Mayor declares racism a public health crisis in Louisville; outlines detailed plan for advancing racial equity for Black residents

City needs to ‘move faster and invest more resources’

LOUISVILLE (December 1, 2020) – Mayor Greg Fischer signed an Executive Order today declaring racism as a public health crisis in the city.

In his remarks today about the unique combination of challenges facing the city – the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn, an increase in gun violence and the protests calling for racial justice and equity – the Mayor noted that “2020 has been a year like no other,” but presents an opportunity to turn tragedy into transformation.

And that begins, he said, with creating a city of racial justice and equity. “Advancing racial equity has been a major focus of our work at Metro Government for the past 10 years,” he said. “But it’s clear that we need to move faster and invest more resources. We need to do everything we can to repair distrust through action.”

Breonna Taylor’s tragic death “made our city a focal point for America’s reckoning on racial justice,” which has been painful, the Mayor said, adding that moving forward requires our community to address the pain and the root causes of racism and openly acknowledge the impact it still has every day.

“For too many Louisvillians, racism is a fact of daily life, a fact that was created and documented in our country’s laws and institutional policies like segregation, redlining, and urban renewal,” he said. “Laws and policies that restrict the freedom of all Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Laws and policies that can restrict where people live, what schools they attend and what jobs they can get. And laws and policies that effectively limit the wealth they can earn and pass on to their children.”

The Mayor cited the toll of such injustices in our city today, including:

  • The Black poverty rate in Louisville is nearly 3 times the white poverty rate.
  • Black residents make up 22.4 percent of our population but own only 2.4 percent of our businesses.
  • The percentage of Black residents who own their own homes is half the percentage of White residents.
  • And even among college graduates, the average Black graduate in Louisville earns almost $10,000 less per year than their white colleague.
  • And life expectancy can vary by as much as 12 years between some majority-Black and majority-White neighborhoods.

“All of these and a million other statistics and real-life experiences tell us that our systems are more than broken – they must be dismantled and replaced,” the Mayor said – requiring that we rethink “how government, business, education, health care and other institutions operate so that we make sure everyone really has a fair and equal shot at the American dream, at expanding their opportunities, at realizing their full human potential.”

The Mayor’s Executive Order lays out the societal, economic, physical and mental health impacts of racism on not just Black Louisville, but all of the city’s residents.

Advancing racial equity is part of any sound economic growth strategy, he said, as underscored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose website promotes a 2018 report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that concluded, “The United States economy could be $8 trillion larger by 2050 if the country eliminated racial disparities in health, education, incarceration and employment… The gains would be equivalent to a continuous boost in GDP growth of 0.5 percent per year, increasing the competitiveness of the country for decades to come.”

Advancing racial equity “strengthens our workforce, improves our tax base and increases the spending power of our residents. It helps each and every one of us by making our city healthier, creating more opportunities and dignity in work, safer neighborhoods, and by helping us advance our goals as a city dedicated to compassion, opportunity, to equity and to justice,” the Mayor said, adding, “At a fundamental level, the protests we’ve seen are about people feeling the absence of those things in their lives, and for generations past.”

This executive order outlines seven key areas for Louisville Metro Government to address the city’s racial equity challenges:  public safety; children and families; Black employment; Black wealth; housing and neighborhood investment; health; and voting. (View the city’s Advancing Racial Equity plan here.)

“These reforms will require a strong commitment and a lot of work,” the Mayor said. “But I believe it can be done – in part because when I look around Louisville and talk to people from every neighborhood and background, I sense a greater and broader understanding and desire to address racial equity than ever before.”

Some of the reforms echo recommendations outlined by community partners in their letter to local and state leaders entitled A Path Forward, the Mayor said, adding that moving forward will require a partnership among those community partners, as well as businesses, faith leaders, education representatives and others. 

The Mayor thanked partners on the Metro Council for their leadership on this issue, “particularly Councilwoman Keisha Dorsey for her assistance not only on this Executive Order, but also for helping lead the charge against systemic racism in all facets of both Metro Government and the city as a whole.”

“And thanks to all the people of our city who recognize that within the challenges of this moment, there is historic opportunity,” he said. “Let’s seize this moment and transform our city together.”

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Louisville Synergy Project aims to strengthen relationships between police and community

Louisville Synergy Project aims to strengthen relationships between police and community

Mayor Greg Fischer, Police Chief Steve Conrad and Louisville Metro Government Chief Equity Officer Kellie Watson today launched the Synergy Project, a community engagement initiative aimed at further strengthening police and community relationships grounded in trust and legitimacy.

By bringing together people from all parts of the community – residents, academia, business, youth, faith-based organizations, law enforcement, and political leaders – this project creates an opportunity for police and community to work together in a safe, open, and respectful environment to identify root causes of distrust and find actionable solutions to move the city forward.

