News Archive

Harlan County native is named KCTCS board chairman, proves hard work and right attitude equal success

Its widely known that Loretta Lynn is a coal miners daughter, but P.G. Peeples said because hes African-American many are surprised to learn he is a coal miners son. Peeples, who has just taken the reigns as chairman of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) Board of Regents, grew up in the Harlan County coal mining town of Lynch. In reality, there were numerous black people and Europeans working in the mines of eastern Kentucky. In the early 1900s, thousands of black men wererecruited to work in the eastern Kentucky coalfields. Like Peeples family most were from Alabama. He said the myth that there were few black people in eastern Kentucky is one of many misperceptions about the area.

We didnt know we were poor until the media told us, he said. My father worked for U.S. Steel, and our houses were provided. Our schools were subsidized by the company, so we had some of the best teachers. My family always had a car, and my father was an outdoorsman, so he had a boat.

Until his senior year, Peeples attended a segregated school. He was the fifth of nine children, and the first in his family to attend college. He and two of his younger siblings attended Southeast Community College (SECC), now Southeast Kentucky Community amp; Technical College, in Cumberland. The president of that school today is Dr. Bruce Ayers, who met Peeples when they were both freshmen at Southeast.

Ayers said the southeast Kentucky lifestyle defined the person Peebles is today.

He has an ability to empathize with people who need help, Ayers said. He has a special insight that helps him see things others dont.

Im delighted he was chosen to lead the Board of Regents. It just fits him. Everything hes done has prepared him for this role.

Another successful boyhood friend is Dr. William Turner, a professor at Berea College, who attended SECC with Ayers and Peeples. Turner said hes not surprised that Peeples and so many others from his hometown became successful. Turner has written profiles of 70 of his friends and neighbors who became professionals or entrepreneurs. Three even went on to become Harlem Globetrotters. He said the focus on education and the realization that no one was going to give them anything was highly motivating.

We knew there was no future in doing what our fathers did, Turner said. Education was highly valued, and discipline was everything. Achievement and graduation rates were much higher than they are now.

Its significant that P.G. started at Southeast Community College. To me, its like a Catholic going to Notre Dame.

After two years at SECC, Peeples enrolled at the University of Kentucky. He and Turner were two of approximately 50 black students on campus in 1966.

Peeples said being part of such a small group on campus was not intimidating to him because of the experiences hed had prior to moving to Lexington. His family, and many others in the Lynch community, sent their teenagers to live with family in other cities and work there during the summer. At age 16, Peeples lived with older siblings in Brooklyn and worked as a messenger in midtown Manhattan. A few years later, he worked at St. Lukes Hospital across the street from the home of the president of Columbia University where he had a front row seat when students took over that home in the turbulent 1960s.

I wouldnt trade my life experiences growing up for anything, he said.

Those experiences and the relationships hes built during a 42-year career at the Lexington Urban League mean he brings a wealth of knowledge to his position as chair of the Board of Regents.

In his role at the Lexington Urban League, Peeples serves as an advocate for the disadvantaged. During his tenure as president/CEO, the organization has developed programs for clerical training, open housing, community development, training in penal institutions and operation of a community radio station.

Peeples believes housing is the organizations signature activity because it has helped those who thought they could never own a home to buy one. His exemplary work in housing has brought him national recognition through the Urban League. Hes also been a presenter at the Urban Leagues national conference three times to share with others what his organization has achieved locally.

Peeples also is proud of the work his organization is doing to retrain those whove been incarcerated so that they can restart their lives. Additionally, he said his work with senior citizens is very rewarding. He sees the agency and his role there as a bridge builder.

We design programs with the intent of assisting clients and the community, he said. I network with people that I need to have relationships with, and I provide information to the majority community about the unique issues of the minority community.

KCTCS president Dr. Michael B. McCall said that Peeples extensive leadership skills, along with his community college background, make him a good fit to lead the Board.

P.G. brings a unique perspective and serves as a role model to our students, Dr. McCall said. We are very fortunate to have him as chairman of the Board of Regents.

Peeples believes KCTCS is an excellent system and that McCall and his team are the best in the United States. One of his goals as chair of the Board of Regents is to grow diversity, not just among the student population, but also within the faculty and other leadership positions. Economic inclusion is also on his to-do list. Hed like to see more minority contractors become aware of and able to take advantage of procurement opportunities. This is a program he champions in his role as leader of the Lexington Urban League as well because he wants to see people develop and maintain their businesses.

Peeples is very excited about the recent groundbreaking for the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington. He believes building the new school on that site will help re-energize that part of town and bring other enterprises to the area. Peebles is very familiar with the neighborhood because he began his work with the Lexington Urban League many years ago just a couple of blocks away.

Over the years, Peeples has helped others by raising money, finding people jobs and helping them with affordable housing. He still believes in the value of hard work and education he learned at an early age, and said preparing for success should always be a goal for students.

Its not important to know in middle school or high school what youre going to be, but if youre going to be successful, you have to prepare now, he said. Take your studies seriously. Its all a mind set of excellence and having high expectations.

For his hard work and achievements, Peeples was named to the University of Kentucky College of Education Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame. He is the recipient of numerous awards and even has one named after him. In recognition of his success, the Fayette County Public Schools established the P.G. Peeples Equity Award in 2003. He was the first chairman of the districts Equity Council as well as a leader on the public schools Affirmative Action Council.

Peeples was appointed in August 2006 by then Gov. Ernie Fletcher to serve a six-year term on the KCTCS Board of Regents. In 2009, he was elected to serve a two-year term as KCTCS board secretary and as a board vice chair in 2010. His new chair position will expire in June 2013. He is the fifth person to serve in this role.

His community service includes serving on the boards of the Kentucky Housing Corporation, Bluegrass Airport, Blue Grass Community Foundation, St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, Commerce Lexington, Fayette County Education Foundation and Fayette County Schools Equity Council.

My community involvement keeps me connected to whats real in the lives of the people were here to serve, he said. The world changes, and we have to change with it. One of the beauties of KCTCS is the flexibility to do that. We have the versatility to customize training to fit the needs of each community.

He and his wife, Wilma, who attended Hazard Community and Technical College and went on to earn degrees from the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, have two children.

Although it doesnt seem as if Peeples could have any free time, he is an avid UK football and basketball fan. He has two basketball championship rings, one given to him by Coach Rick Pitino and the other by Coach Tubby Smith. His affiliation with the basketball program has led to contributions to the Lexington Urban League from several coaches, including Coach John Calipari.

The key to my job at the Urban League has been about building relationships, he said. Its just another part of what I was taught: respect others, be willing to help, be humble and have pride in what you do.