'Us & Them' podcast focuses on crime, healing in Charleston
By DOUGLAS IMBROGNO
Jul. 30, 2017
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Recently in a part of town not often spotlighted in national media, Trey Kay held a "listening party" for the first of a four-part series of episodes from his podcast "Us & Them," about Charleston's West Side.
Titled "Deanna, Tymel & Amarie," the episode focuses on 18-year-old Tymel McKinney, who was shot and killed on the front porch of his West Side home in April 2014, by a local teen looking to gain initiation into a Detroit-based gang.
Tymel, who was not involved with gangs and was eating pizza with a friend that day, was survived by his infant daughter Amarie. His mother, Deanna McKinney, instead of sinking into rage or hopelessness, has gone on to become a local advocate against gun violence and a voice for improving the quality of life on the West Side.
A portion of the podcast was featured on the "West Virginia Morning" show at Tuesday on West Virginia Public Radio. The entire 28-minute episode can be heard online at soundcloud.com/treykay-1/deanna-tymel-amarie.
The listening party was held at Deanna McKinney's home, as adults and children crowded the living room and shared the porch where the shooting took place, with neighborhood girls taking turns braiding the hair of visiting women.
"Everything was just, like, so divinely ordered," McKinney said, after hearing the episode and remarking on the role she has come to play after losing her only child.
"This is really my life," said McKinney, who every year on the anniversary of Tymel's death hosts a big West Side street party.
For Kay, a Charleston native who now lives in New York's Hudson Valley, the episode was a chance to tell a story of hopefulness in the face of terrible loss.
"She's fighting kind of like a quixotic or a Sisyphean battle here on the West Side, of trying to find meaning in what happened to her son, but also to help kids in this community," he said.
"She doesn't have a job right now — she could lose this house at any moment. But this is like a safe zone for kids in the community," said Kay, sitting outside the McKinney house on the evening of the listening party. "She is highly regarded by the police department and the mayor and the people in town."
Kay is producing the four-part series on the West Side with help from the West Virginia Humanities Council, which had funding to do stories about race, law enforcement and community from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"Us & Them," which launched in May 2015, strives to "tell the stories of America's culture divides," exploring issues, disputes or ideas that divide people into longstanding, entrenched camps.
Kay came to Charleston last November, thinking to do a podcast on the November 2016 shooting death of 15-year-old James Means, who was killed on the East End.
William Ronald Pulliam allegedly shot the teenager twice in the abdomen with a .380 caliber revolver, and police said afterward that Pulliam showed no remorse, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.
But the family at that time was unwilling to be interviewed, said Kay.
"They were grieving," said Kay. "CNN — everybody around the country — was trying to reach out to this family. I tried to talk to them and they were, like, 'We don't want to talk.'"
The Rev. Matthew Watts suggested Kay reach out to Deanna McKinney, telling him: "If you want to talk to somebody who has gone through the real trauma and sense of loss from a senseless gun killing ..."
"I started following her for almost a month, just gathering audio," Kay said.
He was especially moved the first day he met McKinney, when he was invited to attend one of the big Sunday dinners she holds at her house.
"I felt very welcome as a guest that day when I saw how much this event meant to them. There were, like, 35 to 40 people around the room holding hands and they said a prayer before dinner," he said.
The other episodes in his series on the West Side focus on: Project West Invest, a program that offers housing to Charleston police officers to rehab run-down homes on the West Side; an episode on instilling trust in law enforcement through the Charleston Police Department's initiative to employ de-escalation and racial sensitivity training; and an episode on the murder trial of the man who shot James Means "and what this killing can tell us about the current state of race relations in the Kanawha Valley," said Kay.
Listeners can subscribe to "Us & Them," a co-production with WVPB and the Boston-based PRX, at all of the major podcast distributors, including, iTunes, Stitcher, Podcatcher and others. Access all of the show's archives by visiting usandthempodcast.com or wvpublic.org/programs/us-them.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.