Featured speakers | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Featured speakers

Here's some other KFTC members who will be facilitating workshops or taking other roles in the annual meeting

  • Jeff and Sharman Chapman-Crane
  • Doug Doerrfeld
  • Ralph Davis
  • Tayna Fogle
  • Cathy and Joe Gilbert
  • Carey Henson
  • Michael Hiser
  • Virginia Johnson
  • Elizabeth Jones
  • Kristah Lavalle
  • Shekinah Lavalle
  • Mary Love
  • Mary Lou Marzian
  • Bennie Massey
  • Beverly May
  • Pam Newman
  • K.A. Owens
  • Steve Pavey
  • The Paw Paw Pickers
  • Martin Richards
  • Marco Saavedro
  • Elizabeth Sawyer
  • Elizabeth Sanders
  • Linda Stettenbenz
  • Mantell Stevens
  • Ray Tucker
  • Randy Wilson
  • Steve Wilkins

You can read a brief bio of each one in the 2013 Annual Meeting Program

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is known and recognized nationally and internationally, has lived in California, New York and Italy, and yet is deeply rooted to the land in the Kentucky community where his family has farmed for at least five generations. He makes his living as a farmer and a writer (more than 50 books of poems, essays and fiction).

He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, having also taught there. However, a few years ago he “ungraduated” himself and asked for the return of his personal papers after the university compromised itself in return for monetary donations from coal mining interests.

Since learning from Harry Caudill and Gurney Norman in the 1960s about the destructive practice of strip mining in eastern Kentucky, Berry has been to this day an outspoken critic of the practice, at times risking arrest and being one of 14 KFTC members who spent a weekend in 2011 camped out in the Kentucky governor’s office to bring attention to the injustice of mountaintop removal.

These actions reflect the constant themes in all of Berry’s writings – respect for the natural rhythms and gifts of the earth, the connectedness of life, admiration for local knowledge and culture, and a commitment to our obligations to one another.

Berry has spoken out on many social justice issues, including opposing the war in Vietnam and later all wars, the construction of a nuclear power plant nearby in Indiana, and farm policy that leads to the destruction of rural communities and small farmers. In 2009, along with 38 other Kentucky writers, Berry wrote in opposition to the death penalty, calling for a moratorium on any further executions.  

He has been a great friend and supporter of KFTC for many years, reading at KFTC events in Kentucky and elsewhere, and helping organize mountaintop removal tours for Kentucky authors and artists. In an interview 20 years ago, Berry described KFTC as “a new political party for the land and the people.”


Gihan Perera

Gihan Perera is a nationally recognized progressive strategist, community organizer and leader in the U.S. social justice movement. He is currently the executive director of the Florida New Majority, a statewide civil rights and civic engagement organization that is working to connect and empower Florida’s diverse communities. 

Perera is co-founder and former executive director of the Miami Workers Center, a community organizing institution for low-income Black and Latino communities in south Florida. His decade-plus leadership of the center helped turn it into a national peer anchor to a number of strategic initiatives including the U.S. Social Forum, the Right to the City Alliance, and a number of other efforts to build the theory, practice and capacity of work happening at the intersection of race, gender, the economy and the environment. 

Perera sits on the board of directors for the Advisory Committee of the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity and Social Justice Leadership. He also is the co-founder and chair of the Right to the City Alliance, a national alliance across eight urban centers of the U.S. dedicated to expanding human rights and democracy. The alliance, which includes more than 50 grassroots organizations, legal service providers, academics and policy organizations, looks to forge an urban human rights agenda to win racial justice, participatory democracy and systemic policy and institutional change.

Perera began his activism as a high school student in Los Angeles and then at UC Berkeley. While organizing against the first Gulf War, Perera hosted a radio program on a local station melding his passion for social and racial justice and music. Prior to founding the Workers Center he was a union organizer, leading campaigns in Miami and South and North Carolina for seven years, with Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). He was also a trainer and west coast recruitment director for the AFL-CIO's Organizing Institute.

Perera is a regular contributor to The Miami Herald and The Huffington Post and is often featured in national publications and events exploring urban poverty, racial disparities, civic engagement and social justice in the U.S.

Johann Joseph

Johann Joseph migrated to South Florida in 2007 at the age of 16 from Port Au Prince, Haiti. Johann is a single mother of two beautiful girls and has been heard saying that her girls are her inspiration to turn her city and state around. She first got involved with Florida New Majority as a canvasser for the Fight for a Fair Economy campaign in 2011. Since then she has taken up leadership roles during the 2012 Presidential elections. In early 2013 she spoke to Florida’s state legislators of the importance to make voting a fundamental right. One of Johann’s great electoral-activism accomplishments was forming and co-leading a team of volunteers to vet, endorse and help elect the first woman mayor of the City of North Miami. Johann continues to remain engaged in local activism and organizing efforts in South Florida.