There is a 12-year life expectancy gap between residents in East and West Louisville. The city’s unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, except for African-American residents, who have an 7.7 percent unemployment rate. And more than 40 percent of African-American children in Louisville grow up in poverty.
These are just a few of the revelations from a report released by the Louisville Urban League on Friday in the Grand Hall of the Speed Art Museum.
The “State of Black Louisville” is a 172-page book that features essays from more than 40 Louisville academics, activists and community leaders. They use data, reflective commentary and analysis to paint a revealing portrait of racial disparity in the River City as well as offer a few recommendations to address longstanding, systemic problems.
Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds said the report is modeled after the annual “State of Black America” produced by the National Urban League. Reynolds was so pleased with the initial “State of Black Louisville” that she plans to make it an annual publication, too.
“We’ve never done anything like this before. It’s a new thing, but it looks like it’s going to be a great thing. We realized there were so many professionals in our community that dealt with these issues every day and we wanted to get their perspectives. We didn’t have space for everyone this year, but there will be other books,” she added.
The “State of Black Louisville” release event started with a Ted Talk-style presentation during which each essayist was given time for a short presentation. The former Courier Journal columnist Betty Baye discussed negative imagines of black and brown people in the media; urban planner Joshua Poe showed the redlining maps that led to the concentrations of African-Americans in West Louisville; and JCPS Diversity Chief John Marshall talked about the need to inspire rather than alienate African-American students in the classroom.
Ben Reno-Weber, director of the Greater Louisville Project, used his time to argue that global efforts like the “State of Black Louisville” are the only way the community can successfully deal with issues like poverty and food insecurity.
“The barriers to escaping poverty are more than just income,” he said. “Income is a piece of it, but also wrapped into that is health, unemployment, education and the quality of the neighborhood in which you live. If we are going to address poverty we must address those things not individually but together.”
The Greater Louisville Project provides independent data focused on education, jobs, health and quality of place in a form meant to be easily understood by a wide variety of stakeholders. Reno-Webster said the data did show that Metro Louisville is making some progress in these areas in the African-American community.
Black male unemployment is going down in Louisville. The unemployment rate of male youth is in line with the overall unemployment rate. However, there is still a large gap in median earnings between white and black residents.
Without a doubt the most powerful presentation on Friday was given by Yvette Gentry, a former Louisville Metro Police Department deputy police chief. Gentry is now the project director for black male achievement for the Metro United Way. She lamented the fact that metro government allocates large sums to incarcerate black youth, but does not give adequate funding to programs designed to keep them on them out of jail.
Gentry told the story of Tyson D. Gibbs Sr., a young man who use to follow her around when she was a beat cop. She said Gibbs was the son of a drug-addicted mother who wanted to be a SWAT officer as a child. However, the last time Gentry saw him, he was dying from a gunshot wound. Gibbs left behind two toddlers, a son and a daughter who grew up without a father. His daughter was killed by a stray bullet in 2012 and the son was murdered in 2017. Fighting back tears, Gentry said more should have been done to create opportunities for this family.
“Shame on me for knowing what I know and allowing so many people for the last few years to spend so much time trying to convince me that I know different. … I know when I was deputy police chief in 2011, I had a $143 million budget and nobody asked me two questions about why I needed it. I know in 2017 when I went before Metro Council to ask for 143,000 damn dollars, I got zero. I know that Narcan is $42 a dose and we will give you three doses a day if you need it because 93 percent of our overdose victims are white. But when my Tyson’s mother was addicted to drugs there was nothing to do for him,” she said.
The Louisville Urban League plans to hold another “State of Black Louisville” presentation at its headquarters later this year. The book cost $20 and is available online. Reynolds said the essays in the book and the presentations might make some people uncomfortable, but it is a necessary first step in ending racial disparity.
Correction: This post has been updated to correct the surname of Ben Reno-Weber.