Editor’s note: This essay is part of an occasional series presenting the reflections of Chipsters as they complete their CQS internships.
Finding complexity on ‘the other side of Ninth’
By Zahria Rogers
It did not me long to realize that Kentucky was nothing like Colorado. It wasn’t just the lack of mountains, the suffocating humidity or the rows of shotgun homes—I could handle that. I got used to the landscape, even grew to like it. I found the personalities of Louisville’s neighborhoods endearing, from the turrets of the Victorian-style homes to the neatly manicured parks sprinkled throughout the city.
I could not, however, adjust to the segregation. It was culture shock, to say the least. Colorado Springs has its share of racial, economic and social inequality, but Louisville was something different, an intentional effort over time to keep black and white residents separated.
Louisville’s Ninth Street served as the sharp divider between the sprawling downtown sector and the West End, a weathered area of town where most of the black population resided. The West End, which I heard referred to as “the other side of Ninth,” had fallen victim to urban renewal in prior decades. Liquor stores outnumbered grocery outlets and abandoned homes sat on unkempt lawns. Across the busy road, boutique coffee shops, yoga studios and brunch restaurants thrived.
The city was in the planning stages of an attempt to integrate the West End with the rest of Louisville through development initiatives, which received a lot of news coverage during my internship at The Courier-Journal. City officials received congratulations for their hard work. I admired their efforts to address the issue but felt that much of the news failed to convey the feelings of West End residents.
I was fortunate enough to cover protests that railed against the inequalities in Louisville and provided perspective from members of the West End community. At first, it was difficult to come to grips with the plight of people who looked like me. It was sad. However, I soon came to realize that West End residents did not want pity. They acknowledged the issues in their community but were also proud of its history. The West End was the Harlem of Louisville and the center of the city’s civil rights movement. To this day, there are black-owned businesses, active churches, community centers and baseball teams.
During the first few weeks of my internship, I arrived feeling sorry for those living in the West End—including me. But when I left Louisville I wished only for one thing: that I could have exposed more of the dynamic elements of the neighborhood.
So often when we read about or visit low-income communities, we fetishize the sob story. Heartfelt stories always get page clicks. But if we want to tell the story in the right way, rarely is it so black and white.
Zahria Rogers (Summer 2018) is a freelance journalist in Colorado Springs, Colorado.