Mayor Greg Fischer was flanked by community and business leaders as he announced the Lean Into Louisville initiative to confront the legacy of discrimination at the South Central Regional Library. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer held a news conference on Friday at the South Central Regional Library to announce a new initiative designed to confront the legacy of discrimination and inequality in the city.

Lean Into Louisville will include a series of presentations, moderated conversations, activities and art exhibits. Fischer said talking about systemic racism and other forms of discrimination might make some people uncomfortable but doing so gives Louisville an opportunity to make sure these issues are not passed on to future generations.

“None of us is responsible for the actions of past generations, but we are responsible for understanding what those actions were and how they impact our country. Especially, today I think we are honor-bound to take action to make things better tomorrow,” Fischer added.

Metro government has partnered with several nonprofits, civic organizations and businesses on the initiative. Those partners include the Louisville Free Public Library, Jefferson County Public Schools, the Louisville Human Relations Commission, the Metro United Way and Brown-Forman.

Fischer was flanked by representatives from many of the partner organizations at the news conference Friday. He said he wanted them there to show the public that Lean Into Louisville has the support of a cross-section of the city. He added that the business community was especially quick to embrace the idea because it realizes that systemic inequality can be a barrier to talent acquisition or retention.

“We specifically want to design this effort so the people in our city and the country realize this is not just a bunch of do-good government types or left-leaning Democrats that are saying we need more equity. This is a movement with Republicans and Democrats, it’s left and it’s right, it’s up and down, and anything you want it to be. It’s everybody realizing these are human values,” he explained.

The meeting room at the South Central Library was filled to capacity for the Lean Into Louisville news conference. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Metro United Way CEO Theresa Reno-Weber said her organization has been working for several years on tackling systematic inequality through its own program called Black Male Achievement. Metro United Way started that program and joined the Lean Into Louisville effort because it followed the data which counters many of the negative stereotypes surrounding African-American men in this county, she said.

African-Americans make up 19 percent of the service members and veterans living in our community, Reno-Weber said, and they represent 11 percent of the business owners in Louisville.

“Too often when we look at metrics and data information, black men and boys are over-represented in all the areas that have negative associations and underrepresented in the areas that have positive associations. That’s not necessarily an accurate picture of what is really happening, but so much of it is part of the narrative that we use in the community when we talk about the differences,” she added.

JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said the school system had many internal discussions on inequality as it worked on the racial equity plan to eliminate the achievement gap between black and white students. She said those talks will continue through the Lean Into Louisville project.

“It really is a pivot moment here in Louisville, and we can have some frank conversations, some really honest conversations. That’s what we have been doing in Jefferson County Public Schools over the last year. We had to get really honest with ourselves and talk about what we were going to do. It hasn’t been easy, but the result of those conversations has been a racial equity policy and a racial equity plan,” Murphy said.

Ralph de Chabert, chief diversity officer at Brown-Forman, told Insider that his company wanted to be involved because it has a facility in west Louisville.

“It’s one thing to be in the West End doing work,” de Chabert said. “We are learning how to be of the West End, and that’s a different thing. Being a part of this initiative is one step in that journey.”

The first Lean Into Louisville event will be the Martin Luther King Day Celebration: The Fierce Urgency of Now, which will take place Monday at St. William Church in Old Louisville. In the coming weeks, Fischer said, there will be announcements of grant opportunities and other activities associated with the initiative.

Michael L. Jones

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.