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Meet Stormy, a 17-year-old writer braving Tulsa alone

Story No. 6 of my 35,000 mile road trip into the 2020 pandemic. Stormy, 17, talks about race, his own homelessness and what it would mean to be a writer.
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(The video is 8 minutes long. I apologize for the poor sound quality. I was still learning how to make videos.)

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Stormy was one of the most unnerving interviews I’ve done in my 45 years of persuading strangers to tell me their stories. I met him on Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, 2020. He had recently moved there from a nearby town, in order to solve his homelessness and also finish high school, so he could start studying at the university. He was charismatic and very quiet.

It was the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, where hundreds of black people were murdered by a white mob dropping kerosene bombs from airplanes and firing machine guns from streetcars. Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the belated freeing of slaves in Texas and Oklahoma, two years after the civil war ended, was just around the corner. And President Trump was coming to town for his first rally since lockdown (the crowd ended up being very small, because teens on TikTok waged a campaign to reserve all the tickets and not show up.)

Stormy agreed to talk, but I quickly realized he wasn’t going to be easy to bring into my camp — the manipulative interviewing powers I’d honed over decades just weren’t going to work on him. Facing my own failure, my voice cracked and I said “Um” a lot. He kept to himself even as we spoke about serious subjects. At the end, when I tried to connect with him as a old man writer, offering my advice, he just kind of blew me off. A good lesson for my ego.

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Here is the video transcript:

What? What made you want to leave your old place? I was homeless. You were homeless? Yeah. Yeah. Because, like, eventually it just, uh, got to the point where I couldn't stay anywhere. Uh, the person that I was living with, she, uh, she's kind of, uh. She's delusional. Uh, she sees things. And so what do you what do you hope to be doing in, uh, in Tulsa? Like, what's your what's your dream or what's your vision for being here? Uh, or do you have one to live long enough to make it to college? So to live long enough to make it to college. Yeah. How old are you? 17. Have you finished high school yet? No, I'm still working on it. Yeah. School's going to be interesting this year with Covid 19 going on and everything. Yeah, because the schools might be remote. Or are they going to happen? Yeah. I feel like they're going to make us go online again because like we finished our school year this year, recently doing it all online. And everybody from elementary at high school, absolutely everybody. And, uh, yeah. And do you have a place to stay here? Yeah. Good. And would you be able to go online and do school if it came to that? Um, I don't have Wi-Fi at the place that I had was it had plenty of Wi-Fi, was good connection. But, uh, the woman there, she was crazy. And I had to leave. Right. So now where you are now, there's no Wi-Fi? No. Do you think the school system would help you do that? Or or do you want to get a high school? You want to get a high school degree? Yeah. So you can go to college. Yeah. And what would you study in college? Uh, I want to be a writer. Really? Yeah. How come? Because it's, um. It's more than just words on paper that are being written. They're, uh. They're more, uh, alive by, uh. If I do say so myself. You say it's more than words on paper. Yeah. Like, uh, you don't just write them down, you fill them to. Well, that's that's really interesting. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that. What do you mean by that? Well, it has meaning. It has a purpose. It's, uh, you know, when you, uh, sing along to a song, it's, uh,  it's more than just lyrics. You're singing as, uh. Yeah. You understand what it's saying, and you feel it, and it's just a powerful. And what's the story that you want to tell? Or what is the behind the words that you want to share? You said you had a book you wanted to write. Oh, it's, uh, more or less, uh, about a true story. You know, uh, about a couple of kids that, um, they don't have perfect lives. Their lives. Um, they're just they're terrible. And, uh, each one of the kids kind of represents me in a way. Things have happened to me. Uh, some things are kind of exaggerated, but, uh, that's, uh. That's okay. It's it's a book. But, uh, yeah, I'm thinking about, like, all the kids in the book might end up dying, but, like, you know, the ending's always sad, but, um, it's the middle that counts, you know? It's like you have a timeline, the beginning and the end. But what matters is what's in the middle. That's where all the fun happens. And what happens in the middle of your of your story, of the book that you want to write. Well, they go out and they find their own fun, but it's not the the right kind of fun. What do you mean by that? Well, I mean, when you haven't really been raised writing everything in your life. Just. It's not going well for you. You really don't know what's right or wrong. Sometimes you really just don't care. Mm. Is that where you're at right now? In my writing? I  No, no, no, I've already gone beyond that. But still trying to write it all down. You know, I'm still a kid while I still understand. What's your what's your writing practice? Do you try to write every day or. Mhm. I'm kind of lazy. I've been working on this since I was 15. I haven't made any progress. Well that's that's just two years. Do you write on paper like with pen and paper or. Uh, yeah I do sometimes. Sometimes when I like doing something and I don't have anything around me, I, uh, I write it on my notepad and my, uh, phone. Mhm. But I. 

For writing it. So yeah, it's it sounds to me I'm just guessing, but it sounds to me like you don't, um, have a family that you confide in and talk to. Is that is that right? Or. Oh, yeah, I got I got family, but do you, do you talk to them much or are you close? Oh, yeah. I have a mom that I talk to me and her are closest in my family. That's excellent. That's that's good. Um, the reason the reason I asked is because you said that you   were homeless, uh, where you were before, and. Yeah. Yeah. I had to leave. Have you been affected by the pandemic at all? Uh, my mom being a, uh, supervisor for a home health care agency is, um, you know, she has a letter of essentiality. So, uh, yeah, I was able to get out even though we were in quarantine. And. Did anyone in your family got sick or. Not me. Or got sick. I don't know about the rest of my family. I can't speak for them. Right. Do you, uh. Are you afraid of the virus? Uh, I would have much preferred a zombie apocalypse, but, uh, this is what we've got. Maybe that will come in in future years. The way things are going, that might be true. Is that how you feel about the future? Hmmm. I don't know what to expect any. I don't know what to expect anymore. Like anything that hasn't happened will happen. You're interested in in those issues you just talked about. Are there any other important social issues for you. Social issues. What do you mean? You know, like, uh. So black lives matter, gay rights, um, income inequality, anything like that, Uh that resonates with you particularly?, well, I was basically raised by a bunch of black people, and to me, they're more than. They're like family. You know, my nephews, they're black. And, um. Yeah, it just it means a lot to me. The, uh, the racial justice. Yeah. Yeah. Is that a huge issue in Tulsa, do you think? Or in Oklahoma, the race is kind of, um, an issue here. but I mean, and I can't say a whole lot is. I don't really go outside much, but I have encountered a few, and there are always a few people. Yeah. Um, when I've, when I've driven around Tulsa, um, in the last few days, it seemed like a very segregated city in a lot of ways. Um, and, you know, with distinct neighborhoods for different groups of people. Is that accurate, do you think, or. Well, we are all people and we all live here. Yeah. Um, so I'm gonna I'm gonna end the interview now. But I do want to say, uh, as a writer, I've got a lot of respect for you wanting to be a writer. And, uh, I guess my message. Yeah, I do have a message. Not for the world, but for you. It's just keep at it. And no matter what anybody says to you, just keep keep working at it, and that's that. That will probably work out. I hope it's, uh, one word after the other. I guess it's just like walking somewhere. You just keep putting one word after the other, and then eventually you get there. Yeah. All right. Good luck.

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Everlands, by Stephen's People
Everlands, by Stephen's People
Surprising stories, videos and photographs from a 35,000 mile journey into the heart of the American pandemic, beginning in June 2020.