KFTC Director Urges Berea’s Midyear Graduates to Pursue What “Ought to Be”


Burt Lauderdale, executive director of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), addressed 56 Berea College seniors participating in the midyear recognition service on Sunday, December 11, 2011, at 3 p.m. in Phelps Stokes Chapel. Students participating in the service are expected to complete degree requirements by January 2012.

During the service, Berea College President Larry Shinn presented Lauderdale with an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters. View the photo gallery.

“I believe that today – right now – we have the best chance we’ve had in generations to build new power in Kentucky and across the globe… new economic power focused on opportunity and equality, new energy power that is sustainable and survivable, new political power made possible by our collective self-determination, focused on solidarity, cooperation, and our shared humanity,” said Lauderdale.

Lauderdale added, “At the same time, to realize such ambition, we have to deal with some pretty big problems. Our government and our people are more divided than they have been in decades. The accumulated gluttony of our global economic system, based on extraction and exploitation, is in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own hubris; and it is pushing the global environment toward a precipice. We have placed in jeopardy the very air, water, and land that sustain life on this planet. Our collective modern political systems are even less equipped to deal with the emerging consequences than they have been able to mitigate the causes. People across the country are gripped by fear and frustration, ready to blame and accuse.

“It is a moment of great opportunity and monumental challenge, a historic moment which calls for what Reverend William Barber described to me and others as ‘prophetic imagination,’ that we might realize a better future by understanding what was, seeing what is, and by pursuing what ought to be. Anything is possible, including what ought to be. But we can only achieve it if we can learn to organize community.”

Lauderdale has worked with KFTC since 1983 as a chapter organizer, staff coordinator and executive director. His responsibilities include leadership identification and development, campaign development, organizer training, strategy development and fundraising. Lauderdale has been a leader in statewide, regional and national alliances such as the Pushback Network, the Alliance For Appalachia, the Progressive Technology Project, Southern Organizing Cooperative, and the New World Foundation. These alliances have helped bring grassroots voices of directly affected communities into larger public policy debates.

As executive director of KFTC for nearly two decades, Lauderdale has been a driving force behind numerous effective legislative and grassroots campaigns which have helped improve the quality of life in Eastern Kentucky and the commonwealth while growing the organization to 7,000 members in more than 90 counties.

In the 1980s, KFTC helped pass a constitutional amendment to end the use of the so-called “broad form deed” that allowed land to be strip-mined without permission of the surface owners. In 1987, KFTC was instrumental in establishing a fair assessment on the value of unmined coal properties in Kentucky. In the 1990s, KFTC helped pass Kentucky’s first laws regulating oil and gas drilling and laws intended to promote sustainable forestry practices. In 2005 the organization helped pass a state law exempting 300,000 Kentuckians living below the poverty line from paying state income taxes.

During Lauderdale’s tenure as executive director, KFTC has promoted and supported improvements to enforcing surface mining and water quality laws related to mountaintop removal and the destruction of headwater streams. Most recently, KFTC and their allies worked to halt the construction of a proposed coal-fired power plant in Clark County, Kentucky, by promoting a collaborative comprising utility, public interest groups and other stakeholders who would recommend renewable and energy efficient solutions.

“He is one of those rare individuals who are both visionary and deeply committed to democratic process and collaborative leadership,” says Lisa Abbott, director of organizing and leadership development for KFTC. “His entire career has been dedicated to developing grassroots leaders and building democratic organizations in order to bring about social change and a higher quality of life in Appalachia and across Kentucky.”

Lauderdale was raised in Alabama and graduated from Auburn University. He resides in Laurel County with his wife, Jenny. They have two sons in college.

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Tags: honorary degree of doctor of humane letters, KFTC, Midyear Graduation

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.