We Are Kentuckians member exchange

To cultivate relationships between Jefferson County and southeast Kentucky KFTC members and facilitate a knowledge exchange around local organizing work, 15 Jefferson County KFTC members (JCKFTC) traveled to southeast Kentucky during Memorial Day weekend for the We Are Kentuckians KFTC Member Exchange. The exchange was also an opportunity for JCKFTC members to build on the momentum of the chapter’s 2nd Annual We Are Kentuckians: Celebrating Our Common Heritage. This March event honored the important but often unheard stories, culture, and heritage of Black Kentuckians through art, music, poetry, and storytelling.

Members were excited to visit the Eastern Kentucky Social club, a 45-year-old Black social club for residents and former residents of Harlan County, Kentucky. The club has chapters across the country, and the Harlan County chapter hosts other chapters every Memorial Day weekend in Lynch. During the trip Jefferson County exchanged experiences with Harlan County members about KFTC canvassing projects in Smoketown (Louisville) and Benham (Harlan County) and enjoyed a potluck dinner and dialogue with members of the Letcher County Chapter.

Members in Benham following a group discussion about community canvassing

“We’re in a unique place nationally and have so much much opportunity right now to work together,” said JCKFTC member Pam Newman during a visit with members in Benham. “If we can just close the divide between the city mouse and the country mouse, we’d have a much better shot at all the cheese we need!”

Read members' reflections from the weekend

Jefferson County members also attended Eastern Kentucky Social Club reunion events in Lynch, hiked at Bad Branch Falls, enjoyed an impromptu magic show at Wiley’s Last Resort, toured Appalshop and attended a broadcast of WMMT community radio’s Hip Hop from the Hill Top weekly radio show. Letcher County members Mike and Marcia Caudill hosted a lovely brunch for JCKFTC members at their home in Carcassonne, and members toured a mountaintop removal site close to the Caudills’ home.

Reflecting on his experience in eastern Kentucky, JCKFTC member Ross Pusateri said, “Their struggles became my cause, their humor my laughter, and through these and our other connections I felt I had found a second home in my home state, another place where people always knew things could be better than they are.”

JCKFTC member Ryan Fenwick shared, “Seeing what KFTC membership looks like in such a different context has helped me appreciate what it means to be a member. … Whether you live in Louisville, Lynch, Benham, or Whitesburg, the problems are more similar than different.”

Jessica Bellamy added, “There were so many personal and social justice stories that ran side by side with the struggles we face back at home in Louisville. … Not only did I get more tools and resources to add to my own social justice tool box, but I also cultivated new relationships and gained more clarity about why I do what I do.”

Eastern Kentucky members also found the trip helpful and inspiring. “We get ‘visitors’ here from all over. But it’s great to have y’all here, specifically because there’s just some things we have to have each other for, to make statewide moves,” said Letcher County member Ada Smith of Whitesburg. “I like to say that democracy is a verb,” said Sharman Chapman-Crane of Eolia in Letcher County. “It takes action. I’m so glad you all could visit with us.”

To help cover expenses of this trip, members hosted an online fundraising page and organized #BlackTrivia, a grassroots fundraising event. A small group of JCKFTC members were inspired to organize this fundraiser after attending a local trivia night that had few questions related to the history, culture, and experiences of people of color. The chapter raised almost $1,500 through their fundraising efforts and the contributions of exchange participants.

Visit this link to see more photos from the exchange.