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The 'I Was Here' Project

The 'I Was Here' Project

Renee speaks with Marjorie Guyon and Barry Darnell Burton of the "I Was Here" project, which combines poetry and portraits to create a memorial to those sold at one the largest slave auction sites in the United States - Cheapside - in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky.
Season 14 Episode 36 Length 27:42 Premiere: 8/4/19

Remembering Lexington’s History of Slavery in the ‘I Was Here’ Project

In the early decades of Lexington, townspeople and area farmers gathered around the old Fayette County courthouse to buy, sell, and trade an array of goods. You could find household wares and groceries, horses and hemp, and, in antebellum times, even humans.

That block of the young city was called Cheapside, and it soon gained a reputation as one of the largest slave markets in the nation. Thousands of African Americans were sold at Cheapside, usually to supply labor for plantations in the deep south.

That painful history drives a new public art project that seeks to honor the spirits of those enslaved men, women, and children. “I Was Here” is the brainchild of Lexington artist Marjorie Guyon. She appeared on KET’s Connections with one of her collaborators, Barry Darnell Burton, to discuss the project and its importance for the community.

If you walk the Cheapside block today, along West Main Street between Mill and Upper Streets in downtown Lexington, you may feel like you’re being watched. And you are, by the images of African Americans peering at you from street-level windows and doorways. Some even watch over you from upper story windows.

The images of men, women, and children have an ethereal quality. They are washed by splashes of color – blues, greens, reds, and yellows – and they are eerily translucent, as if the ghostly portraits might disappear if you tried to touch them.

“This project is 21 ancestor spirit portraits that are meant to embody the people who were bought and sold in this public square,” says visual artist Marjorie Guyon.

“It’s a set of iconic images of African-American people: father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife,” she says.

Guyon conceived of the project during a conversation with a friend about the mood of the country after the 2016 election. As they talked, Guyon gazed out the window or her art studio, which overlooks the Cheapside block. She says she had a vision of black women and children appearing in windows along the square. She felt they were the spirits of slaves once sold at Cheapside.

Adding Words to the Portraits

From that vision, Guyon enlisted the help of Lexington photographer Patrick Mitchell, who at that point she only knew by reputation.

“I didn’t know Patrick, but I stalked him,” she says with a laugh. “You have to get a feeling to know could we work together.”

Once Mitchell signed on to the project, he and Guyon searched for models for the spirit portraits they envisioned. They scanned Mitchell’s Facebook friends, and they recruited interesting looking customers at a local Walmart. Of the nine models they ultimately chose, Mitchell took the pictures, then Guyon applied her color washes to the portraits.

“I call it ‘contemporary ancient,’” she says. “There’s a way of making people timeless, and that is consistent throughout all of my work.”

Then Guyon recruited Affrilachian poet Nikki Finney to join the team. The former English professor at the University of Kentucky wrote a free verse for the project called “Auction Block of Negro Weather.”

“Lightning strikes touching the ground where they stood waiting to be sold. Screams pushing the air unmeasured. Six million eyes and arms in whirling disbelief unraveling from each other… I was here they remind us if we dare lift our eyes to dare look there way.”

One of the models for the project, Barry Darnell Burton, volunteered to write a prayer to accompany the portraits. He says he wanted to capture what the slaves auctioned at Cheapside must have felt, as well as the feelings of Native Americans driven from their homelands and immigrants who have sought refuge in the United States.

“Religion in America was very powerful back in those days and still is to a certain extent,” says Burton. “I feel that however you address it, Jesus, Jehovah, Buddha, there is a higher power at work in this country, so it must be a part for this to really reach all facets and people of life.”

In his prayer “Where Do I Begin?” Burton writes:

“I see the River of Blood that has been shed on the Trail of Tears. I see the mountains of bodies that have been left behind. The families broken. I feel the pain of the mothers whose children were snatched out of their arms. The fathers denied the right to see their sons grow… I will break the chains of the past. I will do this. I will make us proud.”

Fostering Dialog, Inspiring Humanity

Instead of traditional artworks that would be framed and hung in a gallery, Guyon produced her images on translucent Roman window shades. But she still needed a venue to display them. That’s when another idea struck.

