The State of Black Louisville 2018

The State of Black Louisville 2018 report, produced by the Louisville Urban League, is not a dense compilation of numbers and charts and footnotes and promises. It is a collection of over 40 essays on jobs, justice, education, health, housing and more, written by experts from within the city. Its comprehensiveness is eclipsed only by the breadth of the issues and disparities it outlines for African-Americans in Louisville. But the essays also include recommendations and paths toward solutions. LEO is publishing the introduction to the The State of Black Louisville 2018, titled “Monopoly,” and a poem as the first in an occasional series of selections from the report.


Monopoly

Imagine sitting down to a game of Monopoly. Everyone else at the table has been playing for 400 years. Everyone but you. Still, you join the game. Of course, because you are late, by the time you start some players have acquired boatloads of money. Others have lost as much, but they all have had 400 years of experience learning the game, creating the rules, adjusting for flaws. These are all things that a new player would have to “catch up” on.

Now suppose only half the players want you in the game. The remainder resents your presence, delays in participation, and constantly reminds you of how great the game was before you got in.

Where does the new player get the resources to join the game? Do you begin with the same amount of money as players who started 400 years ago? If so, how do you ever really exert any influence over the board? After all, most of the land is owned by others. Boardwalk is gone and many players own hotels all around the board. Every place you land, you must pay some sort of tax.

Each time you make it around the board you pay $200, just like every other player passing “Go.” The challenge is that every payment comes close to bankrupting you. You’ve had no access to resources available to other players, because the rules were set before you got in. It gets to the point where landing on “Go to Jail” is the only space safe from the tax of life.

Your presence is felt because the time you take to learn the rules and roll the dice slows the game. You are constantly reminded that you can’t be a serious player because there is no way you can ever really win.

The late player, the Black player, isn’t playing Monopoly. The Black player is playing “Survival.” A few of us get lucky and thrive, but most get caught in a system that we are ill-prepared to enter and within which our presence is resented.

It is incumbent upon us to remind ourselves and others that we are the only immigrants to this country brought in against our will and held entirely for the benefit of others. We are the descendants of slaves forced to immigrate into a country in which we are not responsible for our arrival and have had little to no say over our condition. Yet, we achieve in ways that were never imagined or intended, and quite often against all odds and in circumstances that would have broken a less-resilient people.

Our lack of wealth is not indicative of a lack of creativity, ideas, solutions, or effort. Power began to be acquired before the rules even allowed a seat at the table, a chance to play the game that’s now 400 years old.

It’s been a 400-year game. Two hundred and fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of discriminatory housing policy. Countless examples of our presence being unwanted and our lives unvalued – and we are still here. The “Make America Great Again” slogan begs the question: Under what conditions do some have to live for America to be great, and for whom?

As we witness attacks on the gains that have been made, we also feel the hope of arriving at a crossroads and knowing that we have this moment to create new alliances and collaborations to push toward a world that reflects justice and equity rather than one that sets America back again.

We do not have the resources to significantly invest in our own communities. We can’t self-fund large-scale capital projects. We can’t even control the costs of necessities in the communities in which we live. Our investment needs require charity or, we would argue, justice.

We need intentional investment in the dreams of Black Americans and capital investment with Black ownership on the other side of that deal. White Americans have had the ability and resources to take a risk, finding great success and, at times, great failure. Yet, society seems to attribute Black failure to ignorance or incompetence. We get one shot, by one star, who we must pray doesn’t choke. Should our star hit the shot, and the celebration ensues, we then pray they stay loyal to the movement even when the other team begins to recruit.

This pressure of being Black in America… Black in Louisville… is aspiration-crushing.

If America is ever to be great, she must tell the truth of the history of Black people in this country. She must constantly tell the truth that we did not arrive on this planet as slaves. She must change the misleading narrative playing about who and what Black people are and how she has benefitted from keeping us in our place.

There can be no peace without justice and no justice without truth. In fact, Louisville must tell the truth of its history and begin to deal with the real effects of discrimination, redlining, bias, and dog whistles.

