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The unseen work of citizens that actually makes a difference

With the mayoral primary behind us, it will be months still before we know who the next Mayor of Louisville is, but it’s not too early to talk about how to ensure that Louisville is the real winner in this election.

In the past two years, our nation has faced a reckoning surrounding issues of inequity, race, and how local governments can either exacerbate or disrupt these legacy patterns. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Louisville. For Louisville to win, everyone must win.

To disrupt our legacy patterns, we must do things very differently.

Humana Foundation Community Partnership grantees, published with permission

Thankfully, some citizens stepped up in new ways during the pandemic:

  • A Path Forward emerged as an inspiring plan from a group of 70-strong citizens for addressing inequities and disinvestment in their neighborhoods.

  • Evolve 502 went off script and gathered a comprehensive working group of all the wrap-around services to provide unprecedented resources for JCPS students learning at home.

  • The short-term and permanent housing folks, like Coalition for the Homeless and Wellspring and others, coordinated services and resources, and even collaborated on longer-term planning for ARP funds.

  • Lou Med was launched as a long-term plan for development led by a coalition of the downtown hospitals to transform their downtown service area for the decades to come.

These were only a few of the extraordinary citizen-led collaborations that brought expertise, creativity, energy, and relationships to the work of equity during the pandemic. This entailed bridging among groups, learning and collaborating on ideas and initiatives like never before.

The Humana Foundation Community Partnership Grant program did an extraordinary thing. In the second round of their community grants in early 2021, they put a filter in their digital application that kicked out organizations that were not led by 50% people of color or more, allowing a very different group of organizations through the application funnel. A group I work with, Re:land, made it through and got funding for its extraordinary community work in the Park Hill/Algonquin neighborhood. That's us in the grantee group picture above, which speaks for itself.

Just this week, the Louisville Urban League launched a program that operationalizes a key recommendation of A Path Forward by announcing the launch of their Center for Entrepreneurship to support the development of and bring infrastructure to black-owned businesses. Typical of the way the Louisville Urban League operates, they started by taking the overflow from the Russell Technology Business Incubator -- hundreds of black-owned businesses looking for help -- gathered partners, built a program without duplication of effort, raised funds, and now are looking for more partners to improve their offering.

Louisville is going to need a lot more of this different thinking because we're stalled; over the last fifteen years, our (MSA) population grew 5% when Raleigh grew 53%, Nashville grew 25% and Indianapolis grew 12%. Louisville is highly segregated racially and in terms of income levels and neighborhood investment. We remain the city of Breonna Taylor and the aftermath, where the harm done has not been acknowledged and we have not found a way to heal. By 2045, Louisville will be 50% black and brown and will need that group to include a vibrant middle class.

There’s no reason Louisville can’t be a vibrant, thriving, inclusive, growing city; a place where people can make a life and a difference in their community.

What if, now during the pandemic and recovery, we do not go back to business as usual?

What if citizens, instead, brought this same urgency and collaboration to creating shared growth – growth that is intentionally designed to benefit all – as a defining ambition for Louisville’s immediate future?

It wouldn’t be that difficult. We could:

  • Honor the many task forces and community forums that have already taken place by building the shared growth agenda on their findings and recommendations;

  • Assemble cross-sector, deeply diverse groups of citizens, businesses, organizations, entrepreneurs, and creatives who endorse the shared growth agenda and are committed to integrating this platform into their own activities; and

  • Develop a shared playbook for action with concrete, practicable asks. These would include recommendations directed at city government, but also recommendations directed at the many quasi-governmental and civic and business organizations who are able to advance the shared growth agenda even absent direct Mayoral endorsement.

Playbook in hand, every citizen-leader would be empowered to pitch in.

Shared growth grows the pie, moving from the scarcity mentality hanging over Louisville to an abundance mindset. Those already bringing resources to disinvested neighborhoods would gain momentum. Entrepreneurs and small businesses would find more fertile ground for growth. Top companies and talent will follow when they hear the good news about shared growth in Louisville.

Everyone wins, so Louisville wins.

But time is of the essence, lest we let this moment slip by. As Charles M. Blow wrote this past weekend, “…flashes of guilt, outrage and shame often stir fleeting fealties, and the heavy gravitational pull of racial privileges and power can quickly draw mercurial allies back into the refuge of the status quo.”

Citizens proved we can do this and more at the height of the pandemic. We'd like to have this conversation with you and perhaps act very differently, together, for a better Louisville.



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