“I’m like, it’s going to be on-the-street museum,” Guyon says. “What does that mean? So we had to figure that out.”

She recruited businesses around Cheapside to display the portraits in their windows and doors. Since they were printed on moveable shades, the owners could raise and lower the portraits as they needed to let more light into their establishments. That means an image someone sees today may not be visible tomorrow, similar to how a Kentucky slave might vanish from view once they were sold at auction and sent south.

“It is like a spirit,” Guyon says of the portraits. “You don’t know when you’re going to see it.”

She found what she calls a few “visionaries” who agreed to host the first portraits. Guyon says she hoped to insinuate the multi-layered, metaphoric images into a public space to inspire conversation and perhaps even social change.

“We can use this art as a way to begin to become human to each other,” she says.

As buzz about the displays spread, more business owners on the block requested portraits for their windows. Burton took on the task of installing the shades. He says the same portrait can have a whole new look simply by being placed in a different window.

As a portrait model, writer, and installer for the project, Burton says the images encourage people to think about the slaves once sold here and the lingering wounds slavery left behind. He says the pictures also allow viewers to connect deeply with the individuals depicted in the portraits.

“Have you ever wanted to stare at a person, but you’re afraid of what their reaction might be,” says Burton. “Well the ancestral spirits sort of allow you to stare at person and try to see what’s in their eyes, and see them without any fear of rejection or retribution.”

’Everywhere Needs This Program’

Earlier this year the project expanded to Winchester, and Burton says they are exploring future installations in Frankfort, Louisville, and St. Louis.

“Everywhere needs this program because people everywhere have a problem dealing with people for so many reasons,” says Burton. “There’s good and bad in everyone and we need to learn how to accept that… and come together as one person because, in the end, humanity is dependent on humanity.”

Guyon is pleased that “I Was Here” has captured the public’s attention. She attributes instinct, happenstance, and the guidance of the ancestor spirits for helping the project become a force for good in the world.

“There really has not been a map for this,” says Guyon. “This is a template that has not been created and we’re in the midst of creating it.”

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Connections

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Each week, host Renee Shaw and a variety of interesting and engaging people - including business leaders, entertainers, authors, celebrities, and more - explore a broad array of topics impacting Kentucky and the world.

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David Cozart, head of the Commonwealth Center for Fathers and Families, talks about his organization's effort to engage fathers more, especially those incarcerated, in their children's lives. Next, Renee Shaw speaks with financial experts Dale Morgan and Beverly Bowens about their efforts to educate and empower youngsters and the larger Lexington community regarding financial literacy.

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Health Issues - Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Rep. Addia Wuchner

Premiered On: 11/03/2017

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams and State Rep. Addia Wuchner, chairs of the Senate Health and Welfare and House Health and Family Services committees, respectively, discuss upcoming health care issues that will be addressed during the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly.

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Premiered On: 11/17/2017

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Sexual Harassment Issues - Consultant Rus Funk

Premiered On: 12/15/2017

Renee's guest is Rus Funk, a consultant on gender equity, anti-racism, and violence prevention. He serves on the board of the National Center on Sexual and Domestic Violence. Funk talks about the spate of sexual harassment charges that have dominated news headlines and offers advice on helping men learn how to modify their behavior to create a professional and respectful work environment.

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Silas House

Premiered On: 01/12/2018

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Premiered On: 01/19/2018

Renee visits DV8 Kitchen, a restaurant and bakery in Lexington that provides second chance employment opportunities for people in substance recovery who are trying to redirect their lives. She speaks with Rob and Diane Perez about their vision for the restaurant and its support from the community. Renee also talks with employees at the eatery to hear their stories of recovery and how DV8 Kitchen helps them.

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Premiered On: 02/09/2018

Dr. Gerald Smith, a history professor at the University of Kentucky and co-editor of "The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia", joins Renee to discuss race relations in honor of Black History Month. Topics include activism around removing Confederate statues, the status of black leadership in Kentucky, and Dr. Smith's thoughts on the needed response from the faith-based community in eradicating racism.

