KFTC is about bringing people together, building power

A few days after the KFTC annual meeting, I was in Frankfort to participate in a rally to ask the governor to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Capitol rotunda. As in Charlottesville, Durham and other Southern communities, many Kentuckians believe that it’s time to remove symbols of slavery and the war to defend it. At the end of the rally, attendees were invited to step forward and identify their organization. As the newly elected chair, I was proud to say that Kentuckians For The Commonwealth was in support.

Serving as KFTC chair is an honor and a responsibility. We’re in a tough place right now, facing both state and national leaders who promote policies and values that are opposed to KFTC’s vision. I’m particularly concerned about the many efforts to divide us, on the basis of race, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, region, urban/rural, and many more identities and group memberships.

As a statewide organization, KFTC is all about bringing people together from across the commonwealth. New Power depends on our unity, which comes from our commitment to fighting for each other’s issues, whether they be the restoration of voting rights, mountaintop removal or systemic racism.

Before I became chair I served on the Steering Committee and various statewide committees, most recently the Leadership Development Committee. From what I’ve experienced, KFTC is in a position to be a leader in the fight to take back Kentucky.

There was lots of evidence of this at the recent annual meeting. One of the highlights for me was the launch of the Organizing Academy, which is intended to share KFTC’s approach to organizing with people from all over the state who want to acquire the skills and knowledge that we need in this difficult moment. If you’d like to apply, there is information elsewhere in this edition of Balancing the Scales.

The annual meeting also introduced the 14 Organizer Apprentices to the membership. These folks bring ideas, experiences and enthusiasm to their new roles as organizers attached to KFTC offices around Kentucky. The apprentices will learn through the Academy as well as on the job. Be sure to say hello if there is an apprentice working with your chapter.

We also had a wonderful keynote speaker at the annual meeting, Heather McGhee from Demos, a policy advocate organization that KFTC has worked with. Heather, who is writing a book on why racism hurts white people, shared her belief that we can only move past racism if we recognize that the road to success is not a zero-sum game. Because we have been told that the only way to move up is for someone else to move down, we have come to hate people who are different from us and seem to threaten to take what we have away. Instead, Heather advocates for a democratic approach in which all work together and succeed together.

That kind of attitude allows for genuine dialogue among people who see themselves not as competitors, but members of one community. I think that is a real breakthrough in terms of getting us past the differences that divide us, but I also think real equality depends on some redistribution of wealth and power. Until the wealthy give up some of their advantages, I think the rest of us will be engaged in a battle for the crumbs.

Heather also shared with us the story of a conversation she had with a caller on C-Span that went viral. The caller, who identified himself as Gary, admitted that he was prejudiced and asked “What can I do to change? To be a better American?” Heather thanked him for his honesty, because admitting prejudice is the first step toward change.

Then she gave concrete suggestions as to what he could do, from getting to know Black families to learning the history of Black people in the United States. Afterward, she visited Gary at his home in North Carolina, and they became friends. Her story made a big impression on all of us, because she modeled how to dialogue about race. You can watch the original video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsUa7eCgE_U.

Finally, as KFTC chair, I welcome the opportunity to dialogue with you about your concerns and suggestions for KFTC. You can email me at MetaMendel_Reyes@kftc.org. As I said at the start, KFTC faces many challenges this year, but together we can build New Power and bring about the changes needed in our commonwealth.