In 2016, more than 200 business and community leaders on a Commerce Lexington trip to Charleston, S.C., held a Courageous Conversation on race and other topics at Mother Emanuel AME Church. It was the site where a white supremacist killed nine parishioners, but the congregation responded with love and the community held together.
The experience inspired Together Lexington partners to bring Courageous Conversations back to the entire community. We held 12 Courageous Conversations earlier this year and recently issued findings from those events.
We wanted to bring people together to tackle the tough issues facing Lexington and turn those into opportunities for finding common ground and solutions. It’s only by coming together that we can understand one another and work together to continue to improve our community.
Nearly 450 people participated in facilitated conversations to encourage courageous, meaningful discussion and awareness among all members of the Lexington community surrounding affordable housing and homelessness; drugs and heroin; gentrification; LGBTQ+ inclusion; police and community relations; and race relations.
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The Facilitation Center at Eastern Kentucky University, along with consultant Roger Cleveland, created executive summaries and topical summaries, which can be viewed on our website. We want to share the findings with the community, so organizations and individuals can take additional steps to bring Lexingtonians together.
Among the findings:
▪ Attendees gleaned more knowledge and understanding on gentrification, affordable housing and homelessness and a greater appreciation for the complexities involved.
▪ Greater education, awareness and involvement are needed regarding drugs and heroin in Lexington.
▪ Specific LGBTQ+ inclusion issues emerged, such as the aging community and increased concern for safety and proper health care for this part of the population.
▪ A deeper understanding of the relationship between the police and community emerged, some of which included changes in perspectives.
▪ Lexington needs less conversation and more united action to improve race relations.
▪ An underlying theme of mental-health treatment ran through many of the sessions — homelessness, drugs, policing/crime and LGBTQ+.
▪ Youth involvement also was a theme across multiple topics.
In addition to issuing these reports, Together Lexington will present the findings to civic, business and government groups throughout the community this year.
These conversations have been invaluable to help community members better understand each other and identify the work that needs to be done to keep Lexington moving forward. The insights of the participants have also guided our other investments and will continue to do so.
To date, other Together Lexington outreach includes:
▪ Investing $55,000 to create interpretive signage to create a walking tour of local black history with significant sites from times of slavery, reconstruction and segregation, and civil rights.
▪ Contributing the final $22,000 to complete the 16-foot Isaac Murphy statue, a signature piece of art in the first park in the United States to honor the earliest African-American professional athletes — Thoroughbred jockeys.
▪ Partnering with other organizations, including the Lexington Police Department, Urban League of Lexington, Commerce Lexington and others, to organize two felony expungement workshops to help people navigate a new law that allows expungement of certain low-level felonies.
▪ Serving as a gold sponsor for the Picnic with the Police at Douglass Park. The picnic, organized by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, brought together the community and police for fun and fellowship.
▪ Working with United Way of the Bluegrass to identify grant opportunities that align with Courageous Conversation suggestions.
Once again, I’m proud to be partnering with some of the city’s most influential leaders of corporations as well as community, education and government entities to make Lexington an even better place to live, work and play. You can go to http://togetherlexington.com to learn more about our plans or submit an idea for the rest of 2017.
Rufus Friday is president and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader & kentucky.com. He is a member of Together Lexington, a coalition of 12 business and community leaders.