Louisville Community Members Tell Us What The Future Looks Like For Activism, Food And More

Predicting the future can be a dangerous game to play, because, as we’ve all found out so brutally over the past few years, the present can come at you fast, and crush expectations, norms and even logic. But, predicting — or looking toward the future — is essential and important, not only to hold onto slivers of hope, but also to be thoughtful about who we are, and what we envision ourselves becoming as a society. So, below, we asked nine writers and community members to write about how they see the future playing out on one specific topic. 

The Future Of Activism

By Sadiqa Reynolds
One hundred million dollars will be spent on affordable housing in Louisville because an activist was elected to the Metro Council. He didn’t do it alone, but it couldn’t have been done without him. The future of Louisville activism is running for mayor, is sitting on the board, chairs a department at the university, argues case law, writes policy papers and poetry, feeds the hungry, leads the arts, negotiates with Republicans and Democrats, leads strategy sessions, closes million dollar deals, knocks on neighborhood doors, leads a congregation and builds in places where no one believed. Activists will not be identified by race. You will know them by their vote, by their voice, by their swag, as they march into spaces where their issues are on the agenda, whether or not their names are on the invite. Activism has changed Louisville. It isn’t pretty and doesn’t always feel good but it is a tool. Perhaps not as effective or precise as we’d like, because we haven’t seen all the policy shifts that were demanded across the board, but we have seen some change. Change that might have come much slower or not at all without activists agitating. Activism is persistent. If I am honest, in my imagination, the future of activism is female, but like so many in this space it is non-binary. It is fluid. It is what it must be. It does not create comfort — it creates space — space for opposing views. Not just for opposition’s sake, but for the sake of justice, freedom and inclusion. It is not white. It is Black and Brown and bruised from the struggle.

Protesters raised their fists in solidarity during Louisville’s 2020 protests. | Photo by Kathryn Harrington

The future of activism is smart. It is in the boardroom. It can be loud but it knows how to quietly sit and suggest improvements to antiquated plans. It takes notes and strategizes about the survival of souls that have been silenced. In some cases it negotiates freedom, in others it disrupts — your line of thinking, maybe your line of business.

The future of activism is strategic. It will declare enemies but recognizes that all who disagree are not in opposition. It sacrifices some battles to win wars. Strategic activists follow and lead — depending on the room, the issue and the weapon. No one holds all power, it is passed like a baton. There is no monolith. The future of activism in Louisville is keenly focused on affordable housing and development without displacement. It is demanding living wages and access to capital to fund black and brown dreams in the poorest zip codes. It craves health, wealth, and educational investments that increase proficiency and close achievement gaps, not just between black and white, but Louisville and the world. The future of activism is fearless.

Sadiqa Reynolds is the president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, which assists African Americans and those at the margins in attaining social and economic equality and stability through direct services and advocacy.

The Future Of Food

By Robin Garr
The world is warming rapidly, and climate change brings frightening storms, floods, landslides and life-threatening heat. What does this spell for the future of food? We, or our children anyway, may go vegan whether we want to or not.

Here’s the good news: New meatless meat products like the increasingly popular Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are getting to be just as tasty as haunch of beef, and they tread considerably less heavily on the Earth. Cultured meat, the still slightly disturbing idea of growing real meat from cells in a laboratory, is coming right along behind them. Food-technology startup UPSIDE Foods opened its first large-scale production facility last month.

Why does this matter? Because the beef and cattle industry bear a significant share of the global warming load. In a peer-reviewed study in 2018, the journal Science suggested that the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on the planet is to stop consuming meat and dairy products.

The study concluded that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% — an area equivalent to the U.S., China, European Union and Australia combined — and still feed the world. 

Have you tried an Impossible Burger? I have a hard time distinguishing it from a beef burger. Beyond Meat’s sausage patties come even closer to the mark: They look, smell, taste and crumble exactly like the real thing. If switching to goodies like these can help save the Earth, I’m ready to do my part.

Robin Garr is LEO’s food critic. 

essential worker
Volunteer medical professionals conducted rapid COVID-19 tests. The tests began with a finger prick.

The Future Of Health Care 

By Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us lessons that will shape health care’s future. One lesson we learned was adaptability. As with many professions, health care has a comfort zone, and COVID forced us out of that zone. Prior to COVID, clinicians were confident that treatments prescribed were backed by years of research, however COVID challenged that paradigm. Not only did we have to learn a new disease, but we had to figure out how to treat it. We didn’t have years of research, nor did we have time to wait due to increasing mortality. Treatment plans changed frequently and drugs, new and old, were studied at lightning speed compared to pre-COVID days. We found that if we worked together and removed the red tape that had slowed down past progress, we could quickly find safe ways to mitigate COVID. The way people accessed care also changed. With lockdowns in place, health care had to shift its traditional ways of delivering care to more innovative ways, such as telemedicine. We also learned that our health care workers are essential, and that everyone’s mental health becomes more fragile as the pandemic continues.

