Panelists discuss connecting rural and urban areas in day one of East Kentucky Leadership Conference

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 5:06 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - The 33rd annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference kicked off Thursday morning virtually.

The theme for the conference this year is ‘Bright Lights in Dark Times’ as the conference is highlighting Eastern Kentuckians remarkable responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We also want to recognize everyone who has stepped up, leaned in and gone the extra mile,” said Board Chair Peter Hille.

Day one of the two-day conference featured three award presentations. First to Sister Judy Yunker, second to Dr. Maria Braman and finally to CANE Kitchen.

Governor Beshear was presented with a special award by his senior advisor, and Eastern Kentuckian, Rocky Adkins.

“Governor Beshear took quick action and decisive action that ultimately helped save the lives of our fellow Kentuckians, and sets our commonwealth to lead in a post COVID economy,” said Adkins. “He had to make undeniably tough decisions but he put politics aside and did what was right for our people.”

The governor, who was awarded for his commitment and dedication to the health and safety of Kentuckians during the pandemic, is the first honoree who is not an Eastern Kentucky native.

“I realized this would be the most important role I’d play in my entire professional career. I knew that my responsibility, my sacred duty was to do whatever I could to protect the lives of our people,” said the governor. “I pledge to lead in ways that show love, compassion and understanding cause those emotions aren’t weakness, they are the incredible strength that we need to build the commonwealth that we love.”

You can watch the governor’s statement here:

They also paid tribute to Dr. Carolyn Sundy and Peggy Satterly who both died last year.

The main event was an intensive session titled ‘Bridging the Divide: Connecting Rural and Urban’.

The discussion was moderated by Hille and featured four panelists with East Kentucky roots. They discussed the lack of investment in rural communities, and hope the Biden administration will change the pattern.

“We’ve always had good brave leadership in east Kentucky and Appalachia but I think it’s going to become unleashed if we can get the right investment in families and children and communities,” said Cynthia Mil Duncan, who wrote the book ‘Worlds Apart’ which examines rural poverty.

The group discussed different types of rural America and the lack of a middle class in this region.

“Those divisions and that extreme inequality prevents change and leads to what I call weak civic culture,” said Duncan.

Jason Maxson, with Rural Development at USDA, says a huge economic opportunity would be the government looking at water, sewer, infrastructure and broadband as human rights and public goods that they should ensure everyone has the access to.

“I just think we can’t stop at access. There’s a lot more to figure out about how does it actually support a healthy economy and communities but folks have to have it and the pandemic has just shown how important it is for so many things,” said Maxson.

The conference will continue at 9 a.m. on Friday.

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