Jack Burch was born in 1945 in a region that had rigged its legal, social and economic systems to reinforce white privilege.
Burch, who died last week of lung cancer, was the son of an extraordinary family in western Tennessee that openly supported the civil rights movement. He was one of those brave visionaries who not only saw the need to make the system fairer for all, but who also strived to shake up a social order that favored a well-educated white man like himself.
Mr. Burch's devotion to economic justice and human equality took him around the world and eventually to Lexington, where he led the local anti-poverty agency, the Community Action Council, for more than three decades.
While the shape of inequality — and just about everything else — changed in Mr. Burch's lifetime, we feel sure he would say that the fight is far from over and that young people will find no deeper reward than joining that quest for justice.
As a tribute to Mr. Burch's life of service, we cannot improve on his words, excerpted from our pages:
Responding to achievement gaps in Lexington schools, 1997: "The goals of equity and diversity in our schools can only be achieved through leadership from those with the authority to produce change in the system. True leadership requires a willingness to take risks."
Advocating rate-setting reforms, 1999 and 2000: "Electric rates consume as much as 14 percent of the monthly income of a low-income household as compared to 4 percent or less for middle- and high-income households."
As a member of the Lexington public schools' Equity Council, 2001: "It is unforgivable that school leaders sometimes seem more intent on suppressing community awareness of and participation in finding solutions than in taking a hard look at what they are doing to our children and fixing the problems."
Defending Gov. Steve Beshear from criticism for participating in a Hindu ceremony at the opening of an Indian company's plant in Elizabethtown, 2011: "A pluralistic, democratic society can only survive if it honors and respects all people, regardless of their faith. When you are in someone's home and they say grace before eating, you participate respectfully, regardless of your personal beliefs."
Responding to 2013 GOP efforts to cut nutrition aid: "Sixth District voters don't want their tax dollars wasted, but, they would be offended to learn that U.S. Rep. Andy Barr was involved in a scheme to take their great-grandmother's lunch away without ensuring she still gets adequate nutritious food. He should let us know how he plans to take care of her ... and why he also voted to increase taxpayer subsidies to America's richest farmers."
Pleading in 2013 for creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund: "As we redevelop apartments that formerly rented for $500 a month to build condominiums that sell for $250,000, we make an already serious affordable-housing gap even worse. ... Similarly, as we continue efforts to protect our world-class rural landscape, we limit the amount of buildable land, driving up property values and, again, eliminating affordable housing. A successful, prosperous future for Lexington is a goal we all share. We will not succeed, however, if fully one quarter of our children are growing up in poverty and lack the economic and social opportunities they need to succeed."