AFSC West Virginia Summer 2023 Update

By Lida Shepherd

Greetings from AFSC in WV!

Welcome to our first in a long time AFSC-WV newsletter! We hope this finds you enjoying the waning days of summer.

You have perhaps followed our work through Rick Wilson's blog The Goat Rope, or have received periodic (okay, okay... sporadic) emails from us about various federal and state economic justice issues, events and trainings, and calls to action (with accompanying rants).

By way of a new e-newsletter, we want to share with you some other exciting ch-ch-CHANGES at AFSC in West Virginia.

The first change is that Rick is now the U.S. Economic Justice Director for AFSC, where he will be lending his strategic mind, knowledge of martial arts and philosophy, and penchant for bad puns to a more national level.

While we are sad that Rick will not be as involved in the work here in West Virginia, we are equally thrilled to welcome two incredible people JoAnna Vance and Kenny Matthews to AFSC's WV Economic Justice Program. Read more below.

Another exciting development is AFSC's Appalachian Center for Equality has a new program director, Neema (Nem) Murimi. Longtime ACE program director Liz Brunello continues to be deeply involved in ACE's youth leadership development work, while also pursuing a masters degree in social work from Marshall University.

With all that said, please read on for updates on our work, upcoming events, and actions you can take to advance economic justice for all!

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AFSC's Rick Wilson and fellow social justice warrior Conni Gratop-Lewis at Program Committee gathering in May when Rick received the G.O.A.T. award for his 30+ years of lending his karate chops to the WV Economic Justice Program

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Summer Policy Institute 2023 Photo: Lauren Trovato/84 Agency

Photo: AFSC-WV

WVEJ Recovery Fellow Kenny Matthews and JoAnna Vance, WVEJ Program Coordinator Photo: AFSC-WV

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Food at the Foundation: Advocate for a Farm Bill for All

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Welcoming Neema "Nem" Murimi, Appalachian Center for Equality Program Director

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Next Criminal Law Reform Conference to be held November 10-12, 2023

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Faith leaders call for prayer and action on crisis in WV jails Photo: Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail

"People Powered Policy" at Summer Policy Institute 2023

We were honored to meet powerful emerging leaders at our annual Summer Policy Institute (SPI) in July—finally back in-person—at Fairmont State University. It was awe-inspiring to witness these leaders' passion for people-centered policy as well as their determination to be agents for positive change. 

We are grateful to our partners at the WV Center on Budget and Policy for helping make a learning space where attendees worked together on the most pressing issues impacting their communities. After sessions on research and data, story-telling, and asset-mapping, teams developed their plans and presented their own creative, research-based solutions. Topics included kinship care, harm reduction, and solar power.

Thank you also to the coaches who lent their time and expertise to SPI teams, helping them design action plans, refine their solutions, and identify the "lever" of change (local, state, federal, or administrative). 

We had a blast and are excited to continue supporting SPI teams with mini-grants and ongoing networking opportunities throughout the year, including during legislative session.   

If you would like to learn more or would like to join the SPI steering committee, email

Meet Kenny and JoAnna!

JoAnna Vance is the new program coordinator for WVEJ, bringing a wealth of organizing experience in the recovery community to our work advancing economic justice policies like the child tax credit.  

Kenny Matthews joins the WVEJ team as a part-time fellow. Over the years Kenny has been instrumental in our criminal law reform efforts at the state legislature, helping defeat bad legislation and securing wins for justice-involved people. Recently Kenny and his advocacy work was featured on WV Public Broadcasting's Us & Them podcast. We are grateful to The Just Trust for making Kenny's work with AFSC possible, as well as our criminal law reform work generally.   

Also since joining the team JoAnna and Kenny have trained hundreds of people in public narrative, helping West Virginians tell their story for purpose.  If you would like to bring the public narrative training to your community, email JoAnna at

Food at the Foundation: Advocate for a Farm Bill for All

AFSC's JoAnna Vance joined Reimagine Appalachia and other partners for a webinar about what should be "on the table" in the reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill, and why work reporting requirements for people on SNAP would be so harmful to Appalachia. 

Watch the webinar here.

Meet Nem!

Neema (Nem) Murimi is the new program director for AFSC's ACE youth leadership program. Nem is a Kenyan American woman from Louisiana who for the past 12 years has worked across the advocacy and mental health fields. She brings to the role a passion for people and catalyzing longitudinal change on both individual and collective levels. 

Read more about Nem here.

See you in Wheeling in November!

The Leading for Justice conference in January 2023 in Charleston, WV coincided with the start of 2023 legislative session. The gathering was described by one participant as "a family reunion"—where all of us saw old friends or made new ones.

We have a shared belief that another way is possible, where punishment and the carceral system is no longer a primary response to harm, and we stop criminalizing systemic problems like homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorder.  

We talked the talk of how to make systemic changes, and we walked the walk to the halls of the state capitol. Read Payton's story advocating for people incarcerated during the Leading for Justice day of action.

The Leading for Justice summit also included a friendly policy pitch competition. The winning policy was capias reform which led to a true victory in the passage of SB 663. SB 663 reduces the amount of time people who have been arrested on a capias (or bench warrant) have to sit in regional jail. Read policy pitch winner Danni Dineen's story.  

We had such a good time in January we are planning another for November 10-12th in Wheeling, WV. Registration is now live, so sign up today if you'd like to attend! (If you are a person who is directly impacted by the criminal legal system, or you would be able to sponsor someone who is to attend, please email me at

Since the January conference, our extended family of the Leading for Justice movement had a heartbreak. These past years we had the privilege of getting to know Brandi Shepherd as she excelled as a reentry coordinator with our partners at the REACH Initiative. Brandi was beginning her advocacy journey, championing second look sentencing on behalf of the many families like hers who have loved ones serving long, or life without mercy sentences in prison. Brandi's beautiful and brave light was snuffed out way too soon when she died March 22, 2023 (you can read her obituary here).  

Please listen to Brandi tell her story.  

Brandi's story is powerful testimony about why we need humane policies like second look sentencing, as well as policies more broadly that reduce poverty and heal trauma.

Faith Leaders Call for Prayer and Action on Crisis in WV Jails

AFSC joined the WV Council of Churches for a press conference in Charleston when faith leaders spoke powerfully about why we should all feel called to act to alleviate the human suffering happening in our jails and prison. Watch a short video of the press conference here.

Peace out for now, thank you for reading!  And please feel free to be in touch, I'd love to hear from you.

Lida Shepherd
WV Economic Justice Program Director