In search of another way

We can’t pass the course on humanity
if we keep failing the lessons
on harmony
and until we unlearn fear and hate.

“I believe that fear is at the root of hate” author and Affrilachian Poets founder Frank X Walker said in explaining the order of the key words in a phrase of his celebrated poem Love Letta to De Worl’.

The phrase “unlearn fear and hate” has become the central theme of educational initiatives unfurling across Lexington, a prelude to an all out effort in service to civility and understanding among neighbors.

Walker’s poem was commissioned by Transylvania University’s prolific artistic collaborators Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova. With the poet’s blessing, they have transformed the phrase into the equation “Unlearn Fear + Hate” and a clarion call for close examination of what makes us fearful of others and how those fears are often expressed in anger, violence, racism and xenophobia.

“It suggests that fear and hate are behaviors we have learned, that they are not our natural state,” Gohde and Todorova state in a synopsis of their initiative. “By extension, it also expresses hope that we can unlearn them. Everyone has something or someone they have learned to fear. We believe that everyone has the capacity to unlearn fear and prejudice. Our artwork gives people an opportunity to consider their fears and to commit to unlearning them. It is based on our belief that we can all benefit from unlearning hatred and, instead, learning to treat others with respect, compassion, and justice.”


If you have driven or walked along the Upper Street side of the 21c Hotel in downtown Lexington, you may have glimpsed the symbol the artists have designed and created, funded by two LexArts Community Arts Development grants and a Neighborhood Development Grant from the Lexington City Council. The 4-foot wide stainless steel “halo” is attached at eye level to the exterior wall. If it could see, its gaze would be fixed upon the nearby statue of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. 

“In the summer of 2015,” the pair have written of their inspiration and intent, “communities around the country began reconsidering monuments and memorials to the Confederacy as a response to the increasing publicity around acts of racial violence in the United States. In Lexington this conversation centered on the monuments of John C Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan, both located in an iconic downtown space: not only the present location of Saturday’s farmers’ market and numerous public celebrations, but also the former site of a prominent slave market. The debate about these monuments included both people who passionately advocated for the removal/relocation of them and people committed to keeping them in their current location. Like many conversations about religion, the debate surrounding the two Lexington monuments ended without changing the hearts or minds of participants on either side. Thus, the way in which Lexington attempted to address the tensions caused by the monuments was not effective, but it was not unusual either. We are fearful of people we don’t know. We are fearful of difference. We are afraid the cost of change will be the loss of things important to who we are. This fear sometimes causes us to hate the agents of change.”

Two billboard-size prints of photographic portraits of Lexingtonians made with the symbol are to be mounted on the sides of buildings at prominent downtown locations, according to the artists. And a Spanish version reading “borremos el miedo y el odio” was mounted on the Versailles Road side of the Village Branch of the Lexington Public Library on the same day as the 21c installation.

Word reaches the Lyric Theater. A call is placed.

When Ashley Smith heard about the initiative the Lyric Theater Development Director contacted the Transy professors popularly referred to around town as “Kurt ’n Kremena” or simply “K&K” to talk about the $2500 grant she had secured from the Kresge Foundation to fund an Arts and Humanities Festival. “Being familiar with the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ and the work that’s being done by ‘K&K’,  it’s just a perfect opportunity to combine the arts, education and this beautiful initiative,” she said.

On October 11, school buses carrying some 800 students from 11 schools in Lexington’s District One which shares territory with Transylvania will roll to the curb outside the Lyric on 3rd and Elm. “We have a great incentive for schools to participate,” Smith said. “A barrier that we previously realized in putting on various field-trip programs was that schools just didn’t have the transportation stipends for the buses. So we are offering transportation stipends for these mainly Title I schools.”

When the curtain rises, Gohde and Todorova will host a 90-minute, five-act production of music, theatre and poetry mutually developed by the Lyric and Transy students. According to Smith, here’s what the students will experience:

Smith said she hopes students leave the event better prepared “to navigate these very heavy topics and conversations,” equipped with:

Four blocks west of the Lyric, Transylvania University is itself joining the initiative.

Expressing difficult truths through the arts

In November, Transylvania will host students from Lafayette High School and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) in a performance based on the theme. “We all resonate most with ideas that are relevant and incite emotional connection, especially young adults who are heavily influenced by art through social media,” said Lafayette Dean of Students Caryn Huber. “Unlearn Fear + Hate” will allow our students to create a forum at the grassroots level to reach a broad group of diverse students that represent our community, and we hope, these students will carry home to their social circles.”

Under the direction of Cathy Rowland, the students will offer interpretations of the theme through their preferred art forms.

“In preparation for the performance,” Huber said, “the students study the theme (understanding, analyzing, and evaluating), then move to creating, using tools they’ve gained from their courses in creative writing, drama, visual arts, dance, and piano.”

