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The 'I Was Here' Project

The 'I Was Here' Project

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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.
S14 E36 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.”

Program Details

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Innocence Project - S9 E9

Renee's guests are Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom and prison exoneree Calvin Johnson. In 1983, Johnson was falsely convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. The Innocence Project took his case and arranged for forensic testing that proved his innocence 16 years later. Renee talks with Johnson about his experience and with Saloom about the work of the Innocence Project in all 50 states.

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Diabetes Prevention and Control - S9 E10

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 - S9 E11

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

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The Forgotten Minority - S9 E12

Renee talks with advocates for Kentuckians with disabilities about the challenges facing those with mental and physical limitations and illnesses, the resources available, and the policy changes needed to better serve this population.

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Middle Class Struggles and Poverty - S9 E13

Renee's guests are Ron Crouch, demographer and director of research and statistics in the Office of Employment and Training for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, and Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, an activist with RESULTS, a nonprofit whose mission is to fight hunger and poverty.

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Connections - S15 E20

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Tuskegee Airmen Historians - S9 E14

Renee interviews a trio of men who are either making history or working to preserve it: Reginald "Reggie" Thomas, the third African American in Kentucky history to be elected to the Kentucky Senate; Ron Spriggs, Tuskegee Airmen historian; and Bobby Scroggins, art professor and sculptor.

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Sabrina Butler and Kate Miller - S9 E19

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Dr. Vershawn A. Young - S9 E20

Renee talks with University of Kentucky professor Vershawn A. Young (aka Dr. Vay), an expert of the contemporary African American experience, about his latest published work, Other People's English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy.

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Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker - S9 E21

Frank X Walker, named Kentucky's 2013-14 poet laureate, talks about his latest collection, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, and other works and projects.

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50th Anniversary of the March On Frankfort - S9 E22

Renee discusses the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort with historians and participants including: NAACP Louisville leader Raoul Cunningham and former state Senator Georgia Davis Powers.

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Aaron Thompson - S9 E26

Aaron Thompson, executive vice president and chief academic officer of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, discusses the state budget for higher education and the impact on student tuition.

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MaryLee Underwoood and Chastity Ross - CCDD - S9 E27

MaryLee Underwoood and Chastity Ross with the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities (CCDD) discuss recent legislation to protect vulnerable adults against abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

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Dr. Janet Taylor - S9 E29

Renee speaks with Dr. Janet Taylor, psychiatrist, certified life coach, and national commentator on work-life balance and mental health issues.

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Djuan Trent - S9 E30

Former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent talks about her decision come out as a gay woman, reaction from family and friends, her activism in advancing gay rights and marriage, and more.

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Renee speaks with former Kentucky Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Hasan Davis, about recent juvenile justice reform. Davis was featured in the recent PBS Frontline program "Prison State," about Kentucky's correction system, and interviewed for KET's follow-up program, Prison State: A Kentucky Community Conversation.

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Connections - S15 E22

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Prison Reform In Kentucky - S9 E32

Renee continues the discussion about Kentucky prison reform recently highlighted on the PBS Frontline program "Prison State." Her guests are: Mark Bolton, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections; Sheila Schuster, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and mental health advocate; and Ray Larson, Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney.

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Ted Strader - COPES - S9 E33

Ted Strader, the director of the Council on Prevention and Education: Substances, Inc. (COPES) in Louisville, discusses how partnering agencies with the corrections system can help former inmates with successful re-entry into society.

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Colene Elridge - S9 E34

Renee speaks with human resources professional and life coach Colene Elridge, better known as Coach Colene, owner of Be More Consulting.

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Rape Culture - S9 E35

Renee's guests are Mae Suramek, executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center and Rus Funk, executive director of MensWork- Eliminating Violence Against Women.

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  • Sunday January 12, 2020 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 11:00 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Dana Branham - S8 E36

  • Friday January 17, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Frank Minnifield - S8 E35

  • Thursday January 16, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jakobi Williams - S8 E34

  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Beth Dotson Brown - S8 E31

  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lexington Artists - S8 E28

  • Monday January 13, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Ashli Watts - Kentucky Chamber of Commerce - S15 E15

  • Saturday January 11, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 11, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 11:00 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Byron Hurt - S8 E25

  • Friday January 10, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Janet Steele Holloway - S8 E24

  • Thursday January 9, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jane Beshear - S8 E21

  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Alexandra Bradner - S8 E20

  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Thrivals 5.0 - S8 E19

  • Monday January 6, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dayna Seelig - S15 E12

  • Saturday January 4, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 4, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 1:30 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 12:30 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Derek Anderson - S8 E18

  • Friday January 3, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bianca Spriggs - S8 E16

  • Thursday January 2, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Cathy Holloway Hill - S8 E15

  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

M.A.D.E. (Motivating Youth All Day Everyday) - S8 E13

  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Susan Pope - S8 E12

  • Monday December 30, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Pastor Edward Palmer - Racial Bias and Juvenile Justice Reform - S15 E2

  • Saturday December 28, 2019 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday December 28, 2019 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 10:30 pm CT on KET

Mimi Pickering and Dr. Catherine Fosl - S8 E7

  • Friday December 27, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tara Betts - S8 E6

  • Thursday December 26, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

dream hampton - S8 E5

  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
Top

Season 14

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 Novik

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

Explore KET