“I’m With U” is a benefit for the ACLU of Kentucky.

So many issues blare at us from the headlines, it seems like by the time you’ve finished breakfast you’re already worn out: Black Lives Matter, marriage equality, public education, immigration, deportation. Even if you want to make a difference, where do you start?

Louisvillians Kelsey Westbrook, Jenn Allen Meredith and Bridget Pitcock have a suggestion: their fundraiser, “I’m with U,” which will bring together artists and activists representing a wide variety of social justice issues and present a solid evening of entertainment at Play Dance Bar on Thursday. Proceeds from the event go to the America Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Insider spoke with Meredith about the event and also talked with Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, about what exactly the organization does.

Meredith starts by describing the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in January, calling it a life-changing experience. “Just to be there and to be in that energy, in our nation’s capitol, was pretty incredible in and of itself.”

Jenn Allen Meredith is one of the organizers of “I’m With U.”

It was initially Westbrook’s idea to do something with that energy.

“She reached out — we were kind of acquaintances at that point — and she reached out and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in creating this event. What do you think?’ And immediately I said yes,” says Meredith.

Westbrook is no stranger to organizing. She is the founder of Saving Sunny, a Louisville-based pit bull and bully breed rescue society. Pitcock and Meredith, likewise, have solid activist and organizing skills from past experiences.

Once they decided to work together, they had to decide what they wanted to work on. The group had several goals.

“Really just wanting to get people together in one room, on a local level, to talk about these issues that are keeping a lot of people up at night,” says Meredith.

The group also wanted to help people find ways to get involved on the ground.

Derek Guy is one of the speakers.

“I think that’s probably the most important takeaway,” she says. “To give people a way to engage, and not just on social media. These are real people, real faces, real causes.”

To that end, “I’m With U” presents a variety of local grassroots organizations. Speakers like the Fairness Campaign’s Chris Hartman will rub shoulders with Mildred Menchu-Johnson of the La Casita Center. Representative Attica Scott will mingle with local celebs Dr. Kaila Adia Story and Jaison Ashley Gardner, who are leading a “Strange Fruit” (of WFPL) discussion panel.

And, hopefully, a bunch of Louisvillians will come away with an idea of where to focus their newfound fervor for social justice.

“Maybe there will be a speaker you are particularly inspired by,” says Meredith. “Latch onto that cause.” She says picking a focus can be important for activists. “I think when there is so much going on, if you try to be a part of all of it, you’re gonna wear yourself out.”

A lot of people are feeling a new need to engage in activism. Aldridge says ACLU of Kentucky’s membership has tripled in recent months.

“We’ve got all these people who want to take part in actions, and we hope to put them to good work,” says Aldridge, who started as a volunteer himself.

Political activist Reena Saleem Paracha will speak as well.

The ACLU was a natural choice for the evening, according to Meredith.

“We really thought ACLU — with all the work they are doing as of late representing basically every marginalized person — we felt like that was the most fitting for the event we’re putting on,” she says.

Aldridge describes the ACLU’s work as a nonpartisan group that responds to every kind of government overreach.

“We have to try to protect individual’s rights and balance the common good for the most Kentuckians,” he explains. “And to do that, we have to find what unites us and what divides us.”

The ACLU receives the vast majority of its funding from private individuals, and Aldridge stresses the group receives no government funding and relatively small amounts of funding from other organizations.

“We have a tiny percentage, every now and then we come across a good grant opportunity or a foundation that’s interested in our work, but it’s really individual donations that make the work happen,” he says.

There should be plenty inspiration and activism Thursday, but there will also be entertainment.

Ashlee Clark Thompson will emcee the event.

“We wanted to kind of speak to the inspiration part of it. We turn to art to fight compassion fatigue. We turn to art to communicate with ourselves and with other people,” says Meredith.

Some of that entertainment will be familiar to regulars of Play. A quartet of top-notch drag queens will perform, and there will be live painting. In addition to speakers and entertainment, there will be treats on hand from Joy Luck, Flora Kitchenette and Emily May’s A-MAY-zing Vegan Cupcakes.

Nurture your activist spirit with speakers, entertainment and snacks on Thursday, March 16, at “I’m With U” from 7-10 p.m. at Play Dance Bar, 1101 E. Washington St. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online or at the door.

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Eli Keel
Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.