West of Ninth: People, in their own words

Quotes become clichéd because they are true. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” perfectly describes why husband and wife team, Walter and Marshae (Shae) Smith, started their West of Ninth project. They want to tell the stories of West Louisville, and they decided the best way to do that is to give an unfiltered voice to the people who live in West Louisville — Russell, Portland, Shawnee, Chickasaw, California, Park Hill, Park DuValle, Parkland and Algonquin. The media tend to not highlight the best qualities of these neighborhoods or dive deeply into their tug of war with good and bad forces. Armed with a Nikon camera and their phones set on record, the Smiths are determined to change this. Their Instagram account (westofninthlouisville) and their blog (westofninth.com) are popular. Now, their photos and interviews will appear every other week in LEO in the same space that my column formerly occupied. The Smiths, both 32, live in Russell with sons, Walter Jr., 8, and Maxwell, 2.

LEO: Tell me about the West of Ninth project.
Shae Smith: We come up with the best ideas when we’re in the driveway of our house, sitting in the car. It’s best because usually the kids are asleep in the backseat, and we’ll just sit there maybe 45 minutes just brainstorming ideas. We were just talking about how often we hear such a negative narrative about West Louisville, and if there was a way that we could spin it and possibly highlight the people within the neighborhood. More like a ‘boots on the ground’ approach. With that we just started taking to the streets. Through the content, we just wanted to get more raw and real stories from the people in the community. Yes, they have bad days. Yes, people do experience trauma just like everyone else but at the end of the day, they tell us a great triumph story. Then, just also getting more information from the people within the community as to what their thoughts are when it comes to what West Louisville means — such as things for the kids to do, more grocery stores.

Walt Smith: We don’t necessarily experience the narratives that the media will portray to the public. We feel a sense of community where we live. It was like, let’s try to create a sense of community with this project instead just coming from one person’s point of view on the community. We wanted to try to get a collective voice from all the neighborhoods [of West Louisville]. To me, it’s a platform to create a voice for ones that could be unheard. A lot of us feel like we’re not paid attention to.

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