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Merlene Davis: With a higher education, most dreams are possible

Kathryn H. Hunt 
went back to school to become a physical therapist.
Kathryn H. Hunt went back to school to become a physical therapist.

Although Kentucky's unemployment rate is decreasing ever so slowly, the jobs that are and will be available might not be the ones that were lost during the economic downturn.

Many people of my generation could support a growing family on a high school diploma. That doesn't appear to be the case going forward, however.

High school graduates and workers displaced by layoffs need to find skills or earn degrees in order to survive. No group needs to understand that more than racial minorities.

Kathryn H. Hunt had always wanted to be a physical therapist, but she attended a school that didn't give her the training she needed. Later, she postponed that dream in favor of marriage.

Four years later, while working as a physical therapy aide, Hunt realized she wanted more. She enrolled in the former Lexington Community College, now Bluegrass Community & Technical College, and got the encouragement and direction she longed for.

"They put me on the right track to learn how to study again and how to take tests again," she said.

She graduated in 1989 and, with the encouragement of counselors, Hunt transferred to the physical therapy program at the University of Louisville, where she became the first black to graduate from the program. She now works at Drayer Physical Therapy Institute.

From 2001 to 2009, 150,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded by Kentucky colleges. Black students claimed less than 10,000 of those and Hispanics only 1,331.

To help change that, the Kentucky Community & Technical College System is hosting its second Super Sunday event on Feb. 12.

The 16 KCTCS colleges and the KCTCS System Office are joining forces with black churches and community leaders hoping to present a united front in changing how minorities see higher education in Kentucky.

"We, as educators and community leaders, need to work together and teach our youth there is a vision," said Erin Howard, the Hispanic/Latino Outreach coordinator at BCTC.

National statistics show minorities are not enrolling in college at the same rate as their white peers, she said, and they are not graduating at the same rate if they do enroll.

By changing that, by increasing the number of college graduates, "we are improving the entire community," Howard said. "We are building communities."

Last year, the first year for the event, 4,000 people listened as officials and pastors discussed the importance of a higher education and the need for early planning, and invited them to a college fair where they could speak directly with a college administrator.

The Super Sunday event is based on a successful initiative at California State University, which has hosted its fair since 2005. California State started with only 23 churches and has partnerships with more than 100 now.

And that's what KCTCS wants to do, said Charlene Walker, vice president for multiculturalism & inclusion at BCTC.

Last year, 400 prospective students signed up for more information at the 23 churches that took part in the event statewide. About 80 prospective students were in Lexington alone.

This year, she said, 42 churches are involved. "We are trying to double our efforts, bringing in more churches," she said.

While they targeted larger churches last year, organizers are focusing this year on churches in rural areas where the need might be greater, she said.

The Kentucky event will be held in churches in the communities where the colleges are located. The BCTC fair will be at Consolidated Baptist Church, 1625 Russell Cave Road, Lexington; St. James AME Church, 124 East Walnut Street, Danville; and First Baptist Church, 37 North Highland Avenue, Winchester. BCTC has campuses all three cities.

"We want to make sure they are aware of the possibilities and let them know that college is accessible to everybody, no matter where you are," Walker said.

Hunt agreed.

"No goal is impossible," she said. "Continue to strive for what you can and want to do. At the community college level, they treated me like I was their family and they pushed me to thrive for more."

For a list of Super Sunday event sites, times and the local contacts for each college, go to Kctcs.edu/supersunday.

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