Reflections from a Grassroots Leader

Posted by: Cassia Herron on February 21, 2017

Jefferson County KFTC member, Cassia Herron, represented the organization at The Rally to Move Forward in Louisville on January 21, 2017 – one of several local marches that took place across the state in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. KFTC organizer Alicia Hurle sat down with Cassia to learn more about her thoughts on leadership development within KFTC and how she approached having the opportunity to speak to such a large audience at what feels like a historically significant moment. Click here to listen to Cassia's speech. 

Why do you identify yourself as a community organizer?

From a grade school student who rallied my peers to challenge our prejudice teacher to a student at the University of Louisville who worked on improving the conditions on campus for students of color, I have always been a community organizer. It has been a natural position for me as my peers and colleagues have looked to me to represent a particular position or idea, to rally others in support of it and move us collectively toward action to remedy it. I have had the opportunity to receive professional organizing training from union organizers and Highlander Center trainers as well as working with Community Farm Alliance and now KFTC. Of course I’m biased, but I feel these are the best organizers in the south and certainly in Kentucky, and I’m proud to be a product of their great work.

How did you approach this public speaking opportunity and how was it different from other public speaking opportunities you've had in the past?

I was certainly apprehensive. The invitation came exactly one week in advance and once I was made aware of the groups involved and recognizing there were no groups representing a predominately Black constituency who’d signed on to the rally was problematic for me. However, I saw it as an opportunity to improve my public speaking skills and express my support and involvement in work in which I champion progress. I am becoming more and more aware of the importance of my role as a community leader (versus my role as a community organizer) and I viewed this speaking engagement as a way to market my personal brand as a leader “for” great things versus a community activist who is often “against” bad public policy. I had previously only spoken at one other rally and that was over 10 years ago, so I saw it as a way to challenge myself to speak in an unfamiliar environment. I’m much more comfortable running community meetings and facilitating dialogue between different constituencies.

What inspired you to share the poem you read? 

I am a writer who is re-teaching myself how to write - to have my political voice heard. As an adolescent, poetry was the genre that helped me find my voice as a writer. After hearing Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” poem for the first time a few years ago, I was inspired to write “Omni on Third” – as a critique on local economic development policy (as Scott-Heron’s was a critique on the national space program at a time when - similar to now – urban communities were struggling for basic services and the idea of sending someone to space seemed out of touch). I struggled to write a prepared speech and decided after several attempts to just rely on being in the moment and thought the poem was a provocative way to catch the audience’s attention and communicate a complex issue – economic development policy.

Why did you decide to focus on economic development, the Louisville Food Co-op, and upcoming elections and how do those things connect to KFTC's work across the commonwealth?

I live this work every day so in some respects it was easy because it is the work in which I’m most familiar. One of my mantras is that I believe “food can be a catalyst for redevelopment for both urban and rural communities.” While Kentuckians continue to allow ourselves to be separated by geography, race and economics, I believe food – the growing, harvesting, distribution, selling and consumption of food – can become part of the solution to bringing people together and improving our democracy. We are using principles of cooperation and equity to create a democratically controlled social enterprise – a cooperatively-owned grocery store – to answer community issues of access to food and improving our local food system.

Similarly, central to KFTC’s work is the idea that ordinary people have the knowledge and skills to develop creative solutions to challenging community issues. Whether its food, energy policy, education or election reform, we must have ordinary people with great ideas to actively participate in democratic processes to fix these problems. It is only through this that our democracy improves and I know no other way except through community organizing to give people the opportunity to participate. Having an audience of thousands is the perfect opportunity to invite others to join our efforts!

How were you feeling right before you took the mic? How did you feel after you left the stage? 

I was anxious all morning! I knew that I would read the poem and that I’d mention the co-op and KFTC, but I had no idea how I’d weave it all together. Once I arrived at the rally, my anxiety increased because the crowd was so big and the energy was very electric. I felt pressure and the need to connect and I was relieved that the rally audience made the job palatable. I could tell they wanted something to cheer and so I tried to use words and phrases that feed that desire.