“Like communities across the nation, Louisville has challenges when it comes to police and community relations. We need to address that, and we believe that real, honest conversation is a good place to start,” said Mayor Greg Fischer. “I’m excited about the prospect of sessions planned throughout our community to really delve into complex issues and find solutions.”

The Synergy Project will explore the tensions that exist between the significant societal values of public safety and individual rights and determine how to create and maintain a balance between the two. Synergy will explore these tensions in order to mobilize actions for city-wide systemic change so every person in every part of the community can thrive.

The Synergy Project is modeled after The Illumination Project, an initiative undertaken in Charleston, S.C. after the 2015 hate crimes at Emanuel AME Church. During a year-long process, dozens of facilitated community conversations were held to discuss tensions between police and residents. At the end of the year, a strategic plan was unveiled, which continues to be revised and implemented today.

Each step of the process seeks to build greater understanding and agreement. Watson said that while the conversations may be challenging, the effort has the potential to forever change police-community relations in our community.

On Thursday, Mayor Fischer and Chiefs Conrad and Watson introduced the community members who have volunteered to serve on a Steering Group for the project.

“I’m grateful to the many officers and community members who have agreed to help guide and develop this process,” said Chief Conrad. “We need everyone in the community engaged to make our city safer, and we can’t do that unless we build better trust. This process is to help us do that.”

Chandra Irvin, Executive Director for the Center for Peace and Spiritual Renewal at Spalding University, participated in the development of the Charleston project and is lending her expertise to the project here in Louisville.

“This work is about what we do and what we achieve, about who we are and who we are becoming,” said Irvin. “Based on my work in Charleston and my belief in the people of Louisville, I believe we can achieve a shared greater purpose of building trust between police and residents. This effort is going to take the investment of the entire community.”

The Synergy Project is being initiated as part of Mayor Fischer’s Lean Into Louisville initiative.

“The goal of Lean Into Louisville is to have a more equitable city; a more unified and compassionate city where everyone can thrive,” said Chief Watson. “This is the beginning, by having difficult but honest conversations on issues that impact our entire city, such as police and community relations.”

Costs for both Synergy and Lean Into Louisville are being covered through generous donations from The Papa John’s Foundation for Building Community, the Humana Foundation, the Gheens Foundation and other donors, as well as through in-kind donations from Spalding University and other Metro Government agencies.

“I’m impressed with the city leadership’s commitment to creating programs that promote equality, fairness, respect and opportunity for all. These values are consistent with the mission of The Papa John’s Foundation,” President and CEO of Papa John’s International, Inc. Steve Ritchie said. “Working together to heal and move forward takes courage, which is why we are proud to support The Synergy Project.”

Synergy Project Steering Group members

Farhan Abdi, Somali Community of Louisville

Karina Barillas, La Casita Center

Deirdra Beck, Black Graduate Students Association, Spalding University

Haley Brents, Youth Implementation Team, Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods

Vicki Catlin, Louisville Standing Up for Racial Justice

Olanda Cody, Volunteers in Police Service

Dr. Dwayne Compton, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Joshua Crawford, Pegasus Institute

Raoul Cunningham, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Matthew Goldberg, Jewish Federation of Louisville

Councilwoman Jessica Green, Louisville Metro Council District 1

Chris Hartman, Fairness Campaign

Chanelle Helm, Black Lives Matter

Aimee Jewell, Young Professionals Association of Louisville (YPAL)

Nicolai Jilek, Fraternal Order of Police

Edgardo Mansilla, Americana Community Center

Dr. Kimberly Martin, University of Louisville Cultural Center

Renee Murphy, Jefferson County Public Schools

Michael Neal, Louisville Metro Police Department

Dominique Pendergrass, THRIVE

Lyndsay Railey, Papa John’s International

Justin Reed, Urban League Young Professionals

Chris Sanders, Empower West Louisville

Major Jamey Schwab, Louisville Metro Police Department

Rabbi Dr. Nadia Siritsky, Kentucky One Health

Rev. David Snardon, Joshua Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church

Amanda Stahl, Independence Seekers Project

Sgt. Tiffany Tatum, Louisville Metro Police Department

Lt. William Vogt, Louisville Metro Police Department

Anne Walter, Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion

Darryl Young, Muhammad Ali Center

Rev. Elmer Zavala, Presbyterian Church

Mayor Fischer launches Lean Into Louisville to confront and examine history of discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Media Contact:

January 18, 2019                                                       Jean Porter, 574-2383/649-1426

Far-reaching initiative will use education, conversation and art to spread understanding of inequality and discrimination

LOUISVILLE (January 18, 2019) – Mayor Greg Fischer today launched Lean Into Louisville, an unprecedented series of presentations, conversations, activities and art exhibits that will explore and confront the history and legacy of all forms of discrimination and inequality in the city and the country. 

“Lean Into Louisville aligns with the work we’ve been doing from day one to create a city of equity and opportunity for everyone in Louisville,” said the Mayor. “It’s an important step forward for our city and it send a great message to the rest of the country and the world that Louisville is a city that understands the importance of learning from the past, living in the present and preparing for the future.”

