Louisville Resolved on Inclusion: Compassion, Resilience, Jobs

In 2013, West Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Chris Cabaldon. Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer and Rochester, NY., Mayor Ralph Brede discuss racial equity and racism at a USCM Week of Empowerment.
Image: AP Photo/Dave Martin

Louisville Metro has been working toward racial equity — of both native and foreign-born people — as the key to resilience and success.

“If freedom of one group is compromised today, we are all at risk tomorrow,” said Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer at a Jan. 30 recent rally at the city’s Ali Center. Although he did not declare Louisville a ‘sanctuary city,’ he pledged not to divert public safety resources for federal immigration enforcement, in keeping with his racial equity initiatives.

As a mayor regarded for leading with compassion, this is not Fischer’s first foray into looking critically at city government to ensure that Louisville embraces diversity and addresses practices or policies that could discriminate against non-whites.

Racial equity has been on Louisville’s agenda for some time. And in this Kentucky city, that definition includes religious minorities and immigrants.

“Louisville has the will, and is building the foundation needed to move from concept to action,” said  Steven Bosacker, director of public sector innovation at Living Cities, which is helping to fund the city’s racial equity work through grants.

Equity is Within Government’s Power

Last year Louisville was selected as part of a Living Cities’ two-year Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) program called Racial Equity Here cohort along with Grand Rapids, Mich., Austin, Texas, Philadelphia, Pa., and Albuquerque, N.M. to work on ways to undo institutional racial inequities in local government.

“People of color disproportionately lack access to opportunities, from quality education to good jobs with livable wages. These costly, deeply racialized systems that are failing communities of color are actually failing all of us. So many of the root causes of racial inequity — segregation, exclusion, concentrated poverty and limited opportunities — are within the power of city government to change,” Julie Nelson, senior vice president of the Center for Social Inclusion and GARE director, told EfficientGov.

Through the program, each city receives an initial $25,000 along with technical assistance from GARE, which includes a curriculum for elected officials and city staff that helps unearth city practices and policies that present barriers to inclusion. Participants also learn why government can be a powerful force for equity, and how service innovations can advance it.

Once a city develops its blueprint, as a third phase in the program, it receives an additional $50,000 in Living Cities grants to implement it.

Louisville’s goal with Racial Equity Here, according to Mayor Greg Fischer, is to close the opportunity gap.

“Racial Equity Here gives us even more tools to address deficiencies that seriously affect individuals across our community,” Fischer said, according to the announcement last year.

From Diversity to Operationalizing Equity

Prior to 2016, the mayor’s strategic plans evolved from diversity to racial equity, according to Brandy Kelly Pryor, director of Louisville Metro’s Center for Health Equity, which is leading the Racial Equity Here initiative.

The city’s Healing Possible Quorum 100, convened in 2014 to develop a multi-sector policy to promote fairness in programs and budget decisions, designed a toolkit as a pathway to more equitable outcomes for all communities. The toolkit will be used as the city creates racial equity action plans throughout its departments.

Last year, members of Louisville’s Racial Equity Here cross-functional team traveled three times for GARE cohort trainings, and hosted a training for the full team in Louisville. The team includes 20 individuals from 12 Metro departments. They range from the highest levels of Fischer’s administration, to its Office of Performance and Improvement and Innovation and community-facing services like the health department and the Office of Vacant & Abandoned Properties.

The GARE curriculum is designed to normalize racial equity, and begin the process of organizing it, Kelly Pryor explained.

As part of organizing racial equity, Louisville recently requested its city council to designate mid-year budget resources for racial equity work, including the appointment of a chief equity officer.

In addition, the city is currently rolling out an Advancing Equity training for all 6,000 employees. The introductory course will clarify the difference between explicit and implicit bias; individual, institutional and structural racism and how city government employees can apply this knowledge to the work they do everyday. In their trainings, all directors worked on sharing these definitions and creating organization around them.

The city is also currently establishing partnerships with non-profit organizations, schools, community groups and private businesses like B Corporations to develop its Racial Equity Here program blueprint.

This effort may have been hastened by new Federal immigration policies. The Metro Center for Health Equity has been receiving inquiries. Organizations like the University of Louisville, Urban League and Americana want to support the Racial Equity Here initiative, said Kelly Pryor.

“This is our prime time to share. They didn’t know there was already a program to plug into,” she said.

There are no official memorandums of agreement yet, but they are expected. The consensus in Louisville is that “the religious minorities being impacted are also racial minorities,” she added.

Reducing Unemployment Across Socio-Cultural Groups

Through the program, Louisville is assessing core government operations with a focus on how they relate to black youth aged 16 to 24 who are disproportionally out of school or work. By seeking to understand the ways in which city services may be perpetuating disparities — such as segregation and concentrated poverty — Living Cities goal with the GARE-led program is for the cohort cities to address service operations.

At the Rally for American Values, Fischer also addressed jobs and unemployment for Louisville’s  immigrant populations.

“The future has room for all of us. There are 30,000 open jobs in our city at this moment, and we need everyone on board,” he said.

Kelly Pryor noted that Louisville Metro has an Office of Globalization, part of the city’s economic development arm, that is also represented on its Racial Equity Here cross-functional team. Through this office the city engages immigrant populations — not only as part of its inclusion and racial equity initiative — but to better compete in an international and multicultural world.

Enhancing economic development means including all racial minorities, “not just our native-born communities of color,” said Kelly Pryor.

In his Feb. 2nd State of the City address, Fischer noted that the city’s unemployment rate dropped from more than 10 percent to 3.5 percent, it’s lowest in 15 years.

Manifesting Opportunities for Resilience

The morning after the immigration rally, Fischer returned to the Ali Center leading a workshop for 100 Resilient Cities, a separate grant program that helps cities hire and pay for a chief resilience officer and define actionable priorities that will make them more resilient.

Resilience is about being prepared for all kind of emergencies, from being able to govern when staff can’t get to city offices to how it manages services during challenges like natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

According to the Courier Journal, the resilience workshop identified riot and civil unrest as one of the city’s top six shocks, and poverty and inequity as its top stress.

This grant program helps cities think through their stresses to identify ways to address them and increase resilience.

Louisville is a city of compassion, and we define compassion as working to ensure all residents have an opportunity to reach their full human potential. Within Louisville Metro Government, that means prioritizing racial equity and resilience as values that help shape our policies, practices and projects,” Fischer told EfficientGov.

Prioritizing racial equity and resilience is evident in the cities relationships with residents and community partners and has manifested in programs like SummerWorks, which pairs youth with employers for skills-building experiences, said Fischer.

Work opportunities are exactly what youth want and need, according to Manny Cruz, a former representative of the Massachusetts Governor’s Statewide Youth Council, former bully and political science student studying the achievement gap at Northeastern University.


Read about how a city can turn a bully into a leader.

Access a list of Living Cities member foundations.

Learn more about the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities.

Hear Fischer and others speak about inclusion in Louisville:

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.