A Visionary Louisville

This is my written statement for what was meant to be a brief presentation of the future of the Association of Community Ministries during our celebration breakfast on May 25th, 2022.

Our past, this present moment, and the future are all centered around the same thing so I hope you weren’t expecting some grand deviation. Unfortunately, there is no undiscovered algorithm to ensure everyone is safe, housed, and fed.

While that sounds incredibly simple and maybe even a bit obvious, if we unpack it, we can begin to see that people-centered work is mountain-moving, culture-shifting, transformational work.

Just look at what we were able to do through the power of relationships. Through a global pandemic, together we tore down institutional silos. We became unified around courageous values that threatened the longstanding status quo that only worked for some. We offered life-saving basic needs through a devastating financial crisis that lingers in ways we don’t yet understand.

The Community Ministries has always been centered around people. And not the elusive concept of people, but honest to goodness, people with faces and names and complex realities. You are our greatest strength. Jhala who lost her job during the pandemic and after three months and four court dates had her eviction dismissed — she is our greatest strength. Jaden, who we knew as a child helping his often homebound mother keep the household together and now is helping organize community-led development — he is our greatest strength. And Benita, a grandmother whose family is still abroad so is ready to love anyone as kin — even when she was displaced and waiting for affordable senior housing to become available. Benita is our greatest strength.

If we are curious and courageous enough to love each other as we are — understanding that our work is about healing, not fixing — together we can tackle these daunting yet urgent questions:

How do we distribute financial assistance in the most equitable way when we have access to only a fraction of what we need?

How can we compassionately increase accessibility to services when there’s already an extensive waiting list for that service?

How do we communicate with our low-income neighbors who are in a life-altering financial crisis in a way that’s trauma-informed, but also giving them all the tools in the toolbox?

How do we re-imagine philanthropy in a world without gatekeeping?

And so on! There are plenty of questions without straight answers that still deserve thoughtful conversation.

And to be a part of this team (which you’re a part of in case you didn’t know), we can look to each other for examples of capital G good work, lessons already learned, forgiveness when we falter, and the encouragement to do things differently.

Through this work, Louisville can be the first city where everyone is housed. Where everyone, no matter their income, can choose what they eat. We can create local economies that keeps our money in our neighborhoods to finally provide economic equity. We can have caretakers supporting community health workers supporting peer support specialists supporting doulas supporting social workers and deacons and that neighbor that takes care of all the kids on the block just because she loves to. We can provide transportation to a homebound senior, or someone who isn’t mobile, to a place in which they find joy and community. We can create workplaces that put people over profit so they feel valued and taken care of. I honestly believe this is all in our reach because we know each other.

When I first moved here ten years ago, everyone was proud to tell me that Louisville is a big, small town. At first I felt a little claustrophobic, but then I realized that all the best parts of being human can happen here because of it. I’ll say it again:

When a friend asks us for a favor, even if things are tight, we don’t think for a moment about whether or not we’ll help. That’s what it means to live and work in abundance. If we can move away from this idea that our own safety and support is finite, and that there really is enough for everyone, together we’ll move mountains.

I know all this may sound poetic and lofty, but this is real and sometimes devastating work. Fortunately, we’re here because we know someone and we care about them. This is human work so the solution is also human.

And while I’m talking about the future, we’ve already begun. South Louisville Community Ministries is learning from Sister Visitor Center in West Louisville — they’ve transformed their food pantry to now offer the dignity of choice so the 1500 neighbors that come each month can pick their favorite foods with intentional, healthy options to create a whole meal. We’re learning from Central Louisville Community Ministries as they’ve invited community leaders and Metro Council members to listen to marginalized neighbors who may not have otherwise felt heard or seen by those who represent them. We’re learning from St. Matthews Area Ministries who started providing delivery services so neighbors without transportation still have access to food. As the Association of Community Ministries, we are coming together to ask those difficult questions around service gaps, barriers to access, and injustices to those who are fighting for their basic needs through the Rapid Access Network so that we may initiate the necessary changes compassionately and creatively. And the list goes on.

Needless to say, I could not be more proud to honor this value-driven work with these amazing, visionary leaders standing beside me. We’ve done this work quietly, without bells and whistles, for more than 40 years.

But now isn’t the time to be quiet. We’re adding a few bells and whistles! And that’s because we need your help. If everyone in this room is on board to move toward a Louisville where everyone is safe, housed, and healthy, I think we can also agree that this is not a job for one organization and definitely not for a handful of people. It’s going to take each and every one of us.

So can I challenge you to schedule a meal or coffee with someone in this room that you don’t know very well to talk about how we can live in this new Louisville? Can I challenge you to forgive someone in or outside this room for something they may have done that you thought did not help this movement so we can try again? Can I challenge you to put your money and time where your heart is? And can I challenge you to lift up this vision of a new Louisville as a real possibility in conversation with friends, on your social media, and in your own work?

This will be slow and steady work that may take more than a lifetime to accomplish, but look around! We are only a fraction of the people who make up the Association of Community Ministries and ACM is only a part of the puzzle. We have the numbers. We have the heart and the tools. We have enough. So yes, our very real plan is to work with everyone in this room and many outside it to ensure everyone has access to their basic needs. And it will be my absolute pleasure to work with you for the rest of my life to do so. I do hope to see you out there.

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