James “Ikie” Brooks, of Boone County, admits his family represents some of the top issues in West Virginia — drug addiction and loss of coal jobs.
Brooks, 21, grew up in Madison. Since the coal industry took a hit, Brooks has seen his town fall apart with more and more people turning to drugs — including his parents.
At age 14, he lost his father to substance abuse. His mother was also addicted to drugs and eventually went to jail. On top of that, he was always forced to move. He told MetroNews “Talkline” Host Hoppy Kercheval he lived in nearly two dozen homes as a kid.
“From the time I was born to about 18 (years old), we lived in 22 different places. There was about 9 in the nearby one-mile area,” Brooks said on Wednesday’s show.
But the hardships and challenges he faced never defined him. Brooks said he was determined to go to college.
“I kind of always seen college as my way out. I didn’t want to go down the same path that my parents had, so I always knew college would be the best chance that I had,” he said.
The support from his friends and his community helped him from slipping through the cracks. He said a pharmacist at his first job inspired him to get a college degree.
“He really stressed the importance of making an education even if life throws some stuff at you that you’re not ready for, you got to keep getting back up and make your life better,” he said.
Brooks is now in his junior year at Marshall University. He’s studying political science in hopes of becoming a lawyer after he graduates.
“I want to put my two cents in and speak up for those people back home — that their voices might not be heard, but they’re still there and they still matter,” he said. “Even if they are going down the wrong path, we need to make better policies and better laws that tries to take them off of that path.”
In 7th grade, Brooks got involved with West Virginia GEAR UP, a federal program that helps students in some of the highest need counties prepare for college.
Boone is one of 10 counties in the state that qualifies for federal grant money through the program.
Brooks participated in Higher Education Day at the state Capitol Wednesday.