To be honest, I questioned writing this letter. Indeed if there was ever a David and Goliath story, this is it. I am a poet and writer in Louisville, Kentucky, directing this letter to Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen, a name that many may not know. But indeed, they know the institution Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby or what many call the “greatest two minutes in sports.” I am well aware that Bill Carstanjen probably has no idea who I am. Being the highest-paid executive at Churchill Downs with a compensation reported in 2018 as over $21 million, he has perhaps never once considered those that live just a stone’s throw from Churchill Downs. He has probably never thought that just outside of the iron gates of Churchill Downs is a community in despair — homelessness, prostitution, meth and opioid addiction, drug overdoses and shootings run rampant. He has probably never thought that I stare out of my windows through security bars in my community because to not have bars on the windows leaves my home susceptible to crime fueled by desperation. And indeed, these are desperate and challenging times.
America finds itself in a dreadful condition fighting two pandemics that cannot be seen with the naked eye, but both manifest in deadly ways. In March, many of us retreated to our homes due to the coronavirus under the direction of Gov. Andy Beshear, and we sheltered in place, waiting for the unknown. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months, as many of us accepted the reality of our new normal. Life as we knew it was severed in time, split in two, pre-corona and corona. Businesses adjusted, and the Kentucky Derby was moved to September. And even while the numbers of those infected by the coronavirus continued to increase, the Kentucky Derby didn’t waver from its plan of having 20,000 spectators in the stands. (the Kentucky Derby has recently reversed its decision, and the Derby will be run with no spectators.)
When I first read they were still having Derby, I thought there is absolutely no way that can happen! I have attended and performed at Derby events at Churchill Downs, and to believe 20,000 people gambling and drinking would adhere to the coronavirus guidelines that were put into place was ludicrous. Yet, Gov. Beshear went along with this plan even while telling us that groups of 10 or more should be avoided. Immediately, it dawned on me that in the state of Kentucky, Churchill Downs has the power.Read More ›