This man isn't your stereotypical Bernie bro | KUOW News and Information

This man isn't your stereotypical Bernie bro

May 3, 2016

Just before Bernie Sanders took the stage at a packed Key Arena in March, the Seattle crowd heard a new voice in Washington state politics: Charles Adkins. 

He's a Native American high school student who used to be homeless. 

At the rally, the Sanders campaign brought on Adkins, 18, as a special speaker to rile up the crowd.

"He has shown that he is a true man of the people," Adkins says in a recording of the event, "and the reason I am on this stage is because Bernie gives us a future to believe in."

In some ways he's like other ambitious people his age. He's set on a clear career path; in his case, politics. He is already the vice president of the Washington State High School Democrats. 

But Adkins definitely isn't one of those "Bernie bros" you've heard so much about.

"Bernie supporters stereotypically are just white middle class people who are very privileged," he told KUOW in an interview. "And I wanted to show that there’s more to Bernie supporters than just that." 

Adkins is a member of the Yurok Tribe of Northern California. He wants to show tribes across the nation how young natives can get involved in politics. He said tribes are often an afterthought in politics, and that needs to change.

"Growing up and around the Yurok reservation, it’s an absolutely gorgeous area. It’s redwoods as far as the eye can see and beautiful rivers," he said. "But the people there are living a subsistence economy basically. I can tell you that we are not doing enough to help the native peoples of this land. And we need to do more and we need to do more effective aid."

Adkins was raised in a military family, a family where there was the experience of war and lots of moves on and off the reservation and all over the country. That took a toll on all of them, including his father, who served in the military for a second time after September 11 in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And after his father returned home, Adkins said, things were different. He said the two of them ended up butting heads a lot over simple things like homework and chores.

"I remember one instance where my mother and father were having an argument," he said. "I decided I would take me and my brothers out of my house and we would go over to a neighbor's house because I didn't want them to see their parents arguing."

The conflict at home escalated. Adkins decided he didn't want to live there anymore. So at age 15 he was out on the streets, homeless. 

He lived that way for about six months and later ended up in a shelter in Everett for two years. The experience changed him.

He lived that way for about six months and later ended up in a shelter in Everett for two years. The experience changed him.

"Being homeless made me realize that we need a new perspective in our politics; that we need to find new solutions," he said. "And that made me want to go out of my way to get involved with politics."

Adkins is now running to be a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention this July in Philadelphia. He described the moment on stage at Key Arena as a high for him.

Adkins: "As soon as I stepped off that stage, I wanted to do it again."

But will he back Hillary Clinton if she's the nominee and not Sanders? Adkins said he hasn't decided.