• Reba Hsu

Seeding Civity: An Update From Louisville

Updated: May 22, 2019

We asked Louisville community leaders to share examples of spaces in the Louisville community where they see Civity connections happening or potential for them to happen.

Over the past year, we have been steadily strengthening the foundations for Civity connection in Louisville, Kentucky—the 29th most-populous city in the U.S. and one of the pilot communities in our Seeding Civity initiative. Throughout this journey, we have had the great good fortune to work closely with Tom Williams, co-host of Partnership for a Compassionate Louisville and a passionate, action-oriented community organizer (and attorney), who wholeheartedly shares Civity’s vision of strengthening relationships across difference. From Day One, he has been an indispensable partner, generously investing his time and energy to connect us with like-minded leaders.

Tom’s commitment to Civity’s work reflects a city-wide commitment to creating a community where everyone feels that they belong. In 2011, Louisville declared itself a Compassionate City and began a 10-year Compassionate City Campaign. Tom recognizes the close connection between compassion and Civity:

Civity was very exciting for us, because it was an opportunity to catalyze a lot of people who were working in this space and to re-ignite awareness around the importance of this topic in a way that we can start to move the needle around creating community connections and community resilience.

Mayor Greg Fischer consistently speaks about the value of “building social muscle” and the importance of open conversation to confront the legacies of Louisville’s history, from overcoming the effects of redlining to the removal of Confederate statues. Mayor Fischer showed his support for Seeding Civity by stopping by a Civity training to offer opening words that underlined Civity’s role in building social muscle.

In August, Civity trained more than 40 leaders from a broad cross-section of the Louisville community to create and deepen relationships across difference. Participants shared examples of spaces in the Louisville community where they see Civity connections already happening and also where those connections might be invited and encouraged to occur. Trainees were thrilled by the ideas that bubbled up—from large public gatherings like Waterfront Wednesdays, a free music festival hosted by Louisville public radio station WFPK; to more intimate gatherings such as Books and Breakfast, a monthly community event geared toward social justice and education. We were impressed by the energy and engagement in the discussion, and everyone came away with new insights and promising leads around opportunities to create Civity spaces.

We have been excited to discover the depth of Louisville’s commitment to strengthening connections across difference and honored to work with Louisville to bring this commitment to life. Our intrapreneurial approach recognizes that this is the community’s work, and Civity’s role is one of support. In this vein, we ask questions such as:

  • What does the work of building a culture of compassion look like?

  • How can Civity’s ideas, tools, and practices extend existing efforts to build relationships across difference?

  • How can Civity support local leaders in weaving a culture of intentional connection across difference into the fabric of Louisville’s civic life— into workplaces, churches, and schools?

As Tom frames it:

I really appreciate the approach of Civity, because they’ve been supportive of the efforts that already exist here. It’s been very non-threatening to people who are working in this space. What we’ve seen already in the little bit of work we’ve had is that it’s been a real catalyst for the local energy and created some fantastic ideas and training and practices. I think it will really help ignite the energy that exists around creating community connection.

In the wake of our August trainings, a steering committee has emerged of Louisville leaders excited about this work and planning how to move it forward. They are exploring a wide range of ideas including folding intentional, one-on-one conversations into existing community gatherings—from Provocative Perspectives, a monthly conversation series exploring pressing issues impacting Louisville’s future; to Louisville’s annual Big Table event, which aims to be “the world’s largest potluck” (check out this video from Louisville’s most recent Big Table).

The Civity “seeds” have certainly fallen on fertile soil in Louisville!

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