Louisville Metro Government, Cities United and The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust today announced the award of a $5 million grant to launch Russell: A Place of Promise, an initiative co-created with and accountable to Russell residents and stakeholders, and designed to be a national model for equitable community development in African-American communities.
The initiative will connect Russell residents and businesses that have been the backbone of the neighborhood with opportunities to build long-term individual and community wealth so that planned and underway new investment creating a renaissance in Russell does not result in their displacement. This initiative aims to create affordable housing, new jobs, business opportunities, new community gathering spots, opportunities for mobility, wealth creation, and whole-community health.
Project organizers have identified several initial efforts that could be used to create wealth for Russell residents, including the creation of new homeownership and business ownership opportunities. The details of these and other project activities will be informed by extensive discussion, input and decision-making from neighborhood residents and groups. Project leaders have had preliminary discussions with some of those stakeholders, and have met with local foundations and community-based organizations to understand the work they already have going on in Russell. The Place of Promise effort complements and augments that work, as well as efforts being made by local nonprofits and community groups, including the Louisville Urban League, One West, Concerned Pastors of Russell, Habitat for Humanity, Louisville Central Community Center, Inc., and Community Ventures.
“Thanks to local advocates, residents and non-profits and an injection of public funds, Russell is at the cusp of a really significant redevelopment, and we will be intentional about ensuring that this investment benefits existing residents while bringing much-needed new capital to Russell,” said Mayor Greg Fischer. “We are grateful to our partner, the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, for its ongoing commitment to Louisville and its early infusion of capital to jumpstart this initiative, and we welcome the continued support of local and national partners, such as Cities United, as we move this work forward.”
Russell is a historically African-American neighborhood long referred to as the “Harlem of the South.” Despite a rich cultural history, decades of disinvestment and neglect due to then-legal racial discrimination in housing and business policy, including the practice of redlining, have left a lasting impact on Russell. As a result of these broken systems, neighborhood residents face higher hurdles related to employment, educational attainment, and access to neighborhood goods, services and health care.
“A key project value,” said Anthony Smith of Cities United, “is to ensure that the benefits of the new investment in Russell flow to the people who currently live, worship and work there, avoiding gentrification in this historic, majority-black neighborhood, which was decimated by racist practices such as redlining and urban renewal. We will do this by keeping residents’ voices front and center as we build out the initiative.”
“Louisville is a place of promise that can be a beacon that the rest of country looks to for how to build black wealth and mobility while allowing the community to define its own outcomes,” said Dorian Burton, Assistant Executive Director for the Kenan Charitable Trust, which has previously committed support to help improve the life outcomes of young black men and boys in Louisville. “This project is about not just engaging Russell residents, but also about building resources around them so they can be the heroes and heroines of their own story. We are hopeful that we can co-invest with local foundations that have already laid a solid foundation for this project in programs and projects that highlight the brilliance of the amazing people who live on the other side of 9th Street.”
Louisville Metro Government, in partnership with Cities United, will incubate Russell: A Place of Promise for up to five years before the initiative launches into a stand-alone, community based organization. Russell: A Place of Promise is fiscally sponsored by the Community Foundation of Louisville, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity, which allows the initiative to receive grants and tax-deductible donations. This work will align with the recently-announced civic engagement fellowship program being funded by an additional $5 million grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. The fellowship aims to create pathways for young Black men ages 22 – 26 to be prepared to serve in civic leadership roles, and offers opportunities for education, jobs and careers combined with leadership development and mentoring support.
Russell: A Place of Promise will be co-led by Theresa Zawacki, who will be leaving her position as Senior Policy Advisor to Louisville Forward to serve as an Executive on Loan to the Place of Promise initiative during its incubation stages, and Anthony Smith, Executive Director at Cities United.
“As we see increased investment in Russell, it is critical that we identify opportunities to strengthen existing residents and businesses so that they receive tangible, long-lasting, personal benefits from these investments and have opportunities to take part in shaping the outcomes in their neighborhood” said Theresa Zawacki. “Russell: A Place of Promise provides a framework for these kinds of conversations to take place in community, and we are very excited to be moving forward with neighborhood residents as our partners to co-create strategies that will lead to a brighter future for the Russell Community, the West End and all of Louisville.”
An initial advisory board has been created, with the goal of expansion to include additional residential and business stakeholders, to provide oversight to Russell: A Place of Promise. The initial board currently includes Dana Jackson, Better Together Strategies; Alice Houston, HJI Supply Chain Solutions; Jackie Floyd, Center for Neighborhoods; David Snardon, Joshua Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and Concerned Pastors of Russell; Kevin Dunlap, Rebound; Gill Holland, impact entrepreneur, small scale developer and community builder; Dorian Burton, Assistant Executive Director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust; and Trisha Finnegan, Vice President of Mission & Impact at the Community Foundation of Louisville.
Russell: A Place of Promise complements other work happening in Russell. The Louisville Urban League, for example, will invest $30 million in the Track on Ali, a multi-sports complex anchored by an indoor track and field facility to be built and operated at a 24-acre, city-owned property known as “Heritage West.” A new $130 million headquarters for Louisville-based nonprofit health insurance provider, Passport Health Plan, and a new $35 million branch of the YMCA of Greater Louisville are also under construction. One West is investing in the transformation of 18th Street and West Broadway with the launch of a “special improvements district” to focus on making the corridor clean and safe, and with plans to reinvest in area commercial spaces. A $29.5 million Choice Neighborhoods Grant awarded to the Louisville Metro Housing Authority and Louisville Metro Government is leveraging over $200 million in new investment. These activities are further complemented by longstanding partner investments in projects such as an arts and cultural district along Muhammad Ali Boulevard, the reinvigoration of existing commercial space, market rate housing development, and workforce training programs.
The community is invited to learn more about Russell: A Place of Promise at upcoming meetings to be held on: