The 2018 Bingham Fellows addressed problems and offered solutions that they believe will slow the tide of systemic violence in Louisville on Thursday evening at the Muhammad Ali Center.

Bingham Fellows is a program of Leadership Louisville Center and its president, Cynthia Knapek, said the fellows were passionate and engaged about the theme, “A Safe and Thriving City.”

“One of the things that Leadership Louisville Center is trying to do is give spaces where people can have challenging conversation,” she said. “This Bingham Fellows group jumped into that with both feet. So they challenged each other, they pushed each other’s buttons, they created creative friction, and it’s that creative friction that creates the passion. That’s what you’re hearing from them on stage as they delivered their final projects is that passion.”

Director of Programs Aaron Miller said the topic of violence is one that deeply touched the participants. “When you’re talking about this topic, a safe and thriving city, and you start getting into issues of violence, it gets so deep into issues of ‘isms’ and racism and structures and policies, and I think the conversations we had this year were on a deeper level than normally happens. And I think that has led to a class with more cohesion and more significant personal growth, which has been reflected I think in what the projects are.”

Following is a description of the six projects from the fellows:

The 2018 Bingham Fellows class. | Courtesy photo
Partnering to Cure Violence

A collaboration between Jefferson County Public Schools and Cure Violence, an initiative of Louisville Metro’s Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, hopes to “interrupt” potential violence in youth.

Jeff Wafford, of UPS, and Kim Dodson, of Independence Bank, presented the program, which will focus on training teachers, targeting placement of No More Red Dots personnel and offering access to skilled mental health professionals. “Our goal is to make peace their first choice,” Dodson said of youth.

No More Red Dots is part of the national Cure Violence program. Partnering to Cure Violence will use No More Red Dots “interrupters,” who will work to intervene in situations to help prevent violence and escalation.  

“Violence is a disease and it should be treated as such,” Wafford said. “If you’re dealing with a flu epidemic, you want to stop its transmission. We should treat violence the same way. You cannot cure disease by spreading it to other people. You cannot cure violence by spreading it to other people. Cure Violence has prevented adult violence in cities such as Baltimore up to 70 percent. Our group thought, ‘If that model works with adults, why can’t it work for our youth?’ ”

The program is funded by a grant from JCPS and the Louisville Metro Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

The Opportunity Network

The Opportunity Network was created to help prevent recidivism among those leaving incarceration by helping them adapt to a post-prison setting and creating opportunities for ex-offenders. Jessie Halladay of Louisville Metro Police presented the project.

More than 20,000 people annually come back into communities after prison, Halladay said, and they face many barriers. The program would help ex-offenders reacclimate into society with the goal of preventing them from committing crimes.

“This is a first-of-its-kind partnership between state and local representatives tackling the system as a whole to break down the bureaucratic silos impacting the lives of members of our community,” Halladay said. The group has 22 volunteers to work in the program. “With just word of mouth, we had twice as many applications as we had positions to fill.”

The group has secured partnerships with local organizations, including the University of Louisville for research solutions.

The Opportunity Network will also advocate for change at the state and local level. “We intend to demonstrate in this three-year pilot phase that this is a model of collaboration that can be replicated throughout Kentucky for local communities to see more positive re-entry outcomes and fewer people returning to prison,” Halladay said.

The group is raising $350,000 to fund the program, and it will hire a full-time employee to manage the program.

The Ujima Experience

Getting people into the West End to help end the stereotype that it is a violent neighborhood and celebrate the history of the area and create relationships is the goal of the Ujima Experience. Daryle Unseld Jr., of Metro United Way; Terra Leavell, of the Black Community Development Corporation, and Philip Imber, of LG&E and KU, presented.

Daryle Unseld Jr. presented his project, the Ujima Experience. Also pictured is Philip Imber. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

“We don’t have a violence issue in this community — what we have is a poverty issue in this community,” Unseld said.

“The Ujima Experience is a community immersion program that addresses the historic and contemporary effects of both race and place. The program has been designed to eliminate opportunity gaps and gain an empathetic understanding of how our current systems are perpetuating injustices and narratives that often vilify people and communities.”

