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The first Black woman to graduate from UofL Law School continues to lead

"You had to be tough, both as a woman and as a minority to survive in that kind of environment,” Laura Douglas said.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Laura Douglas is a trailblazer and a leader. 

Currently, she’s the interim president and CEO of the West End Opportunity Partnership, but that’s just the latest call to duty she’s received since she retired from LG&E and KU in 2017. 

In 2020, she was appointed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer as an interim co-director of TARC after the abrupt resignation of the agency’s director. Douglas was then tapped in 2021 to serve as the interim CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center.

“I can’t be tired. I like intellectual stimulation,” she says with a smile. “I love this community. It’s been good to me and my family. And if I have an opportunity to serve, then I’m going to step up and serve. 

The idea of “stepping up” is something that’s been familiar to Douglas since she was a child. 

Her parents came to Louisville as part of the great migration of African Americans from the south during the 1930s and 1940s. She describes her childhood in the Russell neighborhood as modest when it comes to money, but quickly points to the value system instilled by her parents. 

“My brothers and sisters and I sometimes joked about our upbringing because we had no idea we were living on the margin until we went to college and started reading about families like ours in sociology textbooks,” she said. “That was the first time we had the idea that we were poor.”  

It was a value system grounded in education and that as a young person, she was full of possibility.

“Although my parents had third grade educations, they pushed all 9 of us from the start to go to college," Douglas said. "Some of us went to Ivy League schools, we all got scholarships, and now we all have a minimum of two degrees each.” 

Douglas attended the University of Louisville and became the first black woman to graduate from the Law School in 1974. 

“That was a time of student unrest,” she explains. “There were very few of us African American students. I have a vivid memory of one of my professors in particular who was not wild about having African American students in his law classes. So, you had to be tough, both as a woman and as a minority to survive in that kind of environment.” 

Douglas spent years working for Louisville MSD before retiring from LG&E and KU in 2017. 

Her retirement came with plans of spending time just being a grandmother. But, she was compelled to answer the call to lead our of respect for the invitations and to give back to the community that helped to cultivate her. 

“Sometimes when I go back to the Russell neighborhood and I see the shotgun houses, I get excited because I think about the little kids in those houses,” she said. “And, I think they’re going to come out of those houses and do great things. I really still believe that and get so excited about it.” 

Douglas is known to be a steely confident and steady leader. 

While humbled by that regard, she is clear in pointing out, those are skillsets that don’t rely on money or socio-economic status. Instead, they rely on each one of us doing our part to help create young leaders. 

“I want people to understand the importance of investing in young people, both financially and emotionally,” she said. “To give them a leg up, and to give them the message that anything is possible, if they put their minds to it. So what some may see as an extraordinary career is really the manifestation of encouragement and dreams that started out in a very modest household, where we all had the idea and the attitude based on what our parents told us, that anything was possible, and that we all had an obligation to serve.”

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