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In Your Backyard | The 'profound' legacy behind Whitney Young Elementary

Whitney Young, Kentucky's first primary IB world school, is named after social worker, civil rights leader and Bluegrass State native Whitney M. Young Jr.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Atherton. Kennedy. Grace James. Familiar names dot the streets of Louisville, and adorn the walls of JCPS schools

Each name has a story, and many schools Louisvillians are so familiar with honor Kentuckians who've made an impact here and around the country. 

Whitney Young Elementary, for example, is named after Whitney M. Young Jr., a social worker, educator and civil rights leader

Young was born on the Shelby County campus of the Lincoln Institute, where his father was the president.

He earned his degree from what is now Kentucky State University and joined the army, serving with a crew of Black soldiers headed by white officers. 

JCPS archivist Jim Cundy said that experience led Young to a dedication to improving race relations and civil rights. 

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"Young sort of moved away from traditional models of social work in trying to improve Black lives in this country," Cundy said. 

Young would go on to participate in major civil rights events like the March on Washington. He became an educator, advisor to presidents and president of the National Urban League

"He sought equal employment opportunity, improved housing and improved education for Black people in America," Cundy noted. 

In 1970, what was then Louisville's city school district approved plans for a new "Henry Clay Elementary." That name though, never came to pass. 

"It's not clear what took place based on the record, but in 1971 the Board of Education agreed to name the new school Whitney M. Young," Cundy said. 

Young passed away in March of 1971, and the school was dedicated in November of that year. 

Decades later, those inside the school say Young's name is "precious" and a part of the school's daily character. 

"Not only is our school home to a local legend, but a national treasure," principal Dr. Erica Lawrence said.

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Whitney Young Elementary was the first primary IB World School in Kentucky, and is the state's only public IB elementary school, encouraging multilingualism and teaching primarily students of color. 

"We are very proud of this profound work that he has done especially in a school that serves a community where our students do look like Mr. Whitney Young," Lawrence said. 

Lawrence said in her tenure, she's fought to ensure Young's legacy is preserved and never short changed. 

"You will hear us say 'this is Whitney Young Elementary, we are Whitney Young Thundercats,' because we want our students to remember for all of their lives that they attended a school named after a man who wanted them to be successful," Lawrence said. 

She said she wants every student to be inspired by the school's namesake, and to see how Young's life and legacy can reflect on their own. 

"We forget there is a person, there is a legend that this school was named after, someone who did very important work," she said. "We want our students to know they can do very important work." 

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