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Louisville Urban League celebrates and reflects on 100 years

Sadiqa Reynolds, outgoing president of the Louisville Urban League.
Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said a recent $5.7 million award from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott will be transformative to the organization.

The Louisville Urban League celebrated its 100th year in service Friday with a luncheon detailing progress from July 2020 to June of this year -- and the changes that still need to come. 

In that time, the League and its community partners helped thousands of families and community members with groceries, job placements, scholarships, voting access and education and more, despite hurdles exacerbated by COVID-19. 

League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds said while she’s proud that the teams were able to help so many, she also wants people to understand the work was done under very difficult conditions. 

“We’re in a pandemic. We’ve lived through a lot of civil unrest but there is still so much racism and it is so blatant and in our faces and when you are a part of the group that you are hoping to uplift, it’s difficult,” she said. 

“And so I hope today that I can somehow convey that story but also celebrate the work that we've been able to do and the lives that we’ve been able to touch and to change and realize that we did that with Black people and white people and poor people and wealthy people. It took all of us.”

Over the past year, the Urban League helped with more than 200 job placements that had an average hourly wage of nearly $16. They helped test more than 1,600 people for COVID-19, did 400 home visits and transported 274 people to medical appointments, job interviews, home searches and shelter stays. 

And as the 2020 presidential election was nearing while COVID case counts were rising, Reynolds said, “We still were able to register hundreds of people to vote, we talked people through how to do the mail-in ballots.”

“We literally made a video to show senior citizens how to put their ballots together and where to sign,” she said.

The luncheon, which is the second-largest fundraiser of the year for the League, brought in around 900 guests to its athletics facility, the Norton Healthcare Sports & Learning Center on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard. 

The event’s keynote speaker was Xernona Clayton, a civil rights leader who was assistant to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Prior to the event, Clayton spoke about her start in the civil rights movement in Chicago, and how she’d helped desegregate some “major institutions'' there. 

“One thing I learned [is that] to go out and make a concerted effort to make change, change will come,” she said. 

Comparing today’s cultural and political climate to then, Clayton said while some things have changed, some are the same. 

“What's really disconcerting to those of us who [are] in the fight every day is the victories we thought we won, we’re looking at it now like maybe it wasn't a real victory because it didn’t last long,” she said. “Why is it that Black people are still having trouble trying to get white people to understand what our life is, what our hazards are, what our disadvantages are?”

Reynolds reiterated that there is still much to be done, and that it’s important to remind “our city and ourselves that we are, and can be, united.” 

Reynolds said she hoped people left the event feeling like they had power, and that the only wrong thing is to do nothing at all. 

“And we’ve just got to be honest. Racism is real; it's not a pretend thing. It's real and our systems are broken. And so how do we make those changes?”

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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