Louisville, a Southern border city with both a history of discrimination and a tradition of brave citizens fighting for civil rights, LGBTQ equality and the welcoming of immigrants, can be a national model for a transformative civic reckoning through guided, innovative education and conversation.

While the activities will be initiated by Louisville Metro Government (LMG), the project will encourage and promote related activities of community partners, schools, businesses, the faith community and others. Many community members and organizations are already doing great work in this area. Lean Into Louisville hopes to lift up that work, through highlighting community-sponsored events on the Lean Into Louisville website and by connecting those groups to further empower each other.

The idea for the initiative was sparked by the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., August 2017 and the deep ignorance and lack of understanding of the nation’s history of discrimination and its ongoing impacts. In a letter to Louisville residents the next day, the Mayor wrote, “Let us use this moment to build on our progress and show the world how our city, with all of its beauty and imperfections, can be a peaceful model for making the union of our city and country a home for opportunity and justice for all.”

The Mayor said Lean Into Louisville is important for the prosperity of the city, with 21st century businesses and young professionals wanting to locate in progressive cities where everyone has a shot as realizing their full human potential.

Though it is an evolving effort that will be enhanced and expanded throughout the years, Lean Into Louisville will have three major components:

  • Learning opportunities: In partnership with the Louisville Free Public Library and the Louisville Human Relations Commission, Lean Into Louisville will offer opportunities for people to learn more about the historical mistreatment of residents based on gender, race, religion, age, gender identity or sexual orientation, disabilities, and nationality or immigration status, and how that history impacts our city and our country today. The first opportunity is the Martin Luther King Day Celebration: The Fierce Urgency of Now, Monday, January 21 at 1:30 p.m., St. William Church, 1226 W. Oak St.
  • Talking circles: Lean Into Louisville will feature opportunities for small-group talking circles on these issues and their ongoing impacts, as well as ideas for ways that individuals and organizations can help create a more equitable city. Acknowledging these topics are sometimes difficult conversations, the talking circles will be moderated by trained professional facilitators.  
  • Public Art: Lean Into Louisville also will include a focus on arts experiences and investing in new artworks in public places that share untold stories from a diverse selection of artists that represents our values of today.

Kellie Watson, Louisville Metro Government’s Chief Equity Officer, said the goal of Lean Into Louisville is to have a more equitable city; a more unified and compassionate city where everyone can thrive. “Obviously, that’s a tall order, but we have to start somewhere, and we believe that engaging in education and real, honest communication is a good place to start.”

During today’s press conference, the Mayor urged residents, organizations and businesses to get involved in Lean Into Louisville, which continues Louisville Metro Government’s nationally recognized work building the city’s reputation as a welcoming city through the Office for Globalization, and promoting racial equity through programs like BeTheOne and Black Male Achievement.

Community quotes in support:

“Lean Into Louisville is a creative and positive approach to building a more inclusive community. At Brown-Forman, Corp. one of the primary goals of our Diversity & Inclusion efforts is to create a company culture that has inclusion as one its keys to sustainable growth. With that in mind, we congratulate the city for caring enough about our town to accept the challenge of breathing life into this concept of leaning in and we at Brown-Forman, Corp. will do our part to help our community make Lean Into Louisville an inclusive success.”

– Ralph de Chabert, SVP, Chief Diversity Office, Brown-Forman, Corp.

“It is my belief that our community’s greatest strength is the diversity of our people, and the principles that equal dignity and inclusion unite us all. Metro United Way is excited to serve as a strategic partner of Louisville Metro Government in support of Lean into Louisville. We are committed to continuing to build awareness, solutions, and a culture of collective responsibility, resulting in equitable outcomes for all.”

— Theresa Reno-Weber, Chief Executive Officer, Metro United Way

“This initiative shows the collective power and drive of a truly compassionate city. Lean into to Louisville fortifies our work around the Backpack of Success Skills, Racial Equity, and Culture Climate. It illuminates our unapologetic need to be equitable by actions, not just in words.”

— John Marshall, Chief Equity Officer, Jefferson County Public Schools

“At Papa John’s we are on a journey to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable work environment.     We believe in opportunity, fairness, respect and equity for all. We want to better reflect the values and expectations of our team members, customers, community partners, franchisees and shareholders. Our work starts at home here in Louisville.”

 – Victoria Russell, Chief of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Papa John’s International

“TARC is proud to support Lean Into Louisville. The efforts of this initiative mirror the core underlying goals of TARC as we move into our 45th year of service. Removing barriers to mobility, connecting neighborhoods within our region to one another, and providing access of opportunity for all members of our community is essential for the growth of our city and our residents.”

— Ferdinand L. Risco, Interim Executive Director, TARC

For a full list of community events and details on how to get involved with Lean Into Louisville, visit www.LeanIntoLouisville.org and follow Lean Into Louisville on Facebook and Twitter.