Building Community Empowerment: Lessons from KCET’s Vision in Kentucky
Written by: Alicia Hurle
Executive Director of KCET (Kentucky Civic Engagement Table)
“What we do is more important than what we say or what we say we believe.”
At KCET, our values and vision are grounded in the firm belief that the solutions to community issues are best identified and implemented by the very communities affected by them. We are committed to centering individuals most impacted by injustice in our organizing work, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color, immigrants and refugees, disabled individuals, LGBTQIA individuals, young people, and the working class. As an organization, we recognize the importance of equitable compensation for grassroots leaders, ensuring their full participation and contribution in our collective efforts to build a more just and inclusive society. Through our unwavering dedication to these principles, we strive to create a powerful and authentic movement that uplifts and amplifies the voices of those who have historically been marginalized and silenced.
In alignment with our values and vision, KCET is proudly sponsoring two projects led by directly impacted Kentuckians: the Black Leadership Action Coalition of Kentucky (BLACK) and Advocacy Based on Lived Experience (ABLE). These projects focus on organizing for and with two specific communities of Kentuckians that KCET sees as central to its vision of building long-term multiracial people power in Kentucky: Black Kentuckians (BLACK) and currently and formerly incarcerated Kentuckians (ABLE). Directors of both organizations shared some guidance on the issue of care and compensation:
Q: Why is compensating community members for their engagement in our organizing and advocacy work important?
Celine Mutuyemariya, BLACK: Having flexibility and control over one’s time is a privilege that is not afforded to people who rely on low paying jobs or gig jobs to make ends meet. Engaging in organizing and advocacy work is an active choice that many people have to balance against competing priorities like getting rest after working 40+ hours and spending time with loved ones. Engaging in this work as an unpaid volunteer is a privilege that not everyone can afford, especially those of us who are most impacted by the many systems and issues that organizing and advocacy work attempts to address/resolve.
Marcus Jackson, ABLE: Transactional relationships will never sustain our movement; however, building the movement requires us to consider community members’ overall life circumstances and not just the issues we’re addressing in our organizing and advocacy. For directly impacted individuals to fully engage, organize, and advocate for the issues impacting them the most, we must assist in removing some of the financial barriers preventing effective and meaningful engagement.
Q: How have you incorporated compensation in your organizational programs and budgets?
Marcus Jackson, ABLE: Our approach involves reducing financial obstacles and increasing family engagement. We offer paid training, leadership development, and hourly compensation for directly impacted individuals to take part in community activities. Additionally, we create events and engagement opportunities with no out-of-pocket expenses, providing meals, snacks, childcare, and travel assistance to meet people where they are.
Celine Mutuyemariya, BLACK: We proactively budgeted for a rapid response fund to support organizers and staff facing financial hardship. Our electoral organizing program rewards volunteers with financial appreciation gifts, and our leadership development program pays participants for a 6-month engagement to grow their skills as organizers. We also focus on issues like city and state budgets to address financial hardships in our communities.
Q: In an ideal world, how would you ensure that directly impacted people fully participate in and contribute to our movement work?
Celine Mutuyemariya, BLACK: In an ideal world, all funds from donors would be unrestricted as a form of reparations, and organizations would be allowed to apply for and spend that money as needed to achieve our visions and missions in a way that doesn’t require us to sacrifice our physical/mental/emotional well-being and personal relationships. Organizations understand the needs and we know what stands in the way of achieving our visions and missions more than funders do, and yet people with wealth are allowed to dictate how and when we spend wealth that doesn’t truly belong to them in the first place. The wealth that donors are able to offer to organizations often comes from free or severely underpaid labor that people of color, working class people, and poor people generate (and have generated). When donors prioritize funding that is connected to programs and projects, organizations are forced to develop or scale programs and projects that they didn’t originally have capacity for in the first place which contributes to burnout of both staff and unpaid organizers.
In closing, I offer two challenges based on the guidance from Marcus, Celine, and my own experiences:
- Challenge to program staff or directors: Center love and care in your work and organizational culture, structure, and policies, and incorporate compensation into your programs and budgets. If you’re serious about developing leaders, organizing in communities, or building grassroots power, remove barriers so that all people can fully participate. Integrate transportation assistance, lost wages coverage, food, and child care into budgets, and engage donors and funders in creating a community of care. And have conversations with your donors and funders about why you’re working to create a community of care and why their support is important to do that.
- Challenge to donors, funders, and program officers: Embrace more expansive funding opportunities that prioritize building communities of care within our movements. Support unrestricted compensation for community members, removing barriers to participation. Engage in conversations with grantees and your boards to encourage this approach.
At KCET, we work to love and support directly impacted people who have the most to gain from power building. By offering stipends, reimbursement, and compensation for child care for those in our base most directly impacted by systems of oppression, we remove barriers to participation, making our movements stronger, our wins more successive, and bringing our long-term vision closer to reality.