Reflections from the first Empower Kentucky Leadership Network retreat | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Reflections from the first Empower Kentucky Leadership Network retreat

To be in a room filled with so much talent and passion. Openness to have difficult conversations, and brilliance in finding solutions to heavy issues. A rare treasure to find in this harsh world, which I discovered through the Empower Kentucky Leadership Network, a cohort of 35 Kentuckians committed to building a movement for a just transition and climate justice in our state.

Members of the Empower KY Leadership Cohort

Going into our first weekend retreat in Bowling Green, I expected nothing more than some good conversations while making a few connections along the way – how most meetings usually end up playing out. 

By the end we created a family, with a new sense of hope, and a new sense of unity. A power spread amongst each of us that escalated our fire in this climate crisis. 

The first evening, we gathered in the faculty house on WKU’s campus and enjoyed each other’s presence over dinner. One thing I appreciated was how much we got to know and dive into one another before tackling the many layers of the climate crisis, through simple banter and activities such as story circles. There was a moment of silence dedicated to the native land we were inhabiting, in this case belonged to Shawnee and Eastern Band Cherokee. 

We closed the night with a poem, read and wrote, by Mikaela Curry titled “Up from the Grassroots”. 

It’s ok to be uncomfortable, it’s ok what you don’t know.
But, once we have the knowledge, we keep learning and don’t let go
and we listen, and we listen – and then we listen more
We follow the impacted they know what they’re leading for

A couple lines that really captured the theme of how the rest of the stay would go. 

On day two, the heaviness started to hit as we indulged on the climate crisis, but not only the matter itself, discussion of how we got here and steps to move forward were also included. A big portion of the day was also used conversing about what a Just Transition is and what it would look like in Kentucky. The definition conspired thus far is, “an all-in, inclusive process, to protect the well-being of workers and communities, address racial, economic and gender inequality, and build a new just and sustainable economy”. But there is much more to a just transition than the definition. Not only is it a transition from an extractive to a renewable economy, it’s having that shift without harming frontline communities and folks most affected by these destructive industries. It’s about having inclusion and love for all, treating people like humans and not commodities, and recognizing it will not happen over night and will require a lot of work. It is important we recognize these challenges we face while also having empathy for the people working in these extractive industries – more than likely that is not what they want to be doing but must make a living like the rest of us. For example, coal mining is Appalachia Kentucky has been part of that region’s economy for ages, it isn’t fair to the people to come in and change everything when that is all they have come to know. So yes, the need to transition is necessary, but so is doing it in a just, precautious manner. 

“Transition is inevitable where we’re going. Justice is not”

If it isn’t already obvious, our government is only trying to divide us further to weaken our stance. Whether it be through race, political party, religion etc. 

This division isn’t based upon any of those things, it is rooted in the ideology of power.

It is built into this system of oppression that the only way to hold power is being dominant over one another and suppressing something/someone down so you feel higher up. The Empower Kentucky Cohort and many others say NO MORE. We agreed it is time to take our government back because we ARE the people. We hold the power, and we need to elect people in office that represent us, ALL of us. 

The only way to fix this system that has been designed to set communities for failure is to re-build it, from the ground up, because when you start from the bottom and lift, everybody rises.

Along with looking at community examples of creating a better tomorrow, we asked ourselves what is it going to take? To be frank, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and it will be no easy task. However, there is action we can take today to help and work towards the goal. Things such as: door-to-door conversations, issue-based organizing, healing work, uplifting the voices of the most impacted etc. The key is to build a strong community, where every type of person is represented, working together and leaning on one another through this battle. 

If we ALL demand change, change will happen. POWER in the PEOPLE

We closed the weekend with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind,” performed by Shawna McCown. Followed by one last circle, where we shared our gratitude and love.

Spending the weekend with the fellow members not only educated me but woke me up to many things. With a heavy heart discussing pressing issues we face, accompanied by a hopeful soul as I look at the faces surrounding me.

When I look around to one another
I realize the fight is not over
Yet just begun 

We are Kentuckians, we choose each other. Join the fight or be part of the problem.


A moment to recognize and uplift the amazing folks who make up the Empower Kentucky Cohort: 

  • Tayna Fogle 
  • Corey Dutton
  • Shawna McCown
  • Serena Owen
  • Margaret Ricketts
  • Richard Becker
  • Bob Martin
  • Nikita Perumal 
  • Kathy Williams 
  • Danielle Brown
  • Trinidad Jackson
  • Cherlynn Stevenson
  • Rachel Norton
  • Mikaela Curry
  • Fannie Madden-Grider
  • Alvin Madden-Grider
  • E.Gail Chandler 
  • Jillian Wallace
  • Kevin Short 
  • Mason Chamblee
  • Tona Barkley 
  • Maria Truitt
  • Chris Woolery
  • Kristina Anderson
  • Berenice Gonzalez 
  • Lisa Abbott 
  • Morgan Mickelson
  • Byron Barber
  • Cheyla Cuesta 
  • Anastasia Kaufmann
  • Vanessa Hall
  • Kathy Curtis
  • Shannon Scott
  • Dayessi Chavez
  • Jacob Mack-Boll
  • Elbert Williams
  • others

Images of the "altar" we created to set the space for our first weekend, and of a "fish bowl conversation" about communicating about the climate crisis.

 A photo of our network "altar"         A group fish bowl on communicating about climate change