This post was written by 2892 Louisville Storyteller, Lance G. Newman II.
I’ve always thought of Louisville as the heart of America. A gateway city surrounded by other major cities serving as organs with access to the arteries of rivers. Louisville is the left and right ventricle.
But I’m just a storyteller. A griot. While I do believe our power to shift the narratives of history lies in the hands of artists and storytellers, I still struggle knowing how to navigate the road ahead. I’ve walked the hallways and classrooms of Louisville’s schools; I’ve ridden buses and bikes down its streets; I’ve been in its boardrooms and steering committees; I’ve been in its Derby stands, looking up at the millionaires; I’ve been in its fancy skyboxes looking down at the infield crowd; I’ve itched from touching its Bluegrass; I’ve existed underground with its societal leopards; and I’ve eaten at the tables of mayors’. I’ve come all this way and still have yet to feel true success and justice in the city. Even a celebrated storyteller can find himself searching for a place to stand on streets that are so divided.
Five years ago Louisville was named one of the most segregated cities in America and this problem has worsened since. Everything that has happened in Louisville in the past decade has been an example of the heart problems plaguing so many places in the world. From mass shootings to police killings to economic ups and downs and justice evaded – we are collectively in need of a new path forward.
I am at heart an optimist and I want to believe we can find our way. This journey for me meant walking literal streets to share with others how my felt experience as a human being in a city I love is impacted by history, culture, and geography. I wanted my storytelling journey to explore both the literal and cultural routes I – and many of my fellow Louisvillians – experience each day because what we see, what we live, and how we feel is critical to the shape history will take – and to the shape of the land on which we live.
For example, there’s a famous picture that was taken in Louisville in 1937. This photo always comes to mind when I think about my city. I imagine a group of West End huddled masses in line against a picturesque East End they can see but seldom touch. This photo illustrates so vividly the “deliberate divide” of gentrification that many Black Louisvillians still experience every day of their lives. There is a feeling of helplessness we can adopt when struggling against the “improvements” that come with urban development. As storytellers our responsibility is to share the breadth of human emotion and experience that comes alongside this development.
Actively watching and living amongst gentrification is the strangest microaggression. Seeing bulldozers on your street reminds you that you have no say in the matter of what comes up and what goes down. Watching bricks being laid reminds you that you don’t have the money to buy the “good properties.” Wrecking balls into homes remind you that you also don’t have the money to restore the properties. Your daily route to drop your kid off at school is delayed thanks to the two laned traffic forced into one lane because of cranes, that you never imagined could fit on these narrow streets when you rode your bike on them before. In front of the construction equipment is a man wearing a clean sports coat and ring, pointing at blueprint papers held by a guy in a button down shirt with a blue collar and a hard hat. They remind you that you will have to move soon because your landlord increased the rent. You see people who do not look like you or your neighbors now walking dogs and jogging along streets they had not walked before. You see expensive cars parked outside of abandoned buildings. You see the childhood homes of your family and friends demolished and turned into “5 over 1” buildings. You did not make these decisions, nor did your neighbors. You were not at the table when these blueprints were laid. These roads I live are those of the redlined, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the surviving.
That’s why this work of documenting the culture of Louisville’s – and every city’s – “unseen” is so important. We need a renaissance that shines unending light on the stories of people who live these experiences. Marlesha S. Woods, Kenneth Woods, and I worked tirelessly on the 2892 Community Storytelling Journey in an effort to change the patterns of invisibility within this city’s culture of enabling a status quo. Both of these accomplished artists know that this journey we walk, more times than not, is accompanied by many others coming from many other cities. We knew our perspectives weren’t necessarily unique and that there were others in cities across the nation experiencing the same cultural turmoil. But we know Louisville and set out to teach others about our city and how it resembles your own. We wanted to give the world a look at Louisville from the inside-out because beginning with where we are is how we experience changes of the heart – and changes of behavior.
I love my city. I’m sure you love yours just as much and feel like your community holds the same importance, whether you live in America or somewhere else in the world. And it does, as do the people who live within it. This is the essence of #2892MilestoGo: Take your step to tell the stories within your community that deserve to be heard.
I want us all to invest in the health of our hearts. I want us to use our money, time, and energy to ensure we have healthy ventricles and blood vessels that carry stories and experiences of human ingenuity, compassion, and consideration throughout our world. Stories like these provide individual blood cells – these heart-strong communities and people – the oxygen they need to live long, rich, and productive lives.
Much Love to you & your community,
Lance G. Newman II
Lance G. Newman II – aka “Mr. Spreadlove” – is a poet and storyteller from Louisville, Kentucky and an inaugural Wayfinder of the 2892 Miles to Go Geographic Walk for Justice project from the National Geographic Society. He is one of many whose Community Storytelling Journeys will unearth experiences of human history and culture across communities. Follow along with #2892MilestoGo.
Want to join others like Lance in a path toward storytelling? In partnership with Adobe, we offer free self-paced courses to explore: Storytelling for Impact in Your Classroom: Photography, Storytelling for Impact in Your Classroom: Video, and Storytelling for Impact in Your Classroom: Audio.
Header Photo by Margaret Bourke-White via Getty Images.