The 9th Street Divide – Louisville, Kentucky
If you venture to Louisville, KY as a tourist, you’ll find plenty to do. It’s a beautiful city with lots to boast about in terms of activities, restaurants, attractions, etc. But one thing you won’t necessarily see unless you are looking is the line of demarcation that cuts right through downtown, better known as The 9th Street Divide.
It may not seem like much at first blush, but this road separates one city into two separate worlds of people with definable markers that can be measured right down to health outcomes depending on which side of that line they live on. And of course you will also find a significant change in skin color from one side of the line to the other.
University of Louisville researchers participated in a study (http://stateofblacklouisville.org/) that found the life expectancy on the West side of 9th Street is 67 years, compared to 82 years for their neighbors to the east. That’s a 15 year difference in life expectancy between people breathing the same air and paying taxes to the same city and state.
Despite this grim reality, the citizens of Louisville are mounting a joint and concerted effort to do something about its deep roots of inequality. People like Greg Fischer, Louisville’s Mayor; Vincent James, Louisville’s Chief of Community Building; Tom Williams; Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion; and Leadership Louisville’s Bingham Fellows are just a few of the people and organizations who are working to bring about positive change and bridge this great divide. Policies and funding alone cannot bring equity to a city or its people. Real and lasting transformation requires a heart change and a rearranging of mindsets on a massive scale.
Cities like Louisville are part of a larger national story of leaders and community organizers looking around at the broken pieces that lay scattered in the wake of Jim Crow, redlining and segregationist mindsets operating at every point of economic growth we’ve seeing our short history as a nation. They stand in the aftermath of a broken history asking the same question: How can we fix centuries of inequality, pain and racial wounds?
So many have said it, and we agree…You can’t really go forward until you are willing to jointly go back.
The Leaders heading up the efforts to heal these wounds and bridge these divides in Louisville are not looking at these problems through rose colored lenses. They understand the depths of the problem, which is the first step to bringing about real change. And we believe they will, and that cities across the country will learn from Louisville, and implement some of the same initiatives to bring about a fully thriving and equitable city and state.
We were so honored to spend a week hearing the stories and getting into the lives of the beautiful people of Louisville. We left inspired and filled with hope for what is to come.