Making the most of a difficult Rappahannock upbringing

‘His earliest school memories included stuffing discarded green beans and chicken nuggets into his jacket pockets to feed his younger siblings’

By Holly Jenkins
Special to the Rappahannock News

Dr. Adam Starks came home this week to share his inspiring story as a young adolescent growing up in Rappahannock County, a difficult time during the 1980s and 90s filled with struggles and emotional trauma.

Dr. Adam Starks speaks to RCHS students on Monday about his years in foster care, mostly in Rappahannock County. By Holly Jenkins

Now a successful businessman and father of three, Starks’ Monday address to the student body of Rappahannock County High School, from which he pushed himself to graduate, was uplifting for everybody in attendance.

Initially raised by a single mother struggling with alcoholism, his earliest school memories included stuffing discarded green beans and chicken nuggets into his jacket pockets to feed his younger siblings at home.

Social Services intercepted and placed Starks and his siblings in foster care homes. He spent the remainder of his school years in various foster homes, separated from his brothers and sisters. To this day, he cannot find one of his brothers, who had been adopted.

Starks recounted a year where he was placed in a home outside of Rappahannock. At the neighboring school division, he was tormented by a group of students for being different. They shoved his head into the bathroom urinal and pushed him down a flight of stairs. While this extreme form of bullying resulted in anger and depression at the time, he encouraged the students to learn from his traumatic encounter.

“I challenge you all if you see someone that is a little different from you, whether it’s their clothes or their hairstyle, or whatever. Try this — pay them a compliment. It will mean the world to that person. Rather than making fun of them because they are different, let’s try something new. Let’s try to lift each other up rather than bring each other down.”

Dr. Adam Starks’ 2014 autobiography, “Broken Child, Mended Man.” Courtesy photo

After a year outside of Rappahannock, Starks was placed in a different foster home back in the county. Upon his return to RCHS, he decided he had a choice to either work hard to make something of himself or let the emotional trauma weigh him down. He was quick to point out several of his teachers and coaches that inspired him during his transformation.

Starks worked hard to improve his grades and make a name for himself in track and field, eventually placing 3rd in the state for hurdles. In fact, his name is proudly displayed in the high school gymnasium as the current RCHS record holder in both the 100 meter hurdles and the 300 meter hurdles.

Following his high school graduation, he went on to run for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. As a collegiate track and field athlete, he placed 10th in the nation. Starks continued his education, ultimately earning a Phd. He is now a business owner, assistant professor of Business and Management, school board member for his local school district in West Virginia, and a loving family man.

Starks wrote an autobiography, “Broken Child, Mended Man,” in 2014 that described his difficult experience in early childhood and his journey to rise above to be successful.

“When I graduated from Rappahannock, I wasn’t supposed to be anything. I wasn’t supposed to go on to college. I was told college wasn’t for people of my background,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to be successful.”

Starks’ message to the students was to give them hope and to see that regardless of their challenges, their future is what they make it to be for themselves.

As he told the students in his powerful message, “Even though I had a rough childhood, it doesn’t define who I am.” Indeed, Starks is a “mended man” on a mission to spread encouragement and hope with others.

Following his visit, many students agreed that they found his message to be motivating. Perhaps a RCHS 10th grader said it best: “Hearing the story of a former Rappahannock student is not only inspiring but makes me want to work ten times as hard in everything I do.”

In addition to speaking at RCHS, Dr. Starks visited students and staff at CCLC and presented at the Washington Town Hall during the Department of Social Services meet and greet event to promote foster care in the county.

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3 Comments

  1. What an impressive story. It takes a strong man to step up and tell it as well, especially to the community from within which the hardship arose. We salute Dr. Starks’ success.

  2. We cannot thank Dr. Starks enough for bringing his story of Rappahannock to our meet and greet event. He truly impressed upon the crowd the importance of keeping our children in our community. He is an inspiration to all and I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect with him.

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