Massey, Sturgill honored as Appalachian Heroes

Two long-time KFTC members have been honored by the Appalachian Community Fund as Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Heroes.

About 80 people gathered on Friday, September 12, at the Eastern Kentucky Social Club in Lynch to honor Bennie Massey and Stanley Sturgill for their contributions to their community.

Both Sturgill and Massey live in Lynch and have been instrumental in efforts to protect their community from the impacts of coal mining and build a brighter future in the mountains. They are long-time members of the Harlan County chapter and have given their time and energy to other KFTC campaigns both inside and outside their region.

The Appalachian Community Fund is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support to grassroots organizations working to overcome the underlying causes of poverty and injustice in Central Appalachia. The Appalachian Hero Award is presented to an individual or organization who has made a substantial contribution to social justice in Central Appalachia on “our journey toward justice.”

KFTC nominated Massey and Sturgill for the award last year, and many KFTC members were in attendance at the awards ceremony.

In introducing Massey and Sturgill, KFTC Executive Director Burt Lauderdale lifted up their generosity and courage.

“Bennie Massey is really the embodiment of generosity of spirit,” he said. “Bennie's generosity knows no limits. He gives and gives and gives every day, and we all benefit from it.”

Massey’s friend Maye Melton of Lynch also enumerated Massey’s contributions to many groups, including the Lynch City Council, Greater Mount Sinai Baptist Church, Mount Sinai Spirituals gospel singers, and the Eastern Kentucky Social Club.

In accepting his award, Massey told the whole crowd, “If you need me, you know where to find me.”

Lauderdale spoke of Sturgill’s spending the night in the governor’s office on his first-ever trip to Frankfort. In 2011, Sturgill and other KFTC members “slept over” in the governor’s office to protest Beshear’s complicity with the coal industry.

“Stanley is the epitome of clarity and voice for social justice work,” said Lauderdale.

Amelia Kirby of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg praised Sturgill for the courage, knowledge and experience he brings to his role as a board member for ACLC.

“When I retired, I just felt like after working all these years and seeing all these mountains being destroyed that I had to do something,” Sturgill said in accepting his award.

KFTC members Ethan Hamblin, Sam Gleaves and Josh Outsey provided music, and Massey and Sturgill each performed a song – Massey a spiritual and Sturgill an opera piece. Attendees enjoyed a hearty dinner prepared by the Eastern Kentucky Social Club.

Many in the group spent the next few days at Appalachia’s Bright Future 2.0, a time of conversations and connections with people working for a just economic transition in eastern Kentucky. From new worker- and family-owned businesses in downtown Whitesburg to the city of Benham’s residential energy efficiency program, the event was an opportunity to celebrate what’s working in the region.