people finding us on the road from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and points in between. The most unbelievable thing I witnessed though, was how much we cared for one another. How we looked after each other, and to each other for that extra bit of motivation at times. There was the playful banter that you would expect from a group of friends. There was also the unspoken respect for each other that is earned within a Unit. This was no conquering army. This was the physical act of love for countrymen. There were many challenges to be faced after our time together. We knew that. Life is a constant set of changing circumstances. But for one day, it didn’t matter. For one day we knew our mission and how to achieve it. For one blessed day, we were part of The Wounded Walk.
In the following days, there were events to support The Wounded Walk. Beckley’s Lewis Automotive arranged a great event and fundraiser featuring the music of national recording artists Taylor Made. There too, there were great instances of support. Certificates of Special Congressional Recognition were presented, a USMC recruiting detachment came out to show support for their brothers, and local residents got the chance to interact with The Wounded Walk. The most amazing, again, was personal. A lady by the name of Lisa Hildebrand drove more than three hours from Hickory, North Carolina just to meet and thank Adam and Chris. Lisa explained that The Wounded Walk had restored her faith in humanity. Her belief that “there really are people out there that still do good things, and don’t try to take advantage of people. You (Adam and Chris) have given that back to me, and I just had to come tell you that.” Another sunglasses moment.
From the free meal at Jonesin’ for a Good Sandwich, who stayed open despite moving locations, that began their arrival in Beckley, to the Unit that formed to be part of The Wounded Walk for a day, to Lewis Automotive and Calacino’s Pizza who hosted events for Chris and Adam, to the team here at Beckley Online/1ne Creative, I hope Chris and Adam felt love and support during their time in Beckley. I hope it continues and grows everywhere they go.
For my part, I got to know the Senopole family better and appreciate some of the influences on the hero that Chris has become. We discussed Chris’s adoption as a child, and how some of those difficulties shaped a life of service that Chris now lives. I was able to spend time with two men that I have come to love as true brothers, respect, and admire very much. I was fortunate to see the look of complete appreciation on the faces of those who come into contact with The Wounded Walk. I saw the determination of those who were part of the walk, despite their challenges. I saw lives change before my eyes. I saw the hope of a nation in action.
I am not sure if this article has made clear to you the person that Chris Senopole is, or not. I don’t know if you understand his motivation and determination better, or not. Having spent the better part of a week with The Wounded Walk, what I do know is that I understand more. I understand how someone who tells us that “you don’t have to be Captain America to make a difference” has become a captain of the wounded in our nation, and has made a real difference. I understand better how two best friends decided that SOMETHING must be done, and enlisted all of us to do it with them. I understand how the broken are mended by a walk.
I invite all of you to visit the Beckley Online Facebook page to view more of the great photographs from the Beckley walk. They tell the story better than I ever can. Also, a very heartfelt thank you to The Wounded Walk and all those who support it here, across our country, and beyond. I urge you to find Chris and Adam before Chris leaves the trail on October 5th. You will be very glad you did. If you have not already, visit The Wounded Walk Facebook page and join the effort. Visit the funding website http://www.gofundme.com/2jdlm8 and make a donation.
In the absence of being able to spend time with Chris, I have found two things that might better explain him to you. One was sent in a message from Chris one morning several weeks ago. It is often called “The Greatest Speech Ever Made”, and I believe it is.
The other was sent by Chris to a grateful nation last night, in the form of his farewell to #sorefeetnation. If you have not yet, got to The Wounded Walk Facebook page and read it. Read the challenge to us all to make our world a better place. Read the selfless appreciation of a true warrior. Find out what has happened on an amazing journey led by two Marines.