Two recent events in our community have highlighted how far we’ve come in race relations — and how far we still have to go.
At its 26th annual African American Catholic Leadership Awards Banquet, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry gave an Acacia Award — one of its highest honors — to Greg Tichenor of the Church of the Epiphany. (The other Acacia Award winner was Bishop John H. Ricard, one of the founders and a leader of the National Black Catholic Congress.)
Tichenor, who is white, has been volunteering at the Catholic Enrichment Center, tutoring young African American students and helping — one person at a time — to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots, the blessed and the struggling, the whites and the non-whites in our city.
Tichenor told the March 2 banquet that he has devoted his life to “building those much-needed bridges to racial and social equality in our community.”
His is a laudable effort, and it’s fitting that OMM recognized Tichenor and his desire to end our racial divides.
At the same time, the work of another local publication — Louisville Magazine — quantified just how different the lives of black and white people are in our community. It told the tale of two cities, a place divided by race along a north-south boundary called Ninth Street.
The magazine’s efforts were massive and should be applauded, right along with the work of OMM. “A Tale of Two Cities,” is what the Louisville Magazine piece was titled, and the numbers included in the narrative proved the moniker was spot on.
The magazine created charts and graphics that described two distinct sections of our city. The “East End” included demographic and economic data from the Clifton, Crescent Hill, Highlands, Middletown, St. Matthews, Mockingbird Valley, Windy Hills, Indian Hills and Strathmoor neighborhoods. The “West End” demographics were based on information from the Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park DuValle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell and Shawnee neighborhoods.
And before we examine the numbers, here’s a guess: Chances are many of the 68,000-plus who live in those East End neighborhoods have rarely, if ever, visited the 61,000 or so people who live in their West End counterparts. We all know adults who’ve spent their entire lives in this city who’ve never been west of Ninth Street.
So, to the differences.
Ninety-three percent of the people who live in the East End own their own cars. In the West End, that figure is 69.1 percent. In the East End, 79 percent of the population have attended at least some college classes; in the West End that number is 38 percent. College graduates? The East End number is 55 percent; the West End’s is seven percent.
There are six hospitals in the East End; none in the West End. The East End also leads in supermarkets nine to five; in banks, 45 to 13; in pharmacies, 21 to 6; in OB/GYN physicians the disparity is 148 to three; in restaurants, the number is 255 to 30.
You get the picture. Louisville Magazine really has presented a tale of two cities, and it’s not pretty.
Racism is so evil, so pernicious, that it’s difficult to write about it. And many of the numerical disparities noted above are measures of economic inequality and perhaps not outright racism. But race plays a role in our community, and far too often that role is a negative one.
The notion that in 2013 the backward-thinking ways of those who embrace manufactured differences still persist is depressing. So from time to time we need to take stock of where we are on the issue of equality.
The late Rev. Louis Coleman used to say — to anyone who’d listen — that many people in Louisville talk about the West End when they’ve never been there, and some of them talk about “black folks without ever knowing one.” And that, he was fond of saying, has to change.
The Archdiocese of Louisville was well-represented at the National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis last summer, and one of the things the Congress heard was a study with its own set of depressing statistics. That study, conducted by two University of Notre Dame professors, found that 31.5 percent of black Catholics indicated that they were uncomfortable at church because they are among the few people of
color at their parish.
Twenty-six percent of black Catholics, according to the study, think fellow parishioners avoid them because of their race.
That has to change, too. During this season of renewal, can’t we all pledge to be more welcoming to the stranger, friendlier to those with skin different from ours? Can’t we take steps, one person at a time, to bridge this city’s racial divide?