Porter G. Peeples, who for the past 33 years has made a lasting mark as the driving force behind the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County, returns home Friday feeling a bit "intimidated" as he prepares to deliver the commencement address to several hundred graduates of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.
The 2005 graduation exercises at the college will begin at 6 on Friday on the campus at Cumberland. Approximately 400 students will receive degrees, diplomas and certificates signifying the culmination of their hard work done in the classroom.
Peeples, a native of Lynch and an alumnus of Southeast where he received an associate degree in 1966, comes home to Harlan County to deliver a message to graduates that he hopes will "challenge, motivate and encourage."
A graduate of Lynch High School, he acknowledged that it was the two years spent at Southeast that shaped and allowed him to grow and provided him with the self-assurance to continue working toward a four-year degree at the University of Kentucky.
"I have so much respect for Southeast and what it did for me," he said. "This is why my address Friday before the students is a bit daunting. I seriously doubt if I would have attended college had Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College not been there."
Growing up in the coal mining town of Lynch and attending public schools subsidized by U.S. Steel, the owner of the mines, Peeples enjoyed much success as a student at Southeast before leaving the mountains for Lexington where he enrolled at UK, earning a bachelor's degree in elementary and special education. Following his graduation, he landed a job as education director for the Urban League. At the time, he was the youngest director in the country.
He became the chief executive officer of the Urban League in 1972 and in the decades that have followed, the Lexington Urban League has made its mark with programs for clerical training, open housing, community development, training in penal institutions and the operation of a community radio station. Peeples also established a development corporation in 1981 and since its inception, more than 140 homes have been built or renovated and purchased for sale to low-income homebuyers. In addition, a 24-unit senior citizens complex was recently completed, bringing the combined total to over $13 million worth of real estate constructed under his guidance.
Peeples also served as the first chairman of the Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council, and recently the district established the P.G. Peeples Equity Award in recognition of his work on equity issues in the school system. He has also received several awards namely the Black Achiever's Award, and has been inducted into the University of Kentucky College of Education Hall of Fame.
He continues his dedication to the Lexington community through his active participation on numerous local and national boards, including but not limited to the Kentucky Housing Commission, U.S. Civil Rights State Advisory Commission, the Lexington Center Corporation, Commerce Lexington, Lexington Chamber of Commerce, Good Samaritan Hospital, Bluegrass Regional Private Industry Council and the Lexington Commission on Race Relations.
He is also very active in such community-based projects as One Community, One Voice and the African American Education Coalition.
Dr. W. Bruce Ayers, the president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and a former classmate, praised the choice made by the graduation committee to invite Peeples to deliver the keynote address.
"We are honored that Porter Peeples will be speaking to our graduates during the 2005 ceremony," he said. "He returns home as one of the most influential men in the commonwealth. We are certainly flattered that he is willing to impart some of his wisdom to those who have worked so very hard to earn degrees, certificates and diplomas in a quest to build for themselves a better and more productive way of life."
Peeples is married to the former Wilma Thomas, and they have two children.