The family of Tyler Gerth, a Trinity High School alumnus shot and killed while he photographed a protest in downtown Louisville last summer, hopes a scholarship in his name will help “open up the doors” to more minorities desiring an education at the all-boys high school.
The Tyler Gerth ‘11 Memorial Scholarship was endowed at the end of 2020 to benefit a minority student each year who represents Gerth’s “remarkable qualities to stand up for the marginalized, serve humbly and work hard to better themselves,” according to an announcement from the school.
Gerth’s family described him as a “renaissance man” because of his varied interests in life: He loved gardening, photography, music, traveling, sports and meeting new people.
Gerth was shot last June as he photographed a protest against racism and police brutality in Jefferson Square Park. After Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American woman, was shot and killed by police in March of 2020, Jefferson Square Park became an epicenter for the protests that followed.
Brittany Loewen, Gerth’s oldest sister, said 10 months later, his death is a “gaping wide open wound.”
Despite the pain, she said the family has the “confidence that he was doing what he thought was right,” she said. While the family grieves, they’ve been focused on finding “purpose and meaning” in the tragedy.
“How can we find purpose and meaning and move forward in a way that would make Tyler proud?” is the question they’ve pondered, she said.
Part of the answer to that question has come in the form of a foundation set up by the family to honor Gerth’s life.
“Building Equal Bridges, The Tyler Gerth Foundation,” was established at the end of 2020. Loewen is the president of the foundation, whose mission is to advocate for a more equitable world for the next generation. Loewen said the foundation intends to carry out its mission through three core values: unification, education and collaboration.
The faith and a sense of social justice that Catholic education instilled in her and her siblings have provided a “compass” for their lives, she said. So, the family knew right away they wanted to create a scholarship through the foundation.
“We truly look back at Catholic education as a gift. We want others to get that education and experience. We wanted it to be something that was inclusive,” said Loewen. “There’s not the diversity that exists in the (wider) community in the Catholic community and schools. We want to continue to open up the doors” and create opportunities for more minority students to benefit from a Catholic education.
Trinity President Rob Mullen said the school has always been committed to enrolling a diverse student body and, like Loewen, sees this scholarship as a chance to provide greater access to Catholic education.
“Since our founding, we have enrolled a student body with a wide range of academic strengths and challenges, from all economic backgrounds and neighborhoods, races and ethnicities,” said Mullen. “By doing so we believe we are living out what it means to be a Catholic school, to throw open our doors as wide as possible and invite all to experience our offerings.”
Mullen said he knew Gerth as a little boy, noting that the Gerth children attended the same Catholic school as Mullen’s children. While at Trinity, Gerth participated in sports, volunteered on campus, and served in the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, which assists with the burial of homeless and indigent individuals, said Mullen.
The Tyler Gerth ‘11 Memorial Scholarship will be renewable each year the student is enrolled, providing he maintains good standing academically, said Jim Beckham who serves as Trinity’s vice president for development. The amount of the scholarship will vary, he said, depending on the student’s level of financial need. While the fund will award the scholarship to one freshman each year initially, it could possibly award more than one as it grows, said Beckham.
Loewen sees the scholarship as a way to continue her brother’s legacy.
“He noticed people who weren’t included and got to know them. He wanted to encourage a world that was better for future generations,” she said. “That’s why he was down there” at Jefferson Square Park.
Gerth loved photography and usually captured scenes in nature, but when the issues of race relations and police brutality surfaced in the city, he felt called to document what was happening, Loewen said.
The photographs he made during the protests were shared on his Instagram page, she noted. “Tyler wanted to be part of the demonstrations and use his voice to make sure people understood why there was unrest. He viewed it as a human rights issue. There are systems in place stacked against people of color and he wanted to advocate for a more equitable world,” she said.
If her brother could see the work the foundation is already doing, he would be “amused about people making such a fuss over him,” said Loewen. “But he’d be humbled and moved that his life could make the impact that it is already making.”
The foundation plans to host a Tyler Gerth Memorial 5K Fundraiser June 26 at the Waterfront Lawn near the Big Four Bridge downtown. Proceeds from the event will support the foundation’s mission, including funding the memorial scholarship, said Loewen.
To learn more about “Building Equal Bridges, The Tyler Gerth Foundation,” visit https://buildingequalbridges.com/tylergerth/.