By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor
Last year Louisville Magazine reported on the “invisible wall” between the eastern sections of our city and the West End.
They noted that in eastern Louisville, there is a plethora of services, shopping areas, medical facilities and the like. In the West End, not so much.
One of the most significant aspects of that article was that the invisible wall — usually identified as the Ninth Street corridor — divides us in more than measurable ways. It divides the city’s understanding of itself. Some people from the east have never been west of the divide, and vice versa. And some things taken for granted in the more affluent part of town have never, ever been available west of Ninth St.
Now the Leadership Louisville Center’s Bingham Fellows program has decided to take a look at the issues raised by that divide, and two representatives of the Archdiocese of Louisville will be a part of the Bingham Fellows class that’s tackling the problems.
Of the 44 community leaders chosen to examine the topic of “Investing in West Louisville’s Path to Prosperity” are Father John R. Burke, pastor of Good Shepherd Church and sacramental moderator at St. William Church, and Kay Frazier, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, have been chosen as 2014 Bingham Fellows.
Both realize the topic they’re to consider is both complicated and serious and a vital key to building a successful future of the city of Louisville.
Father Burke said he hopes the Leadership Louisville effort results “in a convergence of energies to re-imagine what the West End could be.”
But in addition to that, he said, “I hope we can identify ways to make good things happen.”
Frazier shares Father Burke’s hopes, and, just as he does, she realizes that much of the city has ignored the West End and has many misconceptions about it.
“People who know little about the West End, who’ve never been there, know little or nothing about the historic nature of the homes, churches and parks there,” she said in a recent interview at the Maloney Center, where Father Burke’s interview was also conducted.
Those same people don’t know about the beauty of Shawnee Park, which lies hard by the Ohio River, she noted. They don’t know about the success of programs being conducted at the Catholic Enrichment Center at 31st and Broadway in the Russell neighborhood.
“What I hope this effort with Leadership Louisville produces are new ways of looking at the city west of Ninth or Tenth streets,” she said. “I hope we can find ways to build on the city’s positives — that we can see to it that the West End is connected to downtown, and that the prosperity of the city can be expanded westward.”
Father Burke noted that the 44 Bingham Fellows will all have “a learning curve.”
“In fact, our first reading assignment is that article in Louisville Magazine,” he noted. “I know already that one of the issues I’ll be an advocate for is finding ways to make the West End inviting to new investment, but also doing that with the input of those already living there.”
The last thing we need, he said, is for non-Louisvillians or others not familiar with the area to come in and tell those already there what they’re going to do — without West End residents having any say in any of it.
“I don’t think I have an agenda of what needs to be done,” Father Burke said, “and I hope others don’t either. I hope everyone has an open mind. There are just gobs of things that need to be done, of course, but I don’t want to see something just imposed on people.”
Father Burke also said he hopes the Bingham Fellows take special notice of the need to improve educational opportunities for the children of the area. “We have a history — almost a tradition — of lower achieving schools in that part of town. So we need to ask ‘how can we break out of that?’ ”
One of his dreams, he said, is the implementation of an intense tutoring program — “I want to get corporate Louisville to help with this, to provide tutors that would make kids aware that there’s another world out there for young people in the West End to strive for.”
Frazier agrees that the Bingham Fellows must find ways to get “the business community to buy in to correcting the continuing problems that we have in the West End.”
“There’s a lack of services, a lack of dentists and doctors and pharmacists and places to shop,” she noted. “So we spend a lot of time going across the (Sherman Minton) bridge to Indiana to do our shopping because we can’t do it where we live. There aren’t any stores there, or very few.”
Frazier, who lives in the Chickasaw neighborhood, also said the Bingham Fellows will have to “fight the odds to get somebody in business willing to take the chance and invest in our part of town.”
“Right now, I know that the people of the East End don’t have to leave their part of town because they have everything they need,” she said. “We need to make those same kinds of services, of amenities, available to everyone in every part of this city.”
According to a press release from Leadership Louisville, the Bingham Fellows program “is the advanced leadership program of the Leadership Louisville Center. “Now entering its 22nd year, the Bingham Fellows have had an impressive track record of providing emerging issues with visibility and momentum. In recent years, they’ve contributed to the development of a long-term vision for our community.”
And now Father Burke and Kay Frazier are hoping they can help the Bingham Fellows include the West End in that “long-term vision.”