LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 19, 2019) — A lifelong fan of the University of Kentucky, DeBraun Thomas moved to Lexington from the San Francisco area several years ago to attend UK.
At UK, he continued to explore his love for music and radio. But he also expanded his interest in student and community activism. After completing his studies, he took a position at UK’s WUKY public radio station, while playing in, and promoting, local bands and the Lexington music scene.
Fueled by a passion for history and making community change possible, he also began exploring the contradictions and challenges associated with statues at Cheapside Park in the heart of downtown Lexington. The site was home of one of the country’s largest slave markets prior to the Civil War. After the war, statues were erected of Confederate-era leaders.
Over the years, the statues periodically sparked dialogue and debate. But it wasn’t until Thomas and others forced the conversation, that change happened.
The co-founder of the group Take Back Cheapside, Thomas helped lead a community conversation over 18 months that culminated in the removal of the statues in 2017. They are now housed at the Lexington Cemetery.
“Lexington has showed the nation a path to a respectful resolution of a difficult issue, and DeBraun Thomas helped us every step of the way. He calmly and persistently helped our city do the right thing,” former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “DeBraun is the kind of leader our city needs.”
In this edition of "Behind the Blue," Thomas discusses his time at UK and what he learned, the process that led to the removal of the statues, his passion for music and his continued interest in community activism and dialogue.
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Seventy years ago, Lyman T. Johnson forced open the doors of the University of Kentucky by becoming the first African-American student. He, along with countless others, opened a door and created a path for us to follow. It’s the idea that anyone — regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, what they believe, how they identify themselves, or where they are from — can find a place at the University of Kentucky. Yet, our story demands that we acknowledge progress on this path has not been a straight line. There have been moments where we have, as an institution, not honored our aspirations. Those moments provide a compelling reminder that building a community of belonging is a journey, not a project. This month, as part of Black History Month, we are chronicling the stories of the trailblazers, innovators and champions, who bravely stepped forward or are pushing us ahead today. Their stories speak to us and guide us still.