In late spring, Cassia Herron, Ricky L. Jones and I facilitated a discussion at the magazine’s office with five of the city’s Black leaders: Jecorey Arthur, Charles Booker, Quintez Brown, Hannah Drake and Brianna Harlan. They talked about Louisville’s racist past and present, the protests, the need for change at LMPD, Breonna Taylor and so much more. One thing Harlan said that morning in June has haunted me ever since. Toward the end of the two-and-a-half-hour gathering, she talked about being named Brianna in the city where, on March 13, Louisville police shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, in her own home during a botched raid.
Harlan said: “Breonna Taylor is the same age — she was the same age. We were born in the same year. We both grew up in the West End. It’s so close that when I hear my name now, sometimes I think that I’m dying, and I have to remind myself that I’m not, that no one’s talking about me. But they kind of are.”
Over the summer, I was walking home after two loops around the Crescent Hill Reservoir, thinking about what the contents should be in this issue now in your hands. On the walk I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Longform podcast talking about his experience guest-editing the September issue of Vanity Fair. Titled “The Great Fire,” it features a cover painting of Breonna Taylor by Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery. Coates discussed some of the reaction to the cover, saying, “I saw one of the things was, ‘Well, if Breonna hadn’t been killed would she be on the cover of Vanity Fair?’ The answer’s no. The answer’s absolutely not.” He went on: “Is there gonna be a non-famous Black woman who’s not a celebrity on the cover?” I knew what he meant, and I knew he was right.
I mentioned all of this at the office the next day and said, “What if we featured ‘non-famous’ 26-year-old Black women?”
“What if we featured 26 of them?” managing editor Mary Chellis Nelson replied.
My first call was to Nikayla Edmondson, a former Louisville Magazine intern who still contributes to our pages, and who happens to be a 26-year-old Black woman. “Breonna Taylor could have been me or any of my friends,” she told me on the phone. She and her friend Adrienne Hamilton found 26 Louisville women in their mid-20s (the two of them included). My next call was to Cassia, who recruited 10 Black women of varying ages (one is an 18-year-old) to conduct the interviews. Nikayla reached out to photographer Charlee Black, who’s also a 26-year-old Black woman, and she came down from Indianapolis on a day in October and one in November to take each woman’s portrait.
And what if each woman gets her own cover?
At the end of the first photo shoot, an almost nine-hour day, Nikayla and Charlee were looking at some of the images. “There was so much of every emotion in this office today,” Nikayla said.
You can read what each woman had to say here. We need to listen to them.