House the Vineyard’s backbone

Charter School senior’s State House speech.


We are the unseen, unheard working class of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. We are the very backbone of the island communities, and yet our means of survival are dwindling.

My name is Graysen Kirk, and I am a senior at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. I have grown up on the Island, and I have seen many people pushed off the Island because they were priced out of living opportunities. 

In an economy where the working people are spending over half their salary on housing, it is taking money out of the economy, putting more pressure on social services, affecting children, and just in all hurting everyone. 

On Martha’s Vineyard, our population grows almost tenfold during the summer, with many people flooding to the Island to experience its rich natural beauty. For many centuries, this land has been appreciated by many, and is also sacred indigenous land, home to the Wampanoag people. What our seasonal guests don’t see is the harsh circumstances that working class and marginalized people are being put under. We have lost many of our primary care and public service resources, with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital only at 63 percent employment capacity, and a total of a ten-teacher loss per year. Similarly on Nantucket, only a little over a dozen of the Island’s firefighters still live on the Island. 

The standards for living for the working class have dropped enormously, with whole families cramming into one-room rentals, with a particularly direct impact on migrant families. 

This housing crisis has become a health crisis. Our community is denied the resources it needs, and is pushed into overpriced rentals that are often falling apart, while mansions sit empty nine months out of the year. It’s almost a mockery of our community. The implications are endless, and all intersectional. With an unchecked economy and a slowly dwindling community, there is a direct negative impact on indigenous land and indigenous heritage, the widening of a socioeconomic gap, and the unusual and harsh circumstances that migrant populations are put under.

The part that frustrates me the most is that we know how to fix this issue. Even though this is the case, unfortunately the problem has yet to be solved. We have repetitive homelessness among our working class, and a dying community. 

What happens when we all get pushed off? Who will work the restaurants, who will run the boats that bring people over here, who will keep the beaches clean, the stores open, and the seasonal houses kept? 

And this is not to say that this is all that we are here for; we are not just servants to the wealthy. We are what makes the Islands resilient and beautiful. Get rid of the community, you don’t have an Island. This is our home, and we deserve to live here. 

I am going to college in six months, and I want to know I have a place to come home to. I want to be able to say that I can go home. The idea of a housing bank being put in place gives me hope. It does something unprecedented and beautiful, by putting into law a means by which to keep our community intact. We work hard to keep our islands healthy, our community resilient, and our home welcoming. I think it’s time that those with much to give, give back to the community and to the place they consider a second home. We love our home, and we know others do too. Let us share it with you and create a lasting community that feeds its youth, takes care of its elderly, nurtures its environment, and has a better quality of life for all.


Graysen Kirk is a senior at the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School. She gave a version of this speech during a housing rally held at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday last week. Graysen provided the written version to the Times.