Members of the organizing committee for “Uprooting Violence: Stepping Up for Our Community” — Steve Petrey, Ada Middleton, Bonnie Cole, the Rev. Steve Ensley, Dr. Karen Krigger and Regina Mayo | Photo by Michael L. Jones

A collective of west Louisville churches, community groups and social services organizations is holding a symposium on the effects of violence on children and their families this weekend.

“Uprooting Violence: Stepping Up for Our Community” will feature sessions on post-traumatic stress syndrome, the impact of drug addiction on parenting and the need for greater access to higher education in distressed communities. It takes place on Saturday, June 9, at the Louisville Central Community Center, 1300 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Murders in Louisville have tripled over the last five years, growing from 62 in 2012 to 107 in 2017. Fifty-four percent of the 2017 homicides occurred in the 40210, 40211, or 40212 ZIP codes, which cover much of west Louisville.

Dr. Karen Krigger said exposure to this level of violence on a regular basis has negative long-term effects on developing minds. It can hamper the ability to learn, she said, which can in turn lead to lower test scores in school, higher dropout rates and potentially incarceration.

“When you live in an environment when something happens to someone next to you, to you or to your family member on a regular basis — that’s a war zone. That’s Iraq,” Krigger said. “That is why our first presentation is about post-traumatic stress. It is not recognized here, it’s just now getting recognized in the military. We have to recognize the ill-effects this violence is having on our community as a whole.”

Dr. Karen Krigger

Krigger is the director of health equity in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion at the University of Louisville and a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Shawnee neighborhood. For the last two years, she has offered a health and wellness program at the church.

In December 2017, Krigger called Bonnie Cole, president of the Shawnee Neighborhood Association, to let her know what was happening at Redeemer.

“She stopped me and said, ‘What we really need is a symposium on the effects of violence on our youth in the community and on parenting,’ ” Krigger recalled.

Krigger took the idea to her pastor, the Rev. Steve Ensley, and they created an informal organizing committee that also included Cole, community member Regina Mayo. Krigger gave a presentation to the Kentuckiana Federation of Lutheran churches and received $1,500 in seed money for the symposium. She also placed a call for volunteers on the back of a flier for the African-American Film Festival that took place at the Main Library in February.

“As more people came to the table, they started telling us about other people. Then all these different groups started getting involved,” Krigger said. “I didn’t even know some of them existed. Everyone has been working in their silos. This symposium is a vehicle to bring them all together to solve a common problem.”

Cole said she realized there was a need to examine the mental impact of violence several years ago when she was volunteering at Shawnee High School, but she couldn’t get anyone interested until Krigger called her.

“These children have a lot of issues, and our black community has to stop saying, ‘Pray for them.’ It’s more involved than praying,” said Cole. “They need counseling. We need to get rid of this stigma that if you are receiving counseling, there is something wrong with you.”

In all, organizers were able to raise $6,000 for the symposium. The 11 sponsors include groups like the Louisville Urban League, Portland Memorial Baptist Church, Louisville United Against Violence and the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

Louisville United Against Violence member Steve Petrey was one of the first people to answer Krigger’s call for help. Petrey, a St. Matthews resident, volunteers for a mentoring group that helps children in west Louisville from fourth to eighth grades. He told Insider after a shooting at Cole’s Place in March, he realized his kids were becoming numb to the violence.

Presenters at the youth violence symposium include Dr. Steven Lippmann, professor of psychiatry at UofL; Rashaad Abdur-Rahman from the Mayor’s Office of Healthy Neighborhoods; and Nancy Brooks, executive director of the Louisville chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness. There also will be a vendors’ area where attendees can talk to representatives from groups like Pivot 2 Peace and YouthBuild.

“Our topic was, ‘What did you do this weekend,’ ” Petrey explained. “One boy said he was in the hospital all weekend. The immediate question is ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because my uncle got shot.’ He said it so matter-of-factly like it happens every day. Now, that is scary for him to think that is normal.”

The youth violence symposium is free and open to the public, but organizers suggest people register online before coming because it is limited to 150 people. They hope to make it an annual event. There are already plans to hold follow-up sessions at various churches in the coming weeks.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said Krigger. “It’s going to take the people in the university, the people in the community to solve this problem.”

Michael L. Jones
Michael L. Jones, a freelance journalist and author, covers communities for Insider Louisville. His latest book "Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee" (History Press) received the 2014 Samuel Thomas Book Award from the Louisville Historical League. In addition to his contributions to Insider, his writing appears regularly in LEO Weekly, Louisville Magazine, Food & Dining – Louisville Edition, and Who’s Who Louisville: African American Profiles. He also sits on the board of directors of the National Jug Band Jubilee. Jones and his wife, Melissa Amos-Jones, a physical therapist, live in the Kenwood Hills neighborhood near Iroquois Park.