Profile in courage: P.G. Peeples Sr.
His roots stretch from a small coal mining town in Harlan County to Lexington where he’s led the fight for equality and fairness in the workplace and education.
P.G Peeples Sr. is getting ready to retire from the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County after 53 years.
Now the CEO and President of the non-profit organization, Peeples is also fighting a return of breast cancer. He was first diagnosed in 2004 after shaving one morning and noticing one nipple was inverted. Peeples thought he had breast cancer beat after treatment, but it came back last year. Not only that, the 76-year-old had surgery last year for a brain tumor.
I wondered how he found the courage to fight all of these challenges. Peeples told me, “It’s just kinda who I am. All my life I’ve been a person who says, go get it. If I can beat it, I can light a path for the other people.”
Peeples is one of nine brothers and sisters raised by his coal miner father and mother in Lynch, Kentucky. He attended segregated schools until his senior year in high school.
To broaden his experiences, his parents sent him to New York City to live with his older brother and work during the summers of his high school years.
It changed Peeples. “I wasn’t intimidated by much of anything. I was on a mission. I knew what I came there to do.”
Peeples attended a community college in 1964, and then two years later went to the University of Kentucky where he was one of only 160 black students. He learned how to ignore the taunts and name-calling.
“There were times when you would walk back and forth to classes, around the dorms where the white fraternity boys were. They were offensive. They would say, you could hear the N word, and all those kinds of things. But you heard that everywhere Sam. My thing was, you’re not putting your hands on me, I’m okay.”
After graduating from U-K he worked for the Fayette County public school system. He soon joined the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette county. It would become his work home for the next 53 years. He focused on affordable housing for low-income families and advocating for equality in the workplace and schools.
“We’ve done hundreds of rental housing, and then housing we’ve built and sold, affordable housing.”
Longtime friend and civic leader Jim Host says Peeples has made significant contributions to the community with housing.
"He hasn’t just talked about it, he’s performed. In the period when he started, he built 270 units worth nearly 28 million dollars since 1986. He’s got senior multi-family units, he’s got single-family rental units, and he’s had 161 of the units now in homeownership from people he’s shown a way through rent, through income and other ways. He’s financed all this through a non-profit corporation that he and the Urban League set up. A lot of people have no clue how much impact they’ve had.”
Peeples’ mantra is simple and consistent.
“It’s not complicated. Do what’s right. If all of us do that, think how much better this world would be.” He believes positive strides have been made in civil rights, and at the same time says there is much left to do. “I think we’re moving forward. It seems as though we make steps forward, and then the wagon rolls back down the hill. What does that say? You gotta always be prepared to push the wagon back up the hill again,” said Peeples.
That determination and grit also carries over in his struggle against cancer.
I asked him what he’s learned from his health challenges. He said, “no matter what’s put on you, or in front of you, that you get thru it by attacking it, and not whining about it. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself.”
Peeples’ work and vision have helped countless people find not just a home but hope that they can succeed in life. He said, "I was given a blessing, and that blessing was, I was given some skill sets and some opportunities, and my responsibility was to stay the course."
Peeples will be honored and celebrated on October 24th at the Urban League banquet. His contributions to the community are many and widespread. His work changed lives and made Lexington a far better place to live and work.
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