Afterwards, I was happy it was over and was even more anxious to know if my words resonated with the audience. I was so out of it that when I spoke with Ben Sollee afterwards and didn’t realize it was him until later that day! I still feel so silly about not recognizing him. 

What did it feel like to talk about KFTC's vision?

I wish I would have actually read part of KFTC’s vision because the words are so powerful and the audience would have hung on every one of them. It felt good to hear the crowd roar when I said “I’m a member of KFTC.” Immediately, I felt supported and in community with comrades. I knew most in the crowd were not KFTC members, but that our name, our vision and my ability to articulate some of our work drew them in made me feel proud to represent the organization. 

You did a great membership pitch for KFTC. Why do you think it's important for us to consistently invite people to join KFTC?

People equals power! When people join KFTC, the organization raises resources to support our work, but more importantly it increases the opportunity for us to improve our democracy by giving ordinary people tools to create solutions to our everyday problems.

What's some feedback you've received since you gave your speech?

This has been the hardest thing to accept – that people really liked my speech! I’m a very critical person and I’m just as critical of myself as I am known to be of our mayor, so I could go on and on about what I did wrong or how I could improve my public speaking. However, none of the responses I’ve gotten from folks has been critical at all. People’s reactions have been validating and made me feel supported and loved when this complex, hard work can be lonely and emotionally taxing. I’ve had random strangers come up to me, old associates reconnect with me and people I know tell me how much they appreciated my words and how they were inspired to do something. I’m honored and have been overwhelmed by the support.

What's some advice you would share with other members who are invited to speak about KFTC at rallies, forums, etc? 

  • Read directly from KFTC’s vision statement (and other framing language on our issues)
  • Prepare notes or a written statement when possible
  • Be vulnerable and find a way to connect with the audience. Storytelling is a great way to personalize and clarify complex issues.
  • Know your role and understand its importance to the moment. In this instance, I knew the other speakers probably wouldn’t focus on economic development policy and that there wouldn’t be another person who could speak to food access like I could.
  • Ask the audience to join KFTC! People equals power!


Click here to listen to Cassia's speech. 



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We Stood For Kentucky

Posted by: KFTC Staff on February 13, 2017

Showing that we are solid as a rockrooted like a tree and standing strong, hundreds of KFTC members and friends took to the halls of the state capitol on Tuesday to Stand For Kentucky.

Nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. EPA threatens our health and climate

Posted by: Lisa Abbott on January 17, 2017

Among the many fossil-fueled extremists and climate deniers nominated by president-elect Donald Trump to lead key federal agencies, Scott Pruitt stands out as an extreme choice.

Scott County members attend local MLK Day events

Posted by: Joe Gallenstein on January 17, 2017

Members of the Scott County chapter participate in yearly events hosted by the local Georgetown-Scott County NAACP unit to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision and legacy. This included a sold-out breakfast event featuring Wilbur Hackett, a former UK player who was one of the first African American football players at the University of Kentucky.

Members also attended a meet and greet with Dr. Derek King, nephew of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Ed Davis Center before the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. march in Georgetown. Dr. King was also the featured speaker at the annual program following the march.

The march itself had more than 220 participants, with several groups well represented. Many in attendance were talking about Dr. King’s vision not just of racial equality, but an intersectional vision of social justice that did not leave anyone behind.

Mapping environmental (in)justice in Kentucky

Posted by: Lisa Abbott on December 8, 2016

As KFTC members work to design a new, clean energy system for our state, we want principles of environmental justice and health equity to be at the front and center of our process and plan. Developing an Environmental Justice analysis is one important step we are taking to better understand which communities in our state are most affected by pollution, poor health, economic inequality and racial injustice.

