Community Economy Metro Louisville
J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

It’s homecoming weekend in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood. 

Russell: A Place of Promise, a development project run in partnership with the city, is hosting a series of events to commemorate the neighborhood and its residents. They include educational, faith-based and networking opportunities for Black business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. 

One of the planners is Cassandra Webb, research director with the nonprofit Cities United. She said Russell’s homecoming events aim to instill pride and belonging among past and current residents — much like a university or high school homecoming.

“It’s so much about a community, about a return to home…coming back and saying ‘I’m going to financially invest,’ or ‘I’m going to volunteer,’ or ‘I’m going to mentor,’ or ‘I’m going to support the neighborhood in some capacity,” Webb said. 

Russell, in the city’s West End, was once considered to be the Harlem of the South. It was known for its booming Black-owned businesses and commercial strip along what’s now Muhammad Ali Blvd. It is also home to the West Branch Library the nation’s first public library to be fully run by and serve Black residents.

As a result of racist policies like redlining, the federal Interstate Highway Act of 1956 and targeted gentrification efforts that persist today, the once-thriving area was no longer by the 1960s, much like other majority-Black neighborhoods across the country.

Russell: A Place of Promise has a stated mission to build up wealth in the neighborhood through homeownership and workforce development, without displacing its residents.

“For years, Black folks, especially folks that have lived in the West End, have been left out of the decision making,” Webb said. “That’s why it’s so important, especially when we’re talking about dollars coming into the neighborhood, for those to be directed by the residents and for them to have ownership of where those investments happen.”

Webb’s colleague Daphne Walker added that meaningful engagement is key to effective and truly beneficial change for the community and its members. 

“When you start the process of centering residents, that passes down generation to generation and begins to create a sense of belonging in the neighborhood, a sense of stability — which is something that’s very important to success in life,” Walker said. 

But social justice advocates with the Root Cause Research Center argue bringing residents to the table isn’t enough. Instead, they’d like to see the group investing money directly into the community so that residents can create tools that help them stay in the neighborhood. Tools like a land trust — a measure that would allow residents to have oversight over changes made in their community. It would also stabilize housing affordability. 

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.