We Are Kentuckians: Celebrating Our Common Heritage

Posted by: KFTC Staff on May 6, 2015

On March 20, 2015 the Jefferson County Chapter of KFTC (JCKFTC) hosted “We Are Kentuckians: Celebrating Our Common Heritage,” an event that honored the important but often unheard stories, culture, and heritage of Black Kentuckians. The celebration took place through art, music, poetry, and storytelling. During the evening program at the Clifton Center, Kentucky writers, musicians, and artists shared their work, personal stories and vision for Kentucky’s Bright Future.

In November 2014, a team of six JCKFTC members began planning this celebration with the goal of building off of the success of last year’s event. Judi Jennings, We Are Kentuckians planning team member said the first We Are Kentuckians event “was one of the most inspiring and affirming programs I have experienced in the 23 years since I left the mountains and moved to the city. Both the program participants and the audiences included folks of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities who wanted to learn more about the cultural bonds binding the coalfields to the banks of the Ohio. It inspired joy and hope for real change in Kentucky.”

The team began the planning process by having intentional conversations about the goals of the event and how it could be used to connect audience members to KFTC’s statewide and local work. They discussed the importance of using African American culture and heritage as a lens for the social, environmental, and economic justice issues that KFTC works on throughout the year. Starting in December the team began inviting Kentucky poets, speakers, artists, and musicians to participate in the event. The final line-up included Quinn Chapel AME Church’s Committed choir, rapper Joshua Outsey, DJ Yared Sound, Affrilachian Poet Joy Priest, poets Jeremy Clark and Tarsha Semakula; author and journalist Michael Jones, and speakers Tiffany Bellfield, and Eastern Kentucky Social Club and Harlan County Chapter members Benny Massey and Rutland Melton.

The Clifton Center, a restored 1930's performance and meeting complex located just east of downtown Louisville, graciously offered JCKFTC the use of their theater for the event. Per the suggestion of Clifton Center director John Harris the team decided to have the entire event on the theater stage. Clifton Center staff were able to set up the seating, stage area, and space for the silent auction, cash bar, and food on the stage. This non-traditional arrangement made for a very intimate and unique experience for audience members.

“The set-up on the stage of the Clifton Center surprised some folks at first.  As a Member of the Planning Team, I tried to greet many of the early arrivals and welcome them to come up to the seats on the stage. Mostly, their eyes lit up and folks went "oooohhh" when they saw we would be seated on the stage and not in the auditorium. Seating on the stage made it possible to see all the other great folks, check out the silent auction, talk about the food and anticipate the program to come. Again this year, Kentuckians of all ages, backgrounds and identities came out for KFTC's Jefferson County Chapter celebration of the common heritage we share as Kentuckians. People came willing to listen, share stories, learn and greet each other as neighbors, friends and community members,” says Jennings 

Painting by artist Bessie Johnson (photo courtesy of the Voice Tribune)

Another wonderful feature of the event was a delicious chicken dinner catered by the family-owned restaurant Dasha Barbour’s Southern Bistro. Dasha Barbour’s often serves up food sourced from their family farm in Hart County, KY. The Barbour family has been farming in Kentucky since the Civil War era and is currently working with New Roots, Inc's Fresh Stop in Louisville. During the event the Barbour family shared their family’s story and talked about the importance of supporting local businesses and farmers. 

Aside from bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to celebrate African American heritage and culture, the planning team also wanted to help raise money and members for KFTC. To this end members reached out to local businesses and artists for silent auction donations. Donations were received from Please & Thank You coffee shop, Carmichael’s Bookstore, WHY Louisville, Sustainable Health Choices, Safiyyah Dance Company, Heine Brother’s Coffee, Old 502 Winery, Songs of Sheba, and members of the Art of the Rural’s Rural-Urban Exchange. Tiffany Bellfield also donated an original painting by her grandmother, Madison County native Bessie Johnson. Thanks to a a few bidding wars and the generosity of several audience members, the silent auction raised $455.

Funds were also raised through admission fees and KFTC merchandise purchases. Attendees could also sign up to have their $10 admission go toward a KFTC membership or the renewal of their existing membership. By the end of the evening 9 people renewed their membership and 19 new people joined KFTC. In total the event raised a little over $2,000 on top of generating a lot of excitement about KFTC’s work and giving audience members a chance to visit with old friends and meet new ones. 

Reflecting on the event, We Are Kentuckians planning team member and event emcee Cassia Herron said,  “I really appreciate being asked, encouraged and supported to host this wonderful event for the second year! It gives me an opportunity to use my leadership skills in a different kind of way. I like the event because it makes me feel proud and helps connect my small town upbringing to many others. The space is warm, inviting and inclusive. It is one of very few spaces that uplifts Black culture in Kentucky and puts us on center stage and at the same time helps connect Black Kentuckians to social justice issues that affect us in a big way yet we aren't seen as a group working on them. My hopes are that through this annual event KFTC continues to bring new faces to our work and helps move the needle on those issues in a big way.”

Jennings shares, “People came expecting to share and find commonalities, and they did.  Once the program started, so many great folks, young, old and in between shared their stories and songs and visual art and foodways, that the feeling of our common heritage began to grow.  People nodded and smiled and shared a happy moment with other audience members who happened to meet their eye as they looked around. And it just got better as the program went on.  People really wanted to learn about KFTC and greatly appreciated all the information shared about the work.  They really wanted to enjoy themselves and connect with each other and be happy about living in Kentucky and believe that together we can make a better Kentucky for all. And they did. The hard work and planning paid off as people sat together, ate together, clapped together and really could imagine a better Kentucky where we recognize and celebrate our common heritage together.”

The chapter is already making plans for the 2016 We Are Kentuckians event and is organizing a We Are Kentuckians Exchange to Southeastern Kentucky to meet with Harlan County and Letcher County KFTC members and participate in the Eastern Kentucky Social Club’s annual Memorial Day weekend reunion.

Clicking this link to view more photos from the event by 

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