Social commentators Yvette Carnell (podium) and Antonio Moore (seated in blue shirt) spoke at the West Louisville Forum on Wednesday. Also pictured is Rev. Kevin Cosby (far right) and the urban planner Josh Poe. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Social commentators Antonio Moore and Yvette Carnell were featured speakers at the West Louisville Forum: Solution for Urban America on Wednesday at the St. Stephen Family Life Center.

The West Louisville Forum is a series of monthly discussions on African-American empowerment topics sponsored by Simmons College of Kentucky and Empower West, a coalition of Louisville area pastors and churches focused on revitalizing west Louisville.

Moore is the host of the popular YouTube blog ToneTalk and was a producer of “Freeway: Crack in the System,” an Emmy-nominated documentary about the American government’s complicity in the crack epidemic. Carnell, Moore’s frequent collaborator, covers politics, international and cultural issues for the website Your Black World and hosts her own video blog, BreakingBrown.

Moore and Carnell attracted a large crowd, many of whom traveled from out of town just to see the two who have a large online following. Sharon Fletcher and her sister Emma Ellington drove to Louisville from Maryland for the West Louisville Forum.

“I’ve been following Antonio and Yvette online for about a year and a half. They give a different perspective of what’s going on in the world. When I heard they were speaking here, I thought it was a good excuse for a road trip, so I just grabbed my sister,” Fletcher said.

Wednesday’s talk entitled “Philanthropic Redlining: The Illusion of Inclusion Part II,” was a sequel to one Moore and Carnell gave at St. Stephen in September during the 2018 Angela Project Summit, an annual gathering focused on the legacy of black enslavement in America.

The second part of their discussion focused on the philanthropic foundations being set up by the ultra rich to donate money to social causes. Rather than altruism, the speakers said, billionaires use their benevolence to justify not paying their fair share of taxes while also advancing their own political and social agendas.

Moore and Carnell believe these foundations undermine democracy by starving the federal government of needed resources. They compared the trend to the Gilded Age, a period after the Civil War when industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan amassed vast fortunes using cutthroat anti-labor business practices but softened their public image by donating money to build libraries and fund grant programs.

As an example, Moore cited the $1.8 billion gift the billionaire Michael Bloomberg gave to Johns Hopkins University, through his charitable organization Bloomberg Philanthropies, to fund financial aid for low and moderate-income students. Moore said the donation was good for Bloomberg’s alma mater but was a negative for historically black colleges and universities like Louisville’s Simmons College, where more than 90 percent of the students depend on federal Pell grants to pay for education.

The West Louisville Forum drew a large crowd for a talk on philanthropic redlining. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Although they make up only a small segment of educational institutions, Moore said, historically black colleges produce 50 percent of the African-American professionals in the country. Bloomberg’s money would have been more effective, he added, had it been put in the federal system.

Moore warned that the situation will get worse in the next few years because the tax reform law passed by Congress in 2017 eliminated charitable deductions for small donors but expanded them for the wealthy. Money is just one component of wealth, Moore said, the other is social capital and African-American organizations are at risk because few of them have individual relationships with big donors.

“We are entering a process where selective giving is who you know, not what you are actually doing for the community. Mega-trusts found their birth in the age of Carnegie and (Salmon P.) Chase. We are now in the new Gilded Age, where there is a new creation of who is going to give and who they are going to give to,” Moore explained.

Carnell added criticism of African-American celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who she said fail to challenge the structures and hierarchies in this country that make it harder for the majority of African-Americans accumulate wealth.

The forum got contentious during a question and answer session led by St. Stephen Baptist Church pastor Kevin Cosby, who is also President of Simmons College. Social activist Cassia Herron said it was ironic that Cosby would be hosting the discussion because he has a history of working with conservative lawmakers and corporations with agendas that are harmful to the African-American community.

Herron cited Cosby’s support for the failed effort to build a Walmart in west Louisville and the fact that in 1998 he invited former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, R-3, to Simmons after they presented the school with a $1.6 million federal grant.

Social activist Cassia Herron holding the mic as she challenges Rev. Kevin Cosby for some of past views. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

“We have to be honest about the dynamics, sir. I think Simmons would be a lot further if there was another leader in town, or if you were apologizing to the people of California (neighborhood) for being here for 30 years and the community is worse,” Herron added.

Cosby defended himself by saying that Simmons is the only historically black college and university to come back from the brink of closing. He said that happened because of his leadership. Cosby explained that he felt singled out because of his race. He said the presidents of Spalding University and the University of Louisville, which has a center named for U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, are not criticized for working with Democrats and Republicans.

“We wrote a grant through Congress because we are taxpayers. And because we are taxpayers, we have a right to have some of that money returned to our community. I didn’t get any money from Northup, I got my tax dollars redirected back to my community,” Cosby responded.

Herron told Insider she felt he sidestepped the substance of her criticism, but she did not want her questions construed as a personal attack on him.

“I’m not saying that Kevin Cosby is good or bad,” she said. “But if we are going to say philanthropists are racist, at the same time we have to critique our black leaders. That’s the point I was trying to make.”

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.