Issue April 8, 2014

Lost youth, found solutions

April Corbin documented in her April 2 LEO Weekly news story that Louisville’s urban youth “feel lost and without role models, opportunities and hope for the future.” I offer these musings:

There is no abundance of young black men and women in business or political leadership for our young people to admire and emulate. Louisville could learn a lot from cities like Washington, D.C., where former mayor Adrian Fenty was elected in 2006 at age 35, or from Compton, Calif., where a black woman named Aja Brown currently serves as mayor at the age of 31. Louisville has never had a woman or black mayor.

Suspension and expulsion rates at JCPS are overwhelmingly stacked against black students. It can be easily inferred that the Cordish Company does not welcome young black people in their entertainment arena, most notably from the multiple allegations of racial prejudice and discrimination regarding Maker’s Mark Lounge and Fourth Street Live dress code. Further, there are a plethora of bars, nightclubs and restaurants there that cater to varied European sensibilities, from British eateries to biker bars to the PBR cowboy bar with a mechanical bull that its website describes as “country cool.” None of the current or former businesses at Fourth Street Live have been designed with black or brown folks in mind.

Downtown and NuLu have exploded with new restaurants and boutiques that have solidified our position as a foodie town and a weirdly independent city. I can think of only one of these new businesses that is black-owned and operated (Hillbilly Tea).

Notable black performers are frequently absent from the lineup in the Kentucky Derby Festival’s concert series, and the same is true for most of the free concerts hosted at Fourth Street Live. Our city’s urban youth cannot develop a sense of citizenship when they are not represented in our city’s largest, most popular events.

A laundry list could further illustrate alienation of the blackest and poorest among us, including racially segregated neighborhoods, student assignment plans, food deserts, police misconduct, social service cuts, and the closing of community institutions.

Louisville needs to invest in and promote black businesses in all parts of town — both in the West End and beyond. I call on city and commerce leaders to provide free classes and counselors specifically tasked with education and assistance for establishing young black entrepreneurship.

Louisville needs to establish a program to develop young black political leadership, like the McConnell Scholars program for college students and Emerge Kentucky for women. Further, many of our black council members need to retire and allow for new people and new ideas. As our direct representatives, they have failed black youth the most. Council members Barbara Shanklin and Mary Woolridge were elected to Metro Council 12 years ago, and both worked as staff at City Hall for many years before that. Cheri Bryant Hamilton has been around even longer, first elected as an alderwoman in 2000 after many years as a staff member. Councilman David Tandy has been in office for nine years this month. Waterfront Park is in his district.

Louisville needs to provide dedicated funding for affordable housing to provide safe, stable housing for the 14 percent of homeless JCPS students in our city. Rundown and abandoned houses in a community do not engender a sense of personal pride or community respect. If it wouldn’t happen in Prospect, it shouldn’t happen in Portland.

Louisville needs to ask us for our best and most creative ideas. The city should solicit input from the public and provide funding and resources for the best proposals. It worked with the mayor’s vacant Lots of Possibility program and with JCPS’s School of Innovation Design Competition. Hell, even the Louisville Zoo does it to name baby animals. The city’s ideas so far have ranged from ineffective (meetings with “private-school, church-going kids”) to insulting (a quarter-of-a-million dollars on new surveillance cameras).

And finally, Louisville parents need to get their kids together and start whooping some ass. The old-fashioned way, with switches and belts. I’m only half serious, but enough said. I am reluctant to chastise working-class black parents in a newsweekly read mostly by white folks.

There are no quick and easy answers to what we face. But this city belongs to all of us, and we indeed have got to learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. These are some of my ideas. I look forward to hearing yours.