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Kentucky Derby Festival hosts inaugural Block Party in west Louisville

The Block Party was held at the Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Complex Saturday.
The Block Party was held at the Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Complex Saturday.

The Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Center was buzzing with people Saturday as community members came to celebrate the Kentucky Derby Festival’s first Block Party.

The new event featured food, vendors and live entertainment. The MELANnaire Marketplace, which brings Black business owners together in one space, usually Fourth Street Live, set up several tables inside the complex to sell drinks, clothes, artwork and jewelry. 

Melannaire Marketplace founder Nanchand Trabue said the Block Party gives Black business owners the benefits of a platform that’s been hard to access during past Derby festivals.

“When you come to talking about economics around Derby, which is one of the biggest money-makers in the whole entire city, where’s the piece at where Black-owned businesses are able to capitalize off that?” Trabue said.

She said events like the Block Party can help Black business owners overcome the barriers they face.

“It’s important for us to create these spaces and create these platforms so we can try to bridge this wealth gap that’s going on,” Trabue said.

While people inside the complex perused the tables,  performers hit the stage outside.

Two step teams coached by Chris Malone, The Malone Step-n-Dance Company and Western Middle School, were some of the earliest performers to draw a crowd.

Assistant coach Antae Dickerson, who stood on the side of the stage as both groups performed, said events like the Block Party give children a safe space to have fun and enjoy themselves. 

He said he also believes that being invited to participate reinforced to children that they matter.

“Giving platforms like this gives them that attention that they deserve and equality,” Dickerson said.

The Block Party was created under the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Derby Equity and Inclusion initiative. Its aim is to bring attention to communities that have historically been left out of past festivals.

“That’s very important to us, that the whole community feels part of the Derby and Derby festival celebration,” said Aimee Boyd, president of communications & media relations at the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Councilwoman Donna Purvis, whose District 5 includes the Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Complex, said the initiative is key to bringing Black Louisville residents into Derby celebrations.

“I think it’s important that we get to enjoy the Derby without going out of our neighborhoods,” Purvis said. “It’s important to feel like we’re part of the Derby.”

Larry Anderson, who’s lived in west Louisville for most of his life, said he remembers a time when the area was included in Derby festivities.

He said the new event could bring important investments to the area that haven’t been seen in a long time.

“It’s one of the biggest things to happen here in the last few decades,” Anderson said. 

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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