The future of health care is uncertain unless we continue with what we learned. Understanding the pandemic’s effect on the health care workforce is key to ensuring a bright future such that we retain our current workers and support future generations to seek careers in health care. Embracing innovation and reducing political barriers are also important to a bright future. Regardless of what the future holds, it cannot involve returning to our previous comfort zone.

Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor is the medical director at UofL Health. She has ran a COVID-19 floor at the UofL Jewish Hospital. 

Charles Booker | Provided photo

The Future Of Politics 

By Charles Booker 
We find ourselves at a time in history where our pursuit of democracy hangs in the balance. The ills of structural racism and inequity are dominating our politics. Generational poverty cripples many communities across Kentucky, and fear is being weaponized to drive people apart. To divide us. To make us feel hopeless. 

The future of politics is a question of how we will light the path toward realizing true justice and healing for all. As Kentuckians, we are so painfully familiar with exploitation at the hands of the powerful. Whether you’re from the hood, the holler, or somewhere in between, stories of exploitation and struggle are known to so many of us. We need a new deal for Kentucky, a Kentucky New Deal, and we must take a stand to lead ourselves and fight for a deal on our own terms.

The conviction of hardworking people demanding real change, standing shoulder-to-shoulder all across Kentucky can and will move mountains. Everyday people who know what it’s like to live these struggles must be empowered and supported to run for office. We can do this through the Kentucky New Deal: training leaders to create a future where we fully fund community safety, build booming sustainable economies in every corner of the Commonwealth, and invest in repairing our crumbling infrastructure. When the halls of government have our voices present, we can achieve great things and make poverty a thing of the past, fighting for a government by us and for us, no exceptions.

Charles Booker is a former state representative who is currently running for U.S. Senate.

The Future of Art 

By John Brooks
Because its ultimate power so strongly relies on the experience of a viewer, the very act of making art is an expectant gesture. Recently, the volatility of the unfolding present has made imagining the future extraordinarily difficult. Still, the labor of artists has never ceased. Aside from a brief hiatus last year, galleries, museums and certainly studios have stayed open. But that isn’t to say that things have remained static; just as is the case nationally, Louisville’s visual art scene is experiencing profound changes. Awareness sparked by racial and social justice movements, intersectionality, increased connectivity, social media, an evolving educational landscape and repercussions from the pandemic are having major impacts. Something has indeed been shaken loose, and while what is developing has less to do with specific individuals than foundational disruptions of cultural and institutional momentums, individuals do matter. Luckily for us, Louisville is a place where engagement is relatively straightforward and increasingly welcome. Ours is an exciting environment in which to be an artist, curator or collector; a palpable energy is afoot. Emerging artists are finding allies among the established; museums and galleries are exhibiting incredible work, some of which is getting national and international attention; grant opportunities to travel and experience new things exist; and a common focus on expanding access and inclusivity is strengthening and growing our community. So many Louisvillians are working to ensure that as the future unfolds, our visual art scene’s richness is recognized and celebrated not just locally, but regionally, nationally and beyond.

John Brooks is a visual artists and poet who is the gallery director and curator at Quappi Projects.

The Future Of Music 

By Doug Campbell
The future of the Louisville music scene will seem, like most futures, indebted to its past. However, there is never anywhere to go but up, is there? Many would have you believe that the golden age of this city’s discography came and went in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and I would slap those people who’d have you believe that… but that’s not what this is about. When every year promises the future and quickly turns into the past, it feels natural; there’s hardly anything futuristic about it. But to analyze the history of the Louisville music scene and to think: “What would I have thought the future of local music would be in the year 2003?” I find that the answer to this question was, and still is, evolution and innovation. I guess there’s something in the water or it’s the chemtrails, but for some damn reason we have always been one step ahead of the curve in this city. Look at bands like Turbo Nut, Extra Bros, Belushi Speed Ball and Sunshine, and tell me you know any other bands that they sound like. You can’t. I don’t know how these people do it — I’m telling you it’s something in the water… so pour up. But, as each year passes, we are yet to see bands emerge that have caught up to what exactly it is we are doing in Louisville. I say don’t ask yourself what the future of Louisville’s music scene will be, ask yourself what the future of music would be without Louisville. Boring. I’ve been to shows in these other scenes, and not to hate on them because they’re all very nice people, but Bloomington doesn’t have what we have, Cincinnati doesn’t have what we have and Nashville doesn’t have what we have. Something’s in the water.