Turn your anger into action: Support KFTC during our fall campaign

Posted by: Tanya Torp on November 28, 2016

I was out of town on election day. After voting by absentee ballot, I went on a much needed vacation with my family. I didn’t have internet access on the trip, and when I turned on my cell phone the day after the election, it started pinging with message after message from friends back home.

Folks were asking, “What can I do?” – trying to turn their feelings of powerlessness into hope.

The first thing I thought of was KFTC. I wanted to share KFTC’s vision statement with everyone who was asking that question. And I wanted to give my friends a way to do something, to channel everything they were feeling into action.

Remembrance of Patty Wallace's remarkable life

Posted by: KFTC staff on November 24, 2016

Patty Wallace, a long-time KFTC leader, former KFTC chairperson and an inspiration to many, passed away on November 20.

“Patty was a real heroine to those of us in KFTC,” reflected John and Jean Rosenberg. “Beyond that, she was a lovely caring person. We will miss Patty a lot. When strong leaders are being counted, Patty will always be remembered.”

“Patty was a wonderful person and an inspiration to many,” remembered Henry Riekert, the KFTC chairperson 1994-95.

Shelby County KFTC tables at Light Up Shelbyville

Posted by: Lisa Aug on November 15, 2016

Shelby KFTC (Lisa Aug, center) with allies at Light up Shelbyville Saturday. By sharing our space with Shelbyville area NAACP (President Janice Harris left) and the new Shelbyville Simpsonville human rights commission (vice chair Andrea Cottrell, right), we drew more people and were able to spread the word about all three organizations. Stronger together! Photo by Ariane King.

Reflections on the election of 2016

Posted by: KFTC on November 10, 2016

We are Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, a community of people inspired by a vision, building New Power and a better future, for all of us. 

By now, you've likely seen lots of reflections, commentaries and postmortems on the election of 2016. We hope you have the stamina for one more.

Something big – titanic perhaps – happened on Tuesday. Our world has changed, as well as our pathways to change. The ultimate consequences of this election are uncertain, unknowable even. But the impacts are being felt across the country, across our Commonwealth, in our communities, schools and homes.

While many surrounding us are celebrating the new reality, most of KFTC woke on Wednesday possessed by grief, anger, dread about the future, fear about tomorrow, newly separated from at least some of our neighbors, perhaps even from family. We should take note that the feeling of vulnerability, of isolation that some of us may be experiencing for the first time, is not new at all for many of us. 

The seemingly endless campaign of 2016 was, for most of the country, demoralizing, embarrassing, repulsive. It was a campaign dominated by cynical attacks and baseless blame, fueled by exploiting fear. The damage inflicted by such tactics on our people and our democracy is profound. We must overcome their impact and reject their continuation.

We encourage each of us to take the time to take care of ourselves, to linger but not loiter with our grief. We need to support each other, and stand in solidarity with those most at risk.  

We encourage each of us to listen – to our heart, to our family, our community, one another – so that we may understand our common anxieties and our shared aspirations.

Then we step forward, together, with courage and conviction, with determination and integrity.  Some things changed on election day; more things did not. Our resolve, our core values, our vision for a better Kentucky, our commitment to action for justice, are as certain, as reassuring, as ever.  

We are Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and together, we are our best hope for change.

Reducing harm in our communities

The Letcher County Chapter meeting
Posted by: Sara Estep on October 28, 2016

During the Letcher County chapter's October meeting, members wrote letters to the fiscal court of Letcher County.

Members of the Letcher County chapter are working to bring a clean needle exchange to Letcher County and other counties in eastern Kentucky.

The Story of the Roanoke Electric Co-op

Posted by: KFTC Staff on October 26, 2016

Curtis Wynn is the CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative in North Carolina. He was the keynote speaker at KFTC's Empower Kentucky Summit on October 1, 2016 in Louisville. He described ways his co-op is leading the nation with an innovative approach to energy efficiency and building on a model developed by rural co-ops in Kentucky. Watch this video of Curtis describing his work to empower the members of his co-op.


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