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Berea & the Ky. Social Forum help shape Kentucky's future

Berea College and the Kentucky Social Forum (KSF) are making strides toward “growing the movement" that may help shape Kentucky’s future.

Participants of the Kentucky Social Forum

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The Kentucky Social Forum, held at Berea College the weekend of July 31 to August 2, is the first statewide social forum to be held in the United States. The purpose of the forum was to build strong relationships among those who work to serve the diverse needs of Kentuckians within the state. The forum, organized by Attica Scott, the Coordinator of Kentucky Jobs with Justice in Louisville, marked the first time in United States history a initiative of this nature has been made to collaboratively create a statewide agenda that will urge human rights to become a priority in future national and State legislation. The forum addressed a variety of issues that affect the Commonwealth, including health care costs and energy.

Because Kentucky is one of the poorest states in the nation, the organizers of the event felt that it was necessary to organize the KSF to create an opportunity for organizers around the state to coordinate with other activists to outline which issues needed to be addressed that are most pertinent to the lives of Kentuckians. Organizers and activists believe that the KSF can be used “as both a platform and a catalyst to bring together diverse populations working to change the political and economic fabric of this state and this nation.”

Darnell Johnson, one of the forum's planning coordinators says, “One of the reasons that Berea was chosen to commemorate such an historic event, besides its beautiful and secluded location, is because of Berea’s history. Berea was founded on abolitionism and has always been an energizing hotbed of activism and activity. This was where social movements started.”

Berea has been serving the needs of the Commonwealth and advocating human rights since its establishment in 1855. Whether doing community outreach in Appalachian communities or providing equal access to education for women and people of color, Berea College is noted for its mission to serve the social and educational needs of those who did not have access to these opportunities. This distinction has made Berea a community hub for many educators and community activists to build strong partnerships for their work. “This forum was such a great opportunity to meet others because we often know there are others out there working on issues like where our food comes from and immigrants' rights and accessibility to safer jobs,” said Toby Wilcher, a Berea Resident. “It’s just reaffirming to be able to see them here together and have the opportunity to network with them so that we can collaborate on issues.”

The KSF covered a wide range of topics including mountain-top removal, electoral voting rights and LBGTQQA issues. There were also a variety of events; rallies, concerts, workshops, a drum circle and a poetry slam for the forum participants. There were also many opportunities for advocacy groups like the ACLU, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and even Berea’s own Black Cultural Center to volunteer at this event.

Luella Pavey, a community artist from Lexington, helped organize the art space where forum participants could spend their time painting murals and decorating peace flags. “It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me. As an artist, I was expecting that there would be some who might be looking for a little direction, and I’m here to help them," said Pavey. "But then you have others who are so self-directed, they don’t want help. They just want to take a little bit of time to be able to individually express themselves. It’s taught me a lot, not just about art, but also about people. There are so many types of people who have come through here; we just try to make sure we have something to available for everyone to be able to get involved.”

Even a fourteen-year-old from Louisville led one of the workshops in community organizing. “Even with the growing use of technology as a form of communication, using applications such as Facebook and texting, nothing beats having those face to face relationships you need to bring people together to work on these issues,” he said.

The success of the KSF shows how much work still lies ahead. They hope that some of the ideas generated at the KSF will make it on the agenda of the 2010 United States Social Forum in Detroit.

For more information about how you can get involved please email: kentuckysocialforum@yahoo.com.

Or write to:

Kentucky Jobs with Justice
1800 W Muhammad Ali Blvd, Suite 2E
Louisville KY 40203

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