With new skills, pilot Organizing Academy cohort graduates

After spending six months learning about power, grassroots community organizing, KFTC, and the history of activism and organizing in Kentucky, KFTC’s pilot Organizing Academy cohort graduated in June.

“The Community Organizing Academy was so special because of the many unique life experiences brought together in one room,” Alexa Hatcher of Bowling Green reflected. “We worked to make genuine connections with each other the entire six months and those connections are deep and lasting. Everyone was a teacher and everyone was a student.”

“The organizing academy was a wonderful learning experience. I learned so many new things that I will and have already put into practice,” Alondra Garcia from Madison County said. ”I was able to meet people from all over Kentucky and have all kinds of dialogue on the issues that affect us and how to address them. I am grateful for my time with the organizing academy.”

The program began in January and met every third Saturday of the month for six months, as well as gathered once a month for video calls between sessions. Trainings topics also included meeting facilitation, grassroots fundraising, relationship building and leadership development, nonviolent direct action and self care.

Participants represented an incredibly diverse group of Kentuckians, including folks from across the state and a variety of ages, identities, cultures, experiences, and racial and ethnic identities.

“The Academy Cohort was a great experience for me as a young person. I was able to grow and learn so much as an organizer,” said 15-year-old Chase Gladson of Harlan County. “It was a great opportunity and I got to meet some amazing people!”

“It’s no exaggeration to say being part of the KFTC Organizing Academy was a profoundly spiritual experience. I’m in my 60s and have been part of many, many groups. This is the first group in which I felt completely safe and never defensive; totally at ease and able to be my whole, authentic self without fear of criticism; stimulated intellectually yet calm and peaceful; and loved and free to be loving of others,” added Fannie Madden-Grider of Rowan County. 

The last cohort gathering and graduation on June 16 was a time for reflection and celebration. Cohort members spent the day together reviewing all of the concepts, trainings and lessons the members learned together over the six months. They reflected on what was learned, how they have used the lessons and practices, and how they plan to use the trainings, tools and skills in their future organizing work.

Already cohort members are putting their skills into practice.

  • Hatcher organized a workshop at Western Kentucky University on ways to tell our stories and engage others in sharing theirs.
  • Garcia is using the skills she learned to begin Spanish-speaking chapter meetings in Berea.
  • Gladson is one of the young leaders providing inspiration in the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign, as well as contributing to the new growth in the Harlan County chapter.
  • Madden-Grider and her husband Alvin, who also participated in the cohort, are heading up their chapter’s democracy team and local chapter work.

“The Organizing Academy connected me to a statewide network of grassroots activists and showed me how to get involved at my own level with KFTC. I’ve already taken some of what I’ve learned and utilized it in community event organizing and in personal and professional conversations and interactions,” said Alix Burke of Pike County.

Cohort members ended their last day together day by creating headlines or creative visions for Kentucky, KFTC and the organizing academy 10 years from now. Those visions included the Organizing Academy graduates visiting Washington D.C. for the 10-year anniversary of the cohort program by invitation of President Attica Scott; Chase Gladson being in the state legislature on his way to being governor; and KFTC lifting up our working around storytelling, healing and self-care, anti-oppression and dismantling white supremacy.

And they had cupcakes and certificates of completion during graduation. It was a really beautiful day.

KFTC Chairperson Meta Mendel-Reyes helped plan and facilitate the training program for the Academy’s pilot cohort, and also acknowledged how much she learned from the other participants.

“If we're going to build the Kentucky in our Vision Statement – one that works for all of us, not just some of us – we need more organizing, more organizers. KFTC really stepped up with the Organizing Academy initiative.

“Over the last six months, we learned the nuts and bolts of organizing, from one-on-one's to campaign planning, the importance of inclusivity and nonviolent direct action, and much more. I have many more tools to build power in my own chapter.”

The Academy’s fall programs will focus on voter empowerment trainings, such as the Action for Democracy 101 online trainings to be offered once a month, and similar skills-building on the chapter level.

KFTC also plans to accept applications this fall and winter for a 2019 cohort.