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OJ Oleka: These men are shaping Kentucky’s future through key leadership roles

In college, I was in an organization called Collegiate 100, a college version of 100 Black Men of America. We focused on leadership and brotherhood, hoping to exemplify positive imagery of Black men to the Black boys we would meet during community service.


Our motto was, “What they see is what they’ll be. Real men, giving real time.” This was important to us. We believed seeing leaders who look like you can have a positive impact.

In government, that impact isn’t only psychological, it’s practical. I believe diverse perspective produces good policy. As a Black man, this matters to me because of the promise it can bring. You can imagine my frustration, then, since I haven’t seen many articles highlighting the fact that three of the most consequential education and workforce systems in Kentucky’s government are run by Black men.

Governor Matt Bevin, a Republican, recently tapped Derrick Ramsey to lead the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

According to its website, the job of this cabinet is to “educate, prepare and train” Kentucky’s workforce. As a Super Bowl champion, a former University of Kentucky football starting quarterback, and former Secretary of the Labor Cabinet, Secretary Ramsey is the perfect fit to lead the offense for Kentucky’s innovative workforce and education initiatives.

These initiatives are critical to Governor Bevin’s long-term vision to make Kentucky a worldwide manufacturing hub and attract quality jobs. We can only get there if our workforce is adequately trained and prepared. Secretary Ramsey is leading the way.

Secretary Ramsey’s work directly impacts Kentucky today, but Dr. Wayne Lewis’ job directly impacts Kentucky tomorrow.


Dr. Lewis is the first Black Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. He has been crisscrossing the state, passionately defending the radical idea that every child in Kentucky deserves a quality K-12 education.

Unequivocal in his beliefs, Dr. Lewis has ruffled feathers through his defense of kids, particularly Black children. It is incredibly powerful to witness such a talented leader talk candidly about his childhood as a Black boy and how that informs his leadership.

Dr. Aaron Thompson, the incoming President at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), has the newest title of the three.

A former college president and Chief Academic Officer at CPE, the author of several books and a nationally renowned researcher, Dr. Thompson has the daunting task of continuing to align Kentucky’s higher education needs with educational outcomes that benefit the state and produce skilled graduates.

His work intersects with the activities of Dr. Lewis and Secretary Ramsey, and he is enthusiastically researching ways to make higher education more accessible for students, while also maintaining the growing reputation of our public higher education system. A native Kentuckian, Dr. Thompson grew up the son of an illiterate coal miner in Clay County. He truly is the American Dream.


I do not know what political party each of these men belong to and, frankly, I do not care.

Due to their careers of service to the people of Kentucky, these men were imminently qualified for their positions upon appointment. I am glad that those who selected these men recognized the talent they could bring in leading their respective public entities.

These men truly understand how their roles can shape the future for historically disadvantaged groups. These are individuals who lean into their Black identity. They are committed to creating opportunities for all Kentuckians, fully acknowledging that “all” includes ethnic minorities.

I am excited about what these men will accomplish in their continued service to the Commonwealth. I hope all Kentuckians support them, because our fate is linked to theirs. Their success means our success.

It also means the success of so many other people, many of whom can benefit tremendously from seeing Black men doing the work that these men are doing. After all, what they see is what they’ll be, and these men are giving real time to make Kentucky the greatest version of itself.

I wish them luck.

OJ Oleka is a Leadership in Higher Education PhD student at Bellarmine University.

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