Plans call for the performance at Transy to serve as a springboard for the development of a theme-based educational curriculum with students expressing the imperative to unlearn fear and hate through original works in music composition, art, poetry, dance, monologues, and personal narratives.

The performance, at 7pm on November 30 in Transy’s Haggin Hall, is open to the public.

Halo 3

Theme to drive campus-wide buzz

Throughout the coming fall and winter terms, the Transylvania campus will be abuzz with discussion and thought revolving around the theme “Unlearn Fear + Hate.”

When introduced to Gohde and Todorova, Laura Bryan, Transylvania’s new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the University, learned of their Unlearn Fear + Hate initiative, and embraced it. “I like the phrase because it is action-oriented. The phrase assumes that we learned fear and hate, and thus, we must be able to unlearn fear and hate. I also like it because it does not restrict the discourse to only one target of hate, but can encompass all targets of fear and hate in our society.”

Dr. Bryan proposed the phrase as a theme for Transy during this academic year. President Seamus Carey and the other cabinet members agreed, signaling a green light to set up programs and activities.  

To ensure consistent programming while raising awareness of the theme, Bryan also asked Jeremy Paden, Director of Creative Intelligence, to use the theme for the university’s series of endowed lectures.

As a result, speakers in all of Transylvania’s 2016-17 endowed lectures in Philosophy, English, Music, Religion, Social Sciences, Business and Economics, Classics, and Theater, as well as its Creative Intelligence Series have been invited to address it in some way.

This is new to the 236 year old institution, according to Paden. “This is the first year where we are trying to provide a theme to our lectures. The intent behind theming is to both provide coherence to campus conversation during the school year and to show how any given theme can be approached from each of the various disciplines. That is, we hope this approach will show the liberal arts moves to find interconnections between disciplines, questions, and problems.”

Paden, an associate professor of Spanish, said while many speakers and performers have committed, work continues to secure additional lecturers.


Convocation – Kentucky novelist, music journalist, environmental activist and columnist Silas House is featured speaker.

September 9, 2016 – 3:30pm | Haggin Auditorium

The Smith Concert Series​ ​will host Time for Three, a high-energy string trio of super virtuosos who refer to themselves as a “classically trained garage band.”  They perform music in a wide variety of genres, from rock to Bluegrass, jazz and classical to hip-hop.

Tuesday, Oct. 11 – 7:30 pm​​ | Haggin Auditorium

The Moosenick Lectureship in Judaic Studies will bring in Professor Reuven Firestone, Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judiasm and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, CA.

Dr. Firestone is one of the country’s leading authorities on the relationship of Judaism and Islam and the author of numerous books; including Journeys in Holy Land; Jihad: the Origin of Holy War in Islam; Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims; An Introduction to Islam for Jews; and Who are the Real Chosen People: The Meaning of Chosenness in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He will present at Transylvania on Tuesday, November 15, and at Ohavay Zion Synagogue on Thursday, November 16, 2016

The Kenan Lecture will feature the poet Claudia Rankine. Her book Citizen: A Lyric, is a collection of lyrical essays or poetic prose​ that bears witness to the experience of everyday encounters with racism. It moves in and through the feelings and thought processes of ​a person trying to understand the experience of these injustices. ​In this way, “​Citizen​”​ names and narrates these experiences. And in reading and listening to the poems, i​n learning from them, our world is enlarged. Rankine’s book was shortlisted for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the 2015 PEN Open Book Award, the 2015 Hurston/Wright Award in Poetry among many others.

Rankine will deliver the annual Kenan Lecture on February 16, 2017

Paden is continuing to fill the calendar with lectures and performances related to the theme. “Creative Intelligence is collaborating with the Morlan Gallery to bring in a major Affrilachian reading. The reading, which will take place on January 19 at 6 pm in Carrick Theater, is part of an anthology release and an exhibition of Affrilachian visual art,” he said. 

Paden added that he is currently in discussion on dates and times with two professors and poets, one who works with the Latino Immigrant community in Kentucky and who teaches poetry to immigrant and refugee children as a means of owning and telling their own story, and another who teaches in the area of writing and Disability Studies. 

All of the Transylvania events are free and open to the public. The Smith Concert Series and the Kenan Lecture, however, will be ticketed.

We will hear and see much more in the near future about fear and hate and how they might be unlearned. Todorova and Gohde have established project partnerships with the Lexington Public Library, The Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, LexingtonUnited and the NAACP of Lexington Chapter-3097.

Transy students on Bourbon Ave - Video by Chelsey and Susan Olson
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The author

Tom Martin is co-publisher of UnderMain and producer/host of the weekly public radio magazine program Eastern Standard on WEKU. Tom's 50 year career in media has included network news correspondent, newspaper editor, columnist, and student media advisor.