Impact: The perception of the 9th Street Divide
For years WHAS 11 News has been on your side, covering important issues in West Louisville. We’ve worked hard to keep you informed as a section of our city has become all too familiar with the tragedy of losing loved ones to violent crime.
That’s the reality. A blaring reality that can be hard to look past to see other, positive things happening on those very same streets. But if you look past those police lights for just a moment, there is a special part of this city that many people haven’t experienced.
To do that, we’ve assembled a team of journalists to dig deeper and show you the full picture of what’s really happening past the 9th Street Divide.
“I knew there was going to be some push back,” said Jonathan Wahl. He’s still a new face at WHAS. He and his wife moved to Louisville in May of 2016. Shortly after they bought a home in the Chickasaw neighborhood. “We were talking in a restaurant and someone asks ‘Where do you live?’ and we say ‘the West End’ and her friend is laughing hysterically and she stops and said ‘Wait that wasn't a joke?’”
“I grew up in the West End,” explained Sherlene Shanklin, who’s a long-time employee at WHAS. “I have been in the media almost 30 years, and it's very hard to hear some of the things that people say.”
“People will continue to have that perception,” said C.J. Daniels, a journalist who works off air at the station. He lives in the West End and grew up there. “Until you have come down to see us and experience our culture and our diversity down here, what you have to say about this end of town that is just a stereotype that needs to be squashed.”
“People are like wait ‘You aren't from there?’” That’s EZ Bluegrass, a radio personality in Louisville who also joined our Impact Team. “I am like ‘Yes I am,’ and their jaws drop.”
“I started to realize the perception isn't just 1 or 2 people who see West Louisville as only crime,” said Jonathan. “It is so many people, but at the same time I'm experiencing this, I'm meeting my neighbors - the nicest neighbors I have had my entire life.”
“That's what we want to address, what really happens here and address that stigma that is out there for whatever reason. And it's hard to get beyond that,” said Renee Murphy, the final member of our Impact Team. She’s spent years covering West Louisville for WHAS.
Why do you live in the West End?
“Honestly, that’s a common question,” explained Kim Lee. “Typically when you get to a certain income or a certain class, the expectation is for you to move more to the suburban area.”
Successful people don’t live in West Louisville. It sounds harsh, but it’s a widespread stereotype, even in the workplace. It’s something Kim has dealt with her whole life.
“I’m in management, so the response I received, was ‘Management people don’t live in the West End,’ and I said ‘Well, this one does.’ ”
Kim has a college education. She’s smart, successful and driven. She has no plans to leave her home.
“I feel that it is my calling to stay in the West End. I feel like God wanted people there just to help out. You know, role models, people to look up to.”
An example that beyond the crime and the frustration is hope.
“I grew up in the projects, and then I was able to go to school, get a scholarship at UK.”
Despite what you might have heard about the West End, Kim embraces her neighborhood. She loves it. As a single mother, she depended on it.
“You talk about it takes a village to raise children, I had a village. [My neighbor] would come over and shut my garage and text me: you left your garage open again and my kids were playing sports [a neighbor] would bring them home from the football field.”
Because life on Kim’s Chickasaw street is not about fear, but about family. On a day to day basis when you need someone to watch your child, feed your dog or help you move a heavy piece of furniture – your neighbors are there. You’re part of a team.
“We’re proud to live here too. We really are. We’re very proud.”
Kim say says you can’t deny the crime in West Louisville, but you have to see it in context.
“It’s targeted crime, so when you live down here and you do what’s right, you are not going to be bothered.”
The way Kim sees her neighborhood is very different from people in other parts of the city. Ninth Street has become a barrier in Louisville that a lot of people don’t cross. All you have to do is jump on a computer and you can quickly find words of caution to newcomers, especially if you’re white. People tell you to avoid West Louisville, and if you have to go there – speed – you’re not safe. It’s a warning given over, and over again, but is there any truth to it?
”West Louisville changed my life,” explained Adam Eisenberg. He hadn’t spent more than an hour in West Louisville, until…
“I decided that I was going to take it upon myself. That I was going to have a little compassion and just go and walk the streets over there and just try to understand people’s perspectives and show them there was someone from east Louisville who cared.”
What Adam found, wasn’t what he expected.
“It's a remarkably close-knit community. It’s a place where people have a lot of really, really deep concern for their neighbors.”
Adam plugged in with groups already working in the west end and fell in love with the area. He gave up his career in commercial lending and is in seminary. His plan is to become a pastor and work to bridge the gap between the west and east ends of the city.
“A lot of people are getting sick and tired of being sick and tired, and they’re losing hope. Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s one of the best things in the world, and when you take that away from somebody, what else do you have?”
Hope for a different future. One where crime has to move to the background, and everyone can see what people like Kim see—a beautiful neighborhood with vibrant people, historic homes, and so much potential.
“If people who believe in the West End, if we actually show our beliefs, it becomes contagious. So we speak about it, we live about it and act upon it. We help them to believe as long as we continue to believe.”
At WHAS, we know that the West End is so much more than crime, and we’ve made it our goal to highlight some of the good things happening there. If you have a story idea that you think would help change the dialog in the West End send Jonathan Wahl an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Impact Team started with the issue of perception. How do people see the West End, and are those perceptions true? That led the team to the how. How did West Louisville become segregated? What made the 9th Street a divide?