Doug Campbell is a Louisville musician who is in the projects Sleeping Bag and Melanchoir.

A protester rode by on a skateboard past LMPD vehicles blocking off Roy Wilkins Avenue.

The Future Of The Streets

By Dan Canon 
Despite all the howling by capitalist lapdogs about property damage, the protests of 2020 should be looked upon as a resounding success for nonviolence. People demanded a response, and institutions responded. It’s the closest thing to a victory by anything resembling an organized movement that we’ve seen around here for quite a long time, and it happened with relatively little bloodshed. Can that success be replicated with a teenage militia on the streets? It’s a question we’ll likely have to answer. Strip out everything you might have read about the specifics of the Rittenhouse case and strain the basic facts through a sieve of right-wing propaganda. A nice white kid wanted to protect his community from looters and rioters. He took up arms to help the police keep order. When threatened, he fought back by killing his attackers with a big gun. A jury of his peers exonerated him, and he became a symbol of long-forgotten American values, a beacon of hope, a shimmering god. That’s the narrative much of middle America will hear, and it’s not an unattractive one. In Louisville, in Minneapolis, in Cleveland, and elsewhere, other white kids will hear this story and find purpose flooding the void of their inaction-packed lives. They’ll get big guns. They’ll do what police barely restrain themselves from doing. They’ll become child soldiers in the war against Antifa, or abortionists, or critical race theorists, or whatever enemy is on the battlefield. 

Dan Canon is a civil rights lawyer and law professor. His book “Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class” is available for preorder wherever you get your books.

Churchill Downs
Derby City Gaming Downtown | Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

The Future Of Gambling 

By Scott Recker
It’s inevitable that gambling and weed are going to eventually be federally legal — it’s just currently a state-by-state domino effect, a game of chicken to see who holds the most stubborn and archaic values. But, with gambling, Kentucky is in a unique position. In many other states, they legalize gambling, and then Vegas moves in, getting the licenses and the windfalls of cash — they pay taxes, invest a little bit in the community and everyone is more or less happy. But, Kentucky will have the opportunity to keep the money local, as it looks like Churchill Downs is ramping up its investing in anticipation for the future of full-spectrum gambling. The horse racing giant already has one quasi-casino where you can play what are essentially slot machines, made possible by some clever loopholes and friendly legislation, and they are building another downtown. But that almost certainly isn’t the endgame. That’s just the infrastructure waiting for the laws to catch up. When they do, Churchill will be in a perfect place to capitalize, flipping baby casinos into full blown ones, and most likely utilizing their sports betting technology to hit that corner of the market hard as well. My predication is that they’ll dictate exactly when gambling becomes legal in Kentucky. They’ll lobby the General Assembly, get what they want, and that will be that. And even though it’ll be a borderline depressing master class in how the rich and powerful can essentially convince the government to jump through whatever hoops they want them to, Louisville will be better for it. This is, of course, speculation — but it seems wildly predetermined. 

Scott Recker is the managing editor of LEO Weekly.  

Shakespeare in the Park
L-R: Abigail Bailey Maupin and Ernaisja Curry in ‘The Comedy of Errors.’ Photo by Bill Brymer.

The Future Of Theater 

By Marty Rosen
Despite Freud’s appropriation of the story to illustrate his own theories, Oedipus Rex is not essentially a play about incest. The action deals with a city-state afflicted by a great plague and the nature of leadership and accountability in a time of crisis. It was first staged in Athens nearly 2,500 years ago, in 429 B.C., one year after the Plague of Athens, which killed off about 25% of the population of the city, and utterly broke down the city’s social, moral and political order (its leader Pericles died).

It’s certain that the playwright Sophocles would have smelled the smoke of mass funeral pyres as he was writing the play, and that the plague would have been fresh in the minds of those who gathered in an outdoor amphitheater to see it. 

For at least 2,500 years (maybe longer in other cultures) the act of theater — live actors performing stories before live audiences — has played a central role in human culture. No matter the social circumstances — opulent or impoverished, free or censored, safe or endangered —  theater always slips through, because every moment of live theater is an organic non-fungible token of the human spirit. The last two years may have closed the theater spaces, but it didn’t close the theater. Theater survived. And early indicators in the Louisville-area theater community suggest a resurgent energy rooted in confidence, conviction and collaboration. 

No matter what Greek letters get thrown at us, live actors and live audiences will still find each other. 

Marty Rosen is a theater critic at LEO. 

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