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Man's journey behind Thanksgiving feast

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You know that "bad kid" in class who's always acting up and causing trouble?

Dural Miller was one of those kids. Now, at age 32, he wants you to know something about one of the reasons he did what he did.

"Some of my challenges came with not being able to read," he said. "When it was time for me to read, I would do something so I wouldn't have to. I would do something so that I would get kicked out of class.

"I ended up being labeled a bad guy. Really, I was just trying to hide the fact I couldn't read."

Fast-forward to 2012. On Tuesday, Miller and a host of volunteers, local groups and businesses will stage one big free turkey feast on the West Side of Charleston. The event arose out of Miller's struggles with illiteracy.

He is founder of the non-profit Keep Your Faith Corporation, devoted to helping young people with reading and spelling deficiencies. KYFC will serve up the 6th Annual Earl Wilson Community Dinner to more than 300 people, from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Tiskelwah Center, 600 Florida St.

The evening, co-sponsored by Mountain Mission, the West Virginia Power, the Dollar Energy Fund and Generation Charleston, with food and supplies also donated by Kroger and Sam's, is free and open to all.

The story behind the group's keystone annual event is certainly a personal one. Yet given the drumbeat of bad news from the West Side's often troubled streets, it's also a corrective: good news is possible, too, with key help from family, friends and church.

Miller recalled one day in middle school when he appealed heavenward for help with his illiteracy.

"I love the Lord," he said. "I cried out to him one night, just frustrated, not being able to read just the simplest things. I asked him if he showed me that I would promise I would show others."

Of course, life takes indirect paths getting to where it's going. More trouble lay ahead. Like many a young man on an unfriendly street where handguns are readily available, Miller once reached for one when threatened. He fired some shots and was caught; another West Side kid -- he was 19 -- seeming to deep-six his life.

"I got into a little trouble in a neighborhood situation," Miller recalled. "A guy caused some problem and me and him got into it. No one got hurt."

Convicted on a wanton endangerment charge, he served seven months home confinement, then seven months at the Anthony Correctional Center in White Sulphur Springs.

"I was just sorry I basically let some people down that I ended up like that," he said. "Being in there, I had a chance to sit down and figure out what I had to do."

Coming home, he had a few aces in hand -- his church and family and especially his cousin, Don Wilson, who was more like a brother. They'd grown up together and Don's father, Earl, had been a kind of father figure to Miller.

Unlike Dural, Don had always been a good student. He'd gone on to found several businesses in Charleston and is now a successful insurance industry figure in town. Don became more than a role model; he became a partner. He helped Miller to expand Keep Your Faith Corporation efforts with the help of his business contacts.

"Being able to see someone doing things without turning to the streets is a positive thing," Miller said of his cousin. "He was always there with words of encouragement. He didn't like seeing me running around, acting crazy."

Miller surprised cousin Don -- and, in so doing, honored their bond -- when two years ago he named the KYFC turkey dinner in honor of Don's father.

Earl Wilson had been a cook at Bennigan's for 20 years and coached a couple of generations of kids as head of a midget football league team called the Western Generals. He cooked the turkeys the first two years of the dinner, but died two months before the 2009 event.

"I found out the night of the event in 2009," said Wilson, acknowledging it was an emotional surprise from this cousin of his, who had set his life back on track and had been the best man at his wedding.

The work done by the Keep Your Faith Corporation is embodied in the very name itself, said Wilson.

"We grew up on the West Side of Charleston -- Grant Street, Main Street, Florida Street. We grew up right there in that community that sometimes is riddled with crimes," he said.

"That community has shaped us and made us the men that we are. That community gets a bad rap sometimes. But if you keep the faith and keep your faith in that community and in yourself there's nothing you can't accomplish.

"We want to just let people know that the situation you're in can get better. We've 'quote-unquote' made it out of this situation and we want to give back, to let you know that, you know, 'When you climb, don't forget to pull.'  Don't forget to help those that have helped you to get where you're at," Wilson said.

For his part, Dural Miller is a busy man these days, and not just rounding up turkeys.

He does literacy work with students at the West Side's Mary C. Snow Elementary School as the broader work of KYFC is year-round, not just tied to a dinner.

He also works as director of programs and services at the Liberty Center near Covenant House, a transitional home for men exiting prison with mental health and substance abuse problems. On the side, he also runs the residential and commercial Mountaineer Cleaning Service.

Miller can gauge how far his life has moved from one incident this past Halloween.

"We were out there with the kids. A lady ran up to me and whispered in my ear: 'Would you help me learn how to read?' Because she wanted to better herself for her and her child."

It took him back to the first day he got the business license for the Keep your Faith Corporation, he said.

"It kind of brought it all back to together. This is what that's for. It was like, yeah, man! You gotta continue to do this."

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3107.


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