The experience will bring groups to the West End for regularly scheduled and on-demand programs to engage with people and businesses in the area and teach about the rich history and current issues.  

Imber added: “We’ve seen the quote, ‘The West End is open for business.’ The Ujima Experience promotes that the West End is open for life.”

Driving Success
John Launius presented his project, Driving Success. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

The struggle to find employment for those in poverty often comes down to transportation. Driving Success will help provide transportation to those in the West End. Maj. Josh Judah, of Louisville Metro Police Department, and John Launius, of Greater Louisville Inc., presented the project.

“West Louisville’s residents do not have the same opportunities that the rest of Louisville’s residents take for granted,” Judah said. “That is the result of historic, systemic policy that has maligned those nine neighborhoods, such as redlining, resulting in, predictably, the higher rates of unemployment, the epidemic of inter-generational poverty and disproportionate rates of violence, which result in mass incarceration.”

But Louisville has more job openings than qualified candidates, he added. The key issue for many applicants is transportation to work from the West End, so Driving Success has created a pilot program with Yellow Cab and the Louisville Urban League to provide transportation from the West End to Passport Health Plan in Commerce Crossing in Okolona. Those employees will eventually move to jobs in the West End when Passport opens its new center, Launius said.

The organization is creating a full-time transportation coordinator to help facilitate transportation out of Russell: A Place of Promise.

Center for Policy Change and Innovation

The Center for Policy Change and Innovation seeks to address the social, political and economic policies through research, training, advocacy, mobilization and collaboration.

Trinidad Jackson, of the University of Louisville; Savvy Kareem-Abdul Shabazz, of Jefferson Community and Technical College, and Maryam Ahmed, from the Mayor’s Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, presented the project.

The organization will start within the Urban League to work to change and address policy issues that affect violence.

“For our team, it was critical to ask who is safe and who really has the ability to thrive,” Jackson said. “When we marginalize, when we say, ‘That violent community in the West End,’ or ‘Those poor people who don’t want to get jobs,’ those are the interpersonal factors that are ultimately lying within the context of the structural and cultural perpetrators.”

The group will demystify the policy process, create transparency in policy creation and create collaboration in policy-making. “We have to begin with racial equity,” Jackson said. “We’re better together.”

Amend

Amend will reduce structural violence caused by social structures and institutions that prevent humans from meeting their basic needs because of racism and classism. Shannon Cambron, of Spalding University, and Ebony O’Rea, of Making Changes Together, presented.

Ebony O’Rea presented the Amend project. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

“We believe that the divide in our community is real, and lately we’ve noticed a shift in our community, that people are ready to make change and have the tough conversations, and people are ready and willing to listen and learn,” O’Rea said. 

The steps to the projects are acknowledging institutional bias continues, working with teams to help develop a change of organizational policies and engage in a process to support staff and organizations as the process moves forward. Republic Bank has provided seed funding.

A pilot project was conducted with 17 people in the staff and leadership of Spalding University. The team learned about the research of Josh Poe on historic redlining in Louisville.

“Within the week, there was a task force in place to serve the purpose of decolonizing higher education to work with students and to ensure that every class they take is infused with social justice. Whether it’s a biology 103 or social justice class, there’s an element of social justice infused,” Cambron said.

The theme for the 2019 Bingham Fellows class is “It Takes a Village.” | Courtesy photo
Changes in timing

The class was extended for a few extra weeks for the 2019 class to attend the presentations, Miller said. “Bingham Fellows is a very unique program. It was created here in Louisville, and it’s its own thing,” he said. “When we have a new class, sometimes it’s hard to grasp what success looks like.”

By extending the 2018 class, the new class could see what is expected of them at the end of 12 months. “So now they get a chance to see what the prior class has done and hopefully it’ll get their brains working in terms of scale and scope and what success looks like,” Miller said.

The 2019 class theme is “It Takes a Village: Mobilizing Community for Student Success.”  

 

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Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.