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Speaking truth to power

Storm Coleman testifies in front of West Virginia’s Select Committee on Children and Families. Photo: AFSC

To people who criticize welfare and disability recipients in West Virginia, 16-year-old Storm Coleman suggests a visualization exercise: “Picture yourself in my mom’s shoes.”

“Imagine that you’re overweight, or you’re in pain all day, you can’t walk around, and you have three kids to provide for, and no job will hire you either because you’re disabled or ’cause you’re overqualified—’cause my mom is really smart.”

Delivering this message face-to-face, he’s seen people soften. “Some of them act surprised because it’s coming from a 15 or 16-year-old, because they wouldn’t expect it,” he says.

Storm is part of the afterschool program that AFSC runs in his region, Believing All is Possible (BAPS), which connected him with the Children of the Future Campaign. “We have meetings to talk about problems that need fixing, and about child poverty, drug abuse, and crime,” he explains. “Last time we went to the Capitol to talk about them.”

In front of members of the Senate and House of Delegates in Charleston, he shared his life story—going hungry as a child, skirting the juvenile justice system, living with his loving family, and finding a strong voice to speak up.

Watch Storm's moving testimony at the state capitol, beginning at 24:21:

“The most important thing that young people need to succeed in life is their education first. But that’s not the only thing,” he said. “There has to be afterschool programs like BAPS; there has to be a whole bunch of people looking out for you—you need people bugging you about doing better in school; you need a juvenile justice system that helps teens who are stuck in that type of life get back on their feet.”

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