The Bluegrass Community Connectors project named 144 "connectors" Tuesday in an effort to create new networks of local activists and to better link traditional and grass-roots leadership in the region.
The connectors were chosen from among 5,000 nominations received from the public in online balloting since last August. Most of the connectors met for a morning session and lunch at the Marriott Griffin Gate hotel to get to know each other and discuss regional issues.
Counties included in the project, which was led by the United Way of the Bluegrass, were Anderson, Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Franklin, Jessamine, Madison, Montgomery, Scott and Woodford.
At least half of the connectors who emerged from the balloting were well-known, traditional leaders — mayors, city council members, business leaders and heads of non-profit organizations in the 10-county Lexington metro area.
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"But about half of them are not the usual suspects, and that's the big takeaway," said Karen Stephenson, a cultural anthropologist who has taught at Harvard and UCLA and donated her time to organize this project and previous ones in four other cities.
The main purpose of the project was to identify grass-roots leaders who may not know each other or many of the traditional leaders. Introducing them to each other will create new networks of people already active in their communities who can then hook up for future projects.
Stephenson said that if she were a traditional leader, she would look at this list and say, "Who do I not know, and why? Then I would make a beeline to them and figure out what they're doing and how I can get them connected to some of the more well-known connectors."
Stephenson said she was impressed that the most-nominated people represented a range of ages and races. Fayette County had the most connectors, and the most connections among them, based on a follow-up survey the connectors completed.
That was to be expected, she said, given Fayette County's dominant role in the region.
Interestingly, the three counties with the least connected relationships were Anderson, Clark and Bourbon. What that pointed out, Stephenson said, was an opportunity to integrate those counties more into regional discussions.
How the connectors make use of this new visibility will be up to them.
Deborah Knittel, a community activist in Versailles, said the session gave her fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm for tackling some issues in her community.
"This does not need to stop here," said Kent Lewis, a young technology executive who has organized the TEDxLex idea-sharing conference in Lexington for the past two years.
"I can send anyone an email and say I am a connector, too, do you have a minute or time for a coffee to discuss something?" he said. "The question of credibility is not there, because this project did that already."