The challenges in our city are the same as those present for Black people in every city in this country. Access to capital is limited and, when it comes, it is directive and sparse. We are invited to the table as observers but not empowered to disagree or set our own course.

We are free to speak our minds but only to the extent that we understand our message could result in frustration on the part of those with the resources we desperately need. Sometimes other Blacks view those making it into the higher levels of the game as sellouts. Sadly, sometimes they are. However, many of us remain true in every room we enter and we are here fighting for change. Indeed, it is sometimes our presence that keeps all of us from being sold down river again.

So, in a sense, this report is our effort to… at a minimum… own our voices. Whatever the cost. •

Sadiqa N. Reynolds, Esq., is president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League — lul.org, @LouisvilleUL and @sadiqalul


You were born to be a problem

By Hannah Drake

 

In “the Souls of Black Folk” W.E.B. Du Bois eloquently penned, “Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it, ‘How does it feel to be a problem?’”

How does it feel not to just have a problem… but to be the problem?

That your very existence, the fact you are breathing air is problematic?

How does it feel to be a problem?

The usual suspect, murdered live on social media by those sworn to serve and protect, gunned down in the streets holding Skittles and tea, memorialized on Twitter with Rest in Peace shirts and hashtags all while they continue to fill out toetags?

How does it feel knowing that 32% of Black males live in poverty?

How does it feel to know that Black and Brown boys get expelled faster than any other race?

How does it feel to scream at the top of your lungs and no one hears you?

How does it feel to be a problem?

A problem is often seen as something negative, unwelcomed, harmful and needing to be “dealt with”

A problem can also be defined as an unexpected disruption in a system

So, my answer to the question, “How does it feel to be a problem?”

Is that you were born to be a problem!

You were not created to just go along to get along

The blood that flows through your veins is the same blood that beat through the hearts of men and women that were a problem

People that were born to disrupt the system, that challenged the status quo

People that dared to believe that this world could be different

Toussaint Louverture was a problem

Frederick Douglass was a problem

Harriet Tubman was a problem

Nat Turner was a problem

Jackie Robinson was a problem

Fannie Lou Hamer was a problem

Martin Luther King was a problem

Marcus Garvey was a problem

Fred Hampton was a problem

Malcolm X was a problem

Assata Shakur was a problem

Barack Obama was a problem

Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Mike Brown was a problem that shook a sleeping nation to a movement

You were born to be a problem!

You were created to disrupt the system

You are here to challenge the status quo

You are designed to question those in authority, to ask the hard questions

Why are you afraid of my Blackness?

Why is my wallet always seen as a gun?

Why is it okay to take healthcare away from those that might need it the most?

Why are we abusing people that want to protect the right to have clean water?

Why do women still get paid less than men for doing the same job?

Why do 62 people Hold As Much Wealth As The Poorest 3.5 Billion in the world?

Why does my zip code determine my life expectancy?

Why do you incarcerate more Black and Brown males than any other race?

Why does the educational system expel us at an alarming rate?

Why is the drug epidemic now a health crisis when years ago, no one cared when crack was ravaging the Black community?

Why can’t I shop or eat a balanced meal in my own neighborhood?

Why do you turn your backs on the very people whose backs you walked on to build a nation?

Why does my existence threaten you?

Your job is to ask why?!

You were born to be a problem!

Because you were born with possibility, power, promise and potential

You were created to confront injustice

To be a thorn in the side of inequality!

You were made to be a voice for the voiceless

You see, you be that glitch in the Matrix!

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t be after you so hard

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t create laws to hold you back

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t try to squash your dreams

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t try to beat you down!

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t care about you organizing

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t infiltrate your community with drugs and alcohol

If you were not a problem

They wouldn’t care that you stand up in your community

The reason they are after you is because they see your power

Because Strength always overpowers weakness

Light always outshines darkness

Like Thomas Merton said, “How do I begin to tell you that you are all walking around shining like the sun?”

So, when they ask you, “How does it feel to be a problem?”

Stand proud, stand strong, stand in your authority and declare,

“It feels amazing because I was born to be a problem!” •

 

Hannah Drake is