Every February, during Black History Month, we honor outstanding African-American inventors, activists and trailblazers who have made a significant impact on society. But not everyone who has made a difference will find their names in a textbook. There are thousands of unsung heroes in every Kentucky community who deserve recognition.
They are people like Kathryn H. Hunt, a 1989 graduate of Lexington Community College (now Bluegrass Community and Technical College). After completing an associate degree she transferred to the University of Louisville and became the first African-American to graduate from the physical-therapy program.
Now with 20 years of success in her field, Hunt mentors high school and college students considering careers in physical therapy.
Like so many students entering college for the first time, Hunt faced a number of obstacles. She struggled at times academically and faced intense family obligations while caring for her sick mother. She recalled: "My notebook paper was smudged and torn, by repetitive erasing, soggy from tears . . . from my difficulties."
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Statistically, minority students face more impediments while pursuing higher education because they are more likely to be the first in their families to attend or complete college and often face socioeconomic challenges that limit resources to finance higher education.
A primary mission of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is to encourage more students to earn a degree and to assist them in achieving their dreams.
To this end, on Sunday, Feb. 12, KCTCS is sponsoring an annual community outreach initiative called Super Sunday. It targets the African-American community through one of its most prominent outreach networks: the church. Events will take place at 34 lead churches and include college fairs at 25 locations.
College faculty and staff will join pastors and worship leaders to spread the education gospel, that "Yes You Can Go to College ... Yes You Can Get a College Degree ... Yes You Can Have a High Paying Job!" At each location, KCTCS teams will offer college information and encourage mentor relationships.
As the state's only open-access postsecondary institution with locations within a 30-minute drive of most Kentuckians, KCTCS is perfectly positioned to take the lead in ensuring every citizen receives the education for a successful career.
Since 2005, KCTCS has seen an 88.8 percent increase in minority enrollment, with a 60.2 percent increase among African-Americans.
However, our work is not finished. The Council on Postsecondary Education reports that while Kentucky's graduation rates have improved by six percent since 2000, the gap between minority students and white students with college degrees has widened by three percent — a clear indication some African-American students are still getting lost in the higher-education pipeline.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
When a student succeeds, our community improves. College graduates earn more money, have more spending dollars and create a stronger economy. Communities with higher graduation rates have lower unemployment, greater community engagement and improved quality of life. The next generation of students will build the foundation we depend on for a stronger Kentucky.
You have likely heard the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." As administrators, educators, parents, policymakers and the public, we all must put all students on the right path to be successful members of society and contribute skills and talents to our great commonwealth.