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Educational Innovation

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Educational innovation in the mountains is leading to a teaching and learning renaissance in southeast Kentucky. Renee and her guests, Dr. Dessie Bowling, associate director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative and Rose Shields, rural project manager for the Center for Excellence in Rural Health at the University of Kentucky, discuss recent innovative education practices in the region.

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Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Premiered On: 04/06/2018

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Dr. Donna Grigsby

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Renee speaks with Lexington pediatrician Dr. Donna Grigsby about early childhood brain development and the impact of adverse childhood experiences on cognitive and physical health. Dr. Grigsby discusses how to develop literacy skills in young children.

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Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen

Premiered On: 06/22/2018

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), talks about her organization's mission to reduce incarceration rates and their efforts to reform the bail system.

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Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy

Premiered On: 06/29/2018

Renee speaks with filmmaker Tiffany Webb, whose documentary, Voice of the Epilepsies, chronicles the story of a young girl living with epilepsy and her family's determination to treat the seizure disorder. Webb also discusses her own experience of being diagnosed with epilepsy.

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Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing

Premiered On: 08/17/2018

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Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness

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Renee speaks with Marcie Timmerman, executive director of Mental Health America of Kentucky. Timmerman discusses her organization's work to help those suffering from mental illness find effective treatment.

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Betty Baye

Premiered On: 09/06/2013

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Roszalyn Akins

Premiered On: 09/20/2013

Roszalyn Akins is dean of the Carter G. Woodson Academy in Lexington. The college preparatory school for promising males opened in 2012 and this year is serving young boys grades six through 10.

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Malcolm Ratchford

Premiered On: 09/27/2013

Renee talks with Malcolm Ratchford, executive director of Community Action Council, an organization that helps thousands of low-income Central Kentuckians each year work toward greater economic security.

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Ruth Brinkley - KentuckyOne Health

Premiered On: 10/04/2013

Ruth Brinkley, president and CEO of KentuckyOne Health, a coalition of leading health care providers in Kentucky, discusses the health care system, Medicaid expansion enabled by federal health care reform, and more.

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Pop Culture and Commodification of Women

Premiered On: 10/25/2013

Renee talks with women and others about the influence of popular media on body image and the stereotypes perpetuated throughout the entertainment industry.

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Innocence Project

Premiered On: 11/01/2013

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Diabetes Prevention and Control

Premiered On: 11/08/2013

Experts discuss the statewide education and prevention methods being dispatched and the changes individuals can make to avoid diabetes.

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Human Trafficking

Premiered On: 11/15/2013

Renee talks with guests about recent legislation that strengthens Kentucky's human trafficking laws and provides more services to victims and other topics.

  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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  • Friday June 17, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 17, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday June 17, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 17, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday June 17, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 17, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Carol Peachee - S12 E46

  • Thursday June 16, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 16, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday June 16, 2022 2:09 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 16, 2022 1:09 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday June 16, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 16, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jeff Hawkins and Robert Brown - S12 E45

  • Wednesday June 15, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sec. Vickie Yates Brown Glisson - S12 E44

  • Tuesday June 14, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 14, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 14, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 14, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 14, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 14, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kayla Rae Whitaker - S12 E41

  • Monday June 13, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday June 13, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday June 13, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday June 13, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday June 13, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday June 13, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Delanor Manson - Kentucky Nurses Association - S17 E36

  • Sunday June 19, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday June 19, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday June 18, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday June 18, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Walter Gilliam - S12 E40

  • Friday June 10, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 10, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday June 10, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 10, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday June 10, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 10, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Leadership - Marian Guinn and Lisa Williams; Colene Elridge - S12 E38

  • Thursday June 9, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 9, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday June 9, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 9, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Patricia Peacock - S12 E30

  • Wednesday June 8, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 8, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 8, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 8, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 8, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 8, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Cory Jewell Jensen - S12 E18

  • Tuesday June 7, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 7, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 7, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 7, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 7, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday June 7, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

David Thompson - S12 E11

  • Monday June 6, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday June 6, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday June 6, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday June 6, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday June 6, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday June 6, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

School Safety in Kentucky - S17 E35

  • Sunday June 12, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday June 12, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday June 11, 2022 4:28 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday June 11, 2022 3:28 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 4:28 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 3:28 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 11:58 am ET on KET
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 10:58 am CT on KET

