Community

There have been many initiatives designed to help improve life in Russell — and in other parts of West Louisville — but Haven Harrington, a longtime resident and former president of the Russell Neighborhood Association, says a new community development initiative may be on the right track to truly making a difference in Russell.

Louisville Metro Government and Cities United, a network of cities working to curb violence in American cities relating to black men and boys, on Wednesday announced Russell: A Place of Promise. With a $5 million grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, A Place of Promise will support affordable housing, job creation and more in the area, officials say.

The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust may also work with the Russell initiative through a fellowship for young black men ages 22-26 to prepare them for roles in civic leadership.

But Harrington said the focus on wealth creation is what really excites him because it would help build what he calls a “merchant class” in West Louisville and address the city’s income gap.

“You can kind of build that next layer of wealth which is so needed in West Louisville,” Harrington said. “There’s a tremendous discrepancy of median, average income, and anything that helps alleviate that, that helps to keep the wealth in the community, I’m all for it.”

Louisville has made some progress in bridging economic gaps over time, but racial disparities remain.

According to a report earlier this year by the Urban Institute, a national nonprofit research organization, the city’s racial poverty gap is less inclusive than the average across most cities. The report also shows the difference in the number of black and white homeowners in Louisville has grown since 1990.

Russell: A Place of Promise aims to address unmet needs, avoid gentrification and rely on people who live in Russell to decide how the neighborhood grows. An advisory board with representatives of local organizations would provide oversight.

Anthony Smith, executive director at Cities United and co-leader of the initiative, said they’ll employ 25 people to knock at residents’ doors and get people involved.

“Our main focus here in Russell is really going to be focused on the community engagement strategy of bringing folks to the table,” Smith said. “We see the $5 million as a seed and an add-on to some of the other investments that were led, but really an opportunity to bring community in and help decide, and make decisions about what they want their community to look like.”

Harrington applauds the initiative for relying on community input, saying similar initiatives in the past have disregarded residents. He said A Place of Promise seems genuine because some of its stakeholders are serious and care for the community.

The $5 million grant will be distributed over three years for the initiative. It complements other investment underway in the neighborhood, including a $29.5 million dollar Housing and Urban Development grant. The incubation period to fund the program until it’s sustainable could last up to five years. Co-leader Theresa Zawacki said they’ve started fundraising in case it takes longer than three years to find steady support.

Public meetings about the initiative will be held:

  • Tuesday, August 28 from  5:00–7:30 p.m. at the Joshua Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church
  • Thursday, August 30 from 5:00–7:30 p.m. at the Baxter Community Center
  • Saturday, September 8 from 11:30 a.m.– 1:00 p.m. at a location to be announced later
Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.