My name is Junior Walk, I’m twenty years old and I’ve lived on the Coal River my entire life. I went to Marsh Fork for Elementary school, yes the same Marsh Fork that’s situated beside of a coal preparation plant and in the looming shadow of a 2.8 billion gallon coal sludge impoundment. I went to Marsh Fork High School the last year that it was open, they closed it down and it promptly burned to the ground like a lot of abandoned buildings in this area do. I then had to ride a bus for an hour to and from school every day, but that’s all too common in poor communities where school consolidation is business as usual.
I had no idea how to go about applying for college, or scholarships, grants, or any of that stuff seeing as how I was the first person in my family that was even remotely interested in going to school, so I didn’t get to go. I did what a lot of folks do around here when they get out of high school and find themselves jobless. I went to work for Massey Energy, I worked at the Elk Run preparation plant in Sylvester for almost 6 months. I knew I couldn’t do that for long, and I had to quit.
After a year or so of going from minimum wage job to minimum wage job a family friend offered me a job as a security guard at a mountaintop removal site. While working there I felt like a horrible person for being even the smallest part in the machine that was tearing down that mountain and poisoning the community at the bottom. So I contacted Coal River Mountain Watch and started volunteering with them, I would write articles for their newsletter anonymously while I was on the job as a security guard. I’d take my desktop computer, load it into the passenger seat of my car and run an extension cord to the power box. They then offered me a job as the office manager at Coal River Mountain Watch, so that’s where I am today.
I think the Coal River Valley is one of the most amazing places on this earth, and I’d never want to move away from here. Sadly though it’s also poverty stricken and highly exploited by outside extractive industries. I think if the Coal River Valley were prosperous it wouldn’t look all that different, but it would certainly have a better feel to it, a better climate if you will. Folks would be self sufficient and not have to rely on outside corporations to use them just so they could feed their families. I’m working with Coal River Mountain Watch now to do my part in ending the tyranny of the coal industry by speaking out and trying to educate the general public about what’s going on here. The coal industry is the main barrier to accomplishing what I would like to accomplish in making this community sustainable, and making sure folks around here educate themselves so they don’t get exploited again.