Mitzi Sinnott - S12 E3

  • Friday June 3, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 3, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday June 3, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 3, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday June 3, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday June 3, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf - S12 E2

  • Thursday June 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 2, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday June 2, 2022 2:02 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 2, 2022 1:02 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday June 2, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday June 2, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Phil Wilkins - S11 E43

  • Wednesday June 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tameka Montgomery - S11 E42

  • Tuesday May 31, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 31, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 31, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 31, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 31, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 31, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dominique Wilkins - S11 E41

  • Monday May 30, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday May 30, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Gun Control Advocate Whitney Austin - S17 E34

  • Sunday June 5, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday June 5, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday June 4, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday June 4, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Ben Chandler - Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky - S17 E33

  • Sunday May 29, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday May 29, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday May 28, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday May 28, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET

Gary Tuggle - S11 E40

  • Friday May 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday May 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday May 27, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday May 27, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday May 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday May 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Leana Wen - S11 E39

  • Thursday May 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday May 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday May 26, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday May 26, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday May 26, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday May 26, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Terrence Walton - S11 E38

  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday May 25, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - S11 E37

  • Tuesday May 24, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 24, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 24, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday May 24, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
Top

Season 14 Episodes

The 'I Was Here' Project

S14 E36 Length 27:42 Premiere Date 8/4/19

Mike Runyon and Sherita Miller; Wendy Kobler

S14 E35 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 7/28/19

Filmmaker Lynn Novick

S14 E33 Length 28:27 Premiere Date 7/14/19

Brent Hutchinson; Christine Thompson - Education

S14 E32 Length 27:37 Premiere Date 7/7/19

Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton - Youth Mental Health

S14 E31 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 6/2/19

Julie Cerel - Youth Suicide Prevention

S14 E29 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 5/19/19

Dale Suttles - Sunrise Children's Services

S14 E28 Length 27:33 Premiere Date 5/12/19

Education in Rural Eastern Kentucky

S14 E27 Length 28:13 Premiere Date 5/5/19

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform

S14 E25 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 4/21/19

Jay Box - Ky. Community & Technical College System

S14 E24 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 4/14/19

Author and Life Coach Colene Elridge

S14 E23 Length 26:19 Premiere Date 4/7/19

FIRST STEP Act - Criminal Justice Reform

S14 E22 Length 27:44 Premiere Date 3/31/19

Cheryl A. Oldham

S14 E21 Length 26:38 Premiere Date 2/22/19

Linda Hampton - Early Childhood

S14 E20 Length 29:47 Premiere Date 2/15/19

Donald Mason

S14 E19 Length 26:34 Premiere Date 2/8/19

Community Action Council; First 5 Lex

S14 E18 Length 28:53 Premiere Date 2/1/19

Seamus Carey

S14 E17 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 1/25/19

Michael Benson

S14 E16 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 1/18/19

Dr. Aaron Thompson

S14 E14 Length 28:13 Premiere Date 1/11/19

Mary Todd Lincoln and Lincoln Lexington Walking Tour

S14 E13 Length 28:55 Premiere Date 12/14/18

Youth Suicide

S14 E12 Length 29:22 Premiere Date 12/7/18

Jean Schumm and Amanda Gale

S14 E11 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 11/16/18

M. Christopher Brown II

S14 E10 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 11/9/18

Frank Harris

S14 E9 Length 25:17 Premiere Date 11/2/18

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr

S14 E8 Length 29:16 Premiere Date 10/26/18

Amy McGrath

S14 E7 Length 29:02 Premiere Date 10/19/18

Kevin Chapman - Youth Mental Health

S14 E6 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 10/12/18

Carol Cecil; Resa Gonzalez - Youth Mental Health

S14 E5 Length 26:03 Premiere Date 10/5/18

Joe Bargione - Youth Mental Health

S14 E4 Length 28:57 Premiere Date 9/28/18

WKU President Timothy Caboni

S14 E3 Length 28:40 Premiere Date 9/21/18

Dr. Neeli Bendapudi

S14 E1 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 9/14/18

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