This is the final profile in a series marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Weekly since November 2014, we have shared the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
“Historically, people think of us as a legal organization, as the world’s largest law firm, but we’ve really gotten away from that. Even on the national level, they’re moving much more toward the type of structure that we’ve had here in Kentucky for a long time.” -Michael Aldridge
Michael Aldridge, current executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, got his start with the organization as a volunteer with the Reproductive Freedom Project. Gradually, his involvement expanded until he reached a decision: after working with the ACLU-KY and the Fairness Campaign against Kentucky’s definition of marriage amendment, Aldridge said: “I realized that my skill set aligned with this type of work long-term, and after that campaign, I went into nonprofit work full time.” When the ACLU-KY’s executive director position opened up in 2007, Aldridge went through the months-long selection process and eventually got the job.
Under his leadership, the affiliate has been able to hire more staff and retain current staff for longer than ever before. “One thing that I’m really proud of is that we have grown the organization through staff expansion,” Aldridge said. “We have the longest serving staff we’ve [ever] had and because of that, they’ve become really good at their jobs. . . . We have a bigger impact statewide now.”
Aldridge also credits what ACLU-KY staff call their “three-pronged” approach to the organization’s increased impact. The strategy, which began with the Reproductive Freedom Project, relies on educational advocacy in communities and lobbying in Frankfort in addition to the traditional legal program. “From the beginning, it was evident that we had to do education and raise a base of support around that [RFP] issue, particularly statewide,” he explained. “And then we asked those people to come lobby with us. . . . I think it became a structure that we knew, so naturally we used that type of structure for all our issue work.”
Aldridge said that some of the ACLU-KY accomplishments he is most proud of were not the ones with the most publicity. One such case involved a group of Somali Muslims wishing to create a worship space. “The ACLU gets criticized a lot for being anti-religion,” Aldridge said. “I think that’s a real misconception about the organization, because we fight hard to make sure everyone has the right to practice their faith freely.”
“We must also be responsive to our times. Currently, there are great opportunities to tackle criminal justice reform in Kentucky, to define our role alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, and to tackle protections for our growing immigrant population,”, Aldridge said: “Privacy issues are coming to the forefront as surveillance becomes omnipresent in our society and free-speech concerns take on renewed interest with the expansion of technological platforms. We will continue to evolve in order to have the largest impact possible on Kentuckians’ lives.”