By Caci Gibson, Eastern Kentucky University
I am new to KSEC, but I don’t feel that way after the Spring Summit. As a delegate, I started my year-long term late; my introduction was to help plan the Summit. I can’t deny I was nervous leading up to last weekend. I barely knew anyone and I was going to be sharing space with them for three days. What if they didn’t like me? What if I didn’t like them? What if I decided KSEC wasn’t the place for me? What if our plans fell through?
By Friday evening, my nerves had disappeared. Everything came together when we came together; we adapted and moved forward even when plans needed to be adjusted. Through collaboration, conversation, and reflection I learned more about myself and how I want to spend my time. As it turns out, KSEC is the place for me.
Nearly one week later, I’m still processing my feelings. The Spring Summit had two workshop tracks: environmental education and environmental activism, with the goal of expressing the importance of both. This gave me an insight into environmental activism that I haven’t had before. Environmental education has always been important to me and I have planned to pursue a career in the field for as long as I have known it was a possibility. I knew I’d figure out the details later (which really meant that I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to be). Activism always seemed like a foreign concept. In my mind, it was a narrow path that was open only to those with encyclopedic knowledge of the legal system and a willingness to delve into politics. Environmental activism and environmental education always seemed like separate fields, although they did support one another.
On the other hand, activism had always been in the background of my life. Growing up in Bell County, I connected deeply with my Appalachian roots. With the decline of the coal industry, I share a sense of anger and loss with my peers, family, and neighbors. For many of us in this region, the only way forward has only ever been to fight - a sense of resilience and solidarity deeply ingrained into my culture. As a result, I have always felt compelled to pursue a better future for Eastern Kentucky.
After reflecting on the Summit, I would express a more nuanced view that environmental activism and education are the same path - one that is broad enough for people with diverse histories, methods, and goals. Activists are educators, lobbyists, community organizers, politicians, concerned citizens, and more. Educators, in the same regard, are not limited to a singular mold. Educated citizens become activists when they feel empowered to advocate for themselves and their communities. With this realization, I feel like I’m one step closer to concisely answering the question “What do you want to do?” I am excited to be more involved with KSEC and to learn skills that will prepare me for work, both as an activist and an educator.
The Spring Summit left me feeling like I was part of a community - a community that is diverse, resilient, and hopeful. Now more than ever, I feel empowered to seek out opportunities to be a force for change. I look forward to attending Catalyst (KSEC’s summer training program for aspiring organizers) this summer as another opportunity for growth and perspective. In the meantime, I am exploring what my personal activism will be.
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