Linda Ketner is an incredibly astute and passionate person and anyone fortunate enough to have a conversation with her will instantly realize, she is most passionate about people. As president of KSI Corp., a firm specializing in leadership and management development, Linda Ketner of Charleston has an impressivelong since established herself as a highly regarded professiona list of clients including the U.S. Department of Education, General Foods and Rotary International. But it is perhaps her staggering list of side ventures that gives insight into her this remarkable woman’s focus.
She has served as president of The Community Foundation, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Council On Homelessness and Affordable Housing, and chairwoman of the S.C. Housing Trust Fund, among a litany of other organizations she has chaired, founded, or supported.
Linda Ketner is truly committed to social justice and improving her community and gladly accepted an invitation to lend her voice and views to Phil Noble and Envision South Carolina.
Q: Are you optimistic about South Carolina?
I’m extremely optimistic. We have an incredible resource in our people that are widely untapped. If we get in touch with what we’ve got here, and we begin to mine that resource, and chisel out those diamonds with good education, nothing can beat us.
Q: What would be your plan on how South Carolina can truly become world class and globally connected?
First, we need to stop selling ourselves to business and industry as “we’ve got a cheap labor force,” and start being and selling “we have a highly educated workforce.” The source of our economic problems, our poverty problems, our crime problems begins with education. We’re 49th in the number of students that graduate from high school. Forty three percent of our students graduate late. This state can’t survive economically; much less thrive, with those numbers. I think the political body doesn’t understand education as the source of the problem. They would rather give tax breaks to a company to come here ,which costs us as taxpayers to fund those tax breaks, than focus on the source of the problem. In order to take advantage of our natural resources, and have a long-term economic success story, we must without a doubt have laser focus on the part of the political body to fix the educational system. I don’t see that happening.
Q: You don’t see them doing it? Or you don’t see the political process focusing on it?
Both. I don’t see them even understanding the ramifications of it and the layers of it. In my business, you’re taught: don’t treat the symptoms of a problem, find the source of it. South Carolina’s political body does not seem to understand. They treat the symptoms–they treat crime; they build more jails. They treat domestic violence by having panels to discuss it. For most of these problems it is a fundamental lack of a viable education system. They’ve got to focus on this if they want to be economically competitive. We’ve got to stop talking about the new south and BE the new south.
Q: You have been a leader on gender issues, which are tough anywhere but particularly here, and especially if you run for office. Talk about your thought processes and how you dealt with those pressures, and gender equality issues in the state as a whole.
I am a social justice nut, it’s true. I had always wanted to be in politics. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be governor so that I could make sure that African-American kids and little girls could play Little League baseball. I always wanted to be in politics but wasn’t because of my sexual orientation. That was a come-to-Jesus moment for me. I am a believer in God and I had come to terms with how much God loved me and that this was part of what he had given me, to teach me a whole lot about other people, and fairness, and justice, and kindness. I will always fight for the equality of all people on this planet and them getting a fair shake. My whole life’s purpose is at the root of that. I’m encouraging other people if you’re a woman, an African-American, gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender, to be the best self you can be.
Q: What would you tell a young person who considers you a role model and seeks your advice?
I would tell them four things. First, as I’ve talked about, get a good education. Second, leave this state for four years, minimum. Leave the region. Leave the country. I want our young people to see different ways of looking at the problems that we have. If we stay here, sometimes we get xenophobic and provincial – “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Go somewhere else, experience somewhere else. It doesn’t mean you’ll change your mind, it doesn’t mean I want you to. But I want you to critically analyze what you believe and what you think is possible. So get out of here for four years, and then come back and make a difference. The third thing is: you must become politically involved. I don’t care whether you like politics. You don’t have the option. None of us have the option of ignoring politics, so get politically involved. Citizens need to take back government in South Carolina, and in the nation. The fourth thing I would suggest to young people is, on a regular basis, to look at themselves in the mirror and ask, “Am I making a difference?” Because I think that’s what we’re here for, on this planet. Am I making a difference, in my family, in my community, in my state, in the nation?
About LInda Ketner
Hometown: Faith, N.C.; lives in Charleston
Education: B.A. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; M.A. University of North Carolina Greensboro; completed work towards her unfinished Ph.D at Duke and Emory Universities
Occupation: President, KSI Corp., philanthropist, Voice of Equality
Other Notables: Leadership America graduate; national Salute to Citizenship Award; S.C. Woman of Valor Award; Girl Scout Woman of Distinction Award; and S.C. Housing Achievement Award; Urban League Arthur J. Clement Award For Race Relations
About this series
This is the ninth in a series of interviews for Envision S.C., an initiative where some of the state’s brightest thinkers share their perspectives to inspire South Carolina to become world class in technology, education and business. It is sponsored by the College of Charleston with the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, newspapers, TV stations and other groups. Interviews are being conducted by Charleston businessman Phil Noble.
An interview with Charleston physician and philanthropist Dr. Thaddeus Bell will appear next on Page A2 in The State and on thestate.com/envisionsc .
Video: Interview with Ketner