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    Every city has an area that is considered the “bad” side. The side “where you don’t want to go,” “where bad things happen.” In some cities, this is the South End, in others it’s the East End; in Louisville, this side is widely considered the West End, specifically west of 9th St.

    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of West Louisville? Is it shootings, robberies, and fights gone astray? Maybe it’s merely poverty and the struggles that come along with it. Perhaps you think West Louisville is simply an unimportant quadrant of the city, with a flailing economy and falling behind the other flourishing parts of Louisville.

    The media influences much of our perception of unknown areas, and much of the time, the good news about these unknown areas is overlooked in favor of the bad news. It’s always the bad news. In fact, there are currently many city projects and organizations working to improve West Louisville. OneWest, a movement created by the Leadership Louisville Center’s 2014 Bingham Fellows Class, is working to improve all aspects of the area.

    To get a clearer perspective on life in the West End, I ventured west of 9th Street to talk to West End residents.

    I’ll begin with a story from Chris Manning, a helper at the West Louisville Youth Space Organization, an after school program, located at the Portland Memorial Baptist Church.

    Manning: “The West End isn’t bad; the area I grew up in wasn’t bad. It was like a family; we all played together. We played football at Chickasaw Park, Shawnee Park. Sometimes we played basketball; we just had fun. Back then, we had a youth football team and mentors from the older guys who played football and basketball. I lived in the West End until I was 18 years old, and then I went into the service. After that, I had my own family and moved out to the South End.”

    I asked him to compare the West End today with the West End of his childhood.

    Manning: “The kids nowadays don’t know what fun is. It’s way different than the West End of the past.”

    I probed further into the reasoning behind this perspective, and Joyce Jeten chimed in. Jeten is another helper at the West Louisville Youth Space.

    Jeten: “Parenting now is different. Back then, I raised my children with values and morals. I also wasn’t a single parent; now, there are a lot of single parents. Somewhere along the way, the link [family chain] didn’t teach what they should have, so it wasn’t passed onto their own kids. Back then, Church was the foundation in the black neighborhood, but we’ve lost the tradition of bringing kids up in the Church and around God. Now, there are young mothers, kids having kids, and many without enough experience.”

    As I spoke to more people, I could see the links of the past fade as the past and present drifted apart, creating the West Louisville we know today.

    Jeten: “I used to live on Southwestern Pkwy, and I was the coolest mom on the block. I jump-roped, biked, played baseball, and played jacks with the kids on the block. The kids always came to my front yard. But if they didn’t play nice, I would tell them to go home and wait till they could act nice before coming back. They never waited. They’d go home, but they’d be back after 30 minutes.”

    I also spoke to three children who attend the West Louisville Youth Space after school: Ashley (14), Starla (14), and Cheyenne (9) about their experiences living in the West End. This is what they had to say:

    Ashley: “Our parents discipline us and teach us moral values, respect, and manners. When we’re not in school and not here [the youth center]  we’re doing chores, playing outside, or hanging out. Our parents are strict on the use of TV and technology.”

    I asked them the question every child faces, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

    Ashley: “I want to be either an actress or a journalist. I want to explore the world, maybe New York City.”

    Starla: “I want to be an artist or a writer and live in Paris.”

    Cheyenne: “I want to be an elementary school teacher in Kentucky.”

    Next, I spoke to a girl raised in the West End who grew up to be the Principle of Brandeis Elementary School, a West Louisville JCPS magnet school. This young girl is Shervita West. I asked West about her experience growing up in the West End.

    West: “I grew up around the corner on Garland Ave., and I went to the original Brandeis Elementary School [it has since relocated down the road]. My mother was a single, teen mom, but she was passionate about education, and she instilled this in me. I remember my 1st grade teacher at Brandeis, Ms. Mize, and I remember her telling me that I had great leadership skills and qualities. I remember that I wanted to be just like her. Ms. Mize was the first African American teacher I had ever seen and knew. This was in the early 70s, so it wasn’t common to see African American teachers. Ms. Mize gave me a lot of encouragement and built me up as a student. I still know her and sometimes see her to this day.”

    West is still very much a part of the West End community and this is one of her recent memories.

    West: “Even as an adult, I put a lot of time into this area. I work here, go to church here, and patronize a lot of the businesses in this area. Everyday, I get to pass the house that I grew up in, and I remember the girl in that house and the woman I am now. These two persons are very much still the same. The community here is very near and dear to my heart. I started here, and I formed relationships and friendships here. There is a strong sense of community, and the neighborhood is very welcoming to the school. Here, at Brandeis, we have a community garden and the residents in this area help to keep it going. Some businesses donate mulch and flowers; some people come over and help maintain it. There are some great things and people in the West End and a lot of positive things are a part of this community.”

    West is a successful product of the West end who has returned to provide services to this area. I also had the chance to speak to some children: Ty (12), Darian (12), and Cody (12), who live in the West End and attend West End Middle School. I asked them one question: “what is it like to live in this area today?”


    Ty: “Living in this area is fun, but you can’t do anything. Sometimes there are problems outside, so I only go outside with my older brother.”

    Darian: “It’s not that bad growing up here. There are bad things on the news, and sometimes you can’t go outside. But life is normal.”

    Cody: “It’s fun most of the time. I used to go to the Boys & Girls Club until I moved. It was a good community resource.”

    After talking with these Louisvillians, I realized that their lives in West Louisville were positive ones, not the negative ones I had seen on the news. These recollections painted the West End in a vastly different light than how I was used to seeing it portrayed. Normally, those of us who don’t live in the West End hear stories such as the one I’ll retell below, but even this story isn’t exactly what we expect.

    This last story is from Kristy, a church member of the Portland Memorial Baptist Church who also volunteers with the West Louisville Youth Space.

    Kristy: “In August 2014, a little girl and her mom were shot in the West End. It isn’t clear why it happened, but it may have been the result of a fight. The mother survived, but the child died. On March 16, 2015, there was another shooting in the same area.”

    In actuality, when she thinks of her life in the West End, memories such as the one below come to mind first.

    Kristy: “The day of the shooting here, my neighbor called my house to check in on me, my mom, and my brother; the shooting was close to where we lived. The happy memories that I have here are about how me and my neighbors check in on each other all the time and of times when we all get along and do favors for each other. Sometimes I go to the store and pick up the medicine for my neighbor. I visit my neighbors a lot. Today, I visited two neighbors before coming to church.”

    Jeten chimed in at this point, and the two women agreed upon one final statement.

    Jeten & Kristy: “We and the neighbors like to come out and sit on the front porch a lot. It gives people a chance to visit everybody and enjoy good fellowship.”

    The people I spoke to live normal lives in the West End. The reality of that life is often lost or wrongfully portrayed to the rest of the city. Yes, there are incidents, such as the shootings, that happen in the West End, but they do not define the lives of the people that live there.

    Those who live in West Louisville demonstrate a sense of community and a desire for community wherever it is lacking. West Louisville may have its struggles, but after having the opportunity to sit down and talk to these residents, it is clear to me that there are good things and good people in West Louisville. Louisville shouldn’t forget that.


    Photo Courtesy of Irena Tran


    Irena Tran's picture

    About Irena Tran

    I studied Art at UofL and now physical therapy at Bellarmine University. I love art, sports, and good food. I'm always looking for something new to try and new concepts to photograph!

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