Shekinah Lavalle

How/Why/How long have you been involved with KFTC?

I've been an active member of KFTC for a little over a year now. I first learned about KFTC at the Kentucky Social Forum in 2009. I was there to see talk about single-payer health care and I noticed that there was a tax workshop scheduled right before the talk, so I attended. I started working on a project where members interviewed people at non-profit organizations to get an idea of how budget cuts effect their ability to provide services.

I was already interested in taxes as a means to improve our public services, but this work made me draw direct and profound connections between what I saw was lacking in my community and the rhetoric surrounding taxation in this country. I want to help to build better conversations about what our state and what our country is capable of economically.

How/why did you decide to become a New Power Leader? Did you have a goal in mind, or did it simply (or not simply) just sound like a good thing to do, or some of both?

I decided to become a New Power Leader because working with KFTC has helped me learn how important individual efforts can be. I've felt very empowered by the guidance I've received and by the effects that little things I can do have on the people around me. I want to spread those feelings and ideas. I want to help KFTC build leadership around our wonderful vision for Kentucky because I think we take a holistic approach to improving the lives of Kentuckians.

How did you decide who you wanted to invite to be in your cluster of people?

I've made a concerted effort to invite young people into my cluster. I'm the girl who has uncomfortable conversations about politics at dinner, at parties, at bars in mixed company. I've been impressed with the thoughts and ideas of my peers, and I'm always surprised at how powerless teenagers and 20-somethings feel with regard to politics and legislation that affects them and their communities. So, I've invited friends and acquaintances and even my sister to get more involved.

These people see the work that I do and I want to show them that if I can do it, they can. I don't want complacency and feelings of powerlessness to overtake the political potential of my generation. We're the future business owners, parents of public school children, politicians and public servants and we need to be prepared and willing to engage in public discourse about what our communities need.

What are some of the things you’ve done with your cluster of folk?

I'm trying to figure out ways to be practical and creative with my cluster members. I've only scheduled one formal meeting since starting this New Power Leader thing in November, but that was the least interesting thing we've done. We've gotten together to write letters to the editor for University of Louisville's student paper, the LEO, the Courier Journal and the Herald Leader. I took a few of my cluster members with me to lobby against SB6 during the last session. I brought one cluster member with me to the hearing for the Kentucky Forward Bill. One night recently, we got together at a local restaurant to talk about economic policy and the merits of alternative economies, and because it was a laid-back format for a meeting, we had some new people show up! We've also done some work with housing in Louisville, informing residents at Shepherd's Square of their rights for relocation since their housing is going to be torn down to build newer facilities with the Hope VI Grant.

What are some of the outcomes you’ve seen?

Mostly, I've seen small things happen. I get excited just to see my cluster members engage in political discourse on Facebook! One member is considering joining the Economic Justice Committee for KFTC, some of my cluster members are planning to attend the statewide Annual Meeting, and another member was recently granted an internship with the LRC for the next session! My sister is one of my cluster members as well, and she has jumped right in to work with KFTC, she's now working with us to inform members about the death penalty, she's been tabling all summer for our chapter at various events, and she's working with other members on reinstating voting rights for former felons. I think the most important things I've seen though, are increased engagement in political issues and a sense of empowerment to work for positive change in our community.

What are some of your plans with your cluster members?

We're planning on having another meeting soon. In the Fall, I plan to have a dinner/potluck night at my house to discuss the upcoming session. We're planning to meet with some of our representatives at home now that summer travel plans are calming down. I'm always looking for new ideas too, so send 'em my way if you've found anything to be particularly effective with your clusters/friends/etc.!

What skills do you feel like you’ve developed, and what skills would you like to continue to develop?

Public speaking is a big one. I've always been willing to engage in critical one-on-one discussions about almost anything, but being a New Power Leader has impressed upon me the importance of building leadership in politics in Kentucky. If I expect my cluster members to be involved in building a better Kentucky, I have an obligation to model that behavior. I've always been terrified of speaking in front of people, but what we're trying to accomplish is bigger than my nervousness. I've also been learning how to effectively network and build relationships around issues.

What do you think the impact could be of having 1000 New Power Leaders in Kentucky?

If we had 1000 New Power Leaders? Wow. Just think, if 1000 of us could get 1 more person more invested in building a better Kentucky, and if that 1000 in turn got 1 more person involved? That's how we build movements, that's how we effect change.