If you judged our community’s statistics against the affluent places you’ve heard of on our city’s map, you might dismiss it as just another high crime, low income area, fraught with high school drop-outs, and too many instances of teen pregnancy.
I live in the downtown East End of Lexington, Kentucky. I’m very proud of the place in which I live. Many of you know Lexington because of our sports (UK Wildcats) or our horses (Keeneland, recent hosts of the World Equestrian Games). But, here in the East End, though there is rich history and tradition, rarely have we heard esteem expressed or accolades granted in decades. If you judged our community’s statistics against the affluent places you’ve heard of on our city’s map, you might dismiss it as just another high crime, low income, neighborhood fraught with high school drop-outs, and too many instances of teen pregnancy. You would find that most of the households are headed up by single women and way too many registered sex offenders surround them.
Hope comes in the form of the Community Gardens which have sprung up. They draw a proverbial line in the sand against the food desert the residents have had to live with for years. Recently, neighbors have fought for and won a Farmer’s Market with fresh produce during Summer and Spring. Hope comes in the form of Neighborhood Associations that have gotten hip to the fact that grants are available to organizations that pay a small fee to be registered as a “non-profit”. The funds won in grants by neighborhood associations have netted rain barrels, rain gardens, bus stops featuring interesting art, neighborhood clean ups, and tree planting. People are using their voices to impact local government by showing up at City Council meetings and demanding answers. Not bad for a supposedly “poverty stricken” neighborhood, right?
Many groups have tried to tackle this fracture that refuses to set and heal in our community with little success. I first spotted the issue when I was out for a walk with my husband when we were still engaged. We came down Ohio Street waving at the folks crowding Ms Rita’s small porch, and saw a group of six women walking. One woman wore a canary yellow halter top and cut off jean- shorts. Very little was left to the imagination. Another woman wore wrap a around jean mini-skirt shorter than a pair of shorts exposed her bikini area with every step she took. The women were walking in the same direction we were headed so our trek followed theirs for some time. On the corner of Broadway, we came into a closer proximity with the women as we waited at the light together to cross the street. I was astonished when I saw their faces. Their ages ranged from 10 to 15 years of age. I struck up a conversation with the girls and asked them where they were headed. During the course of the conversation I learned that these girls had never been taught to dream, to set goals, or to believe in themselves. They saw sex and the attention they got from grown men as their power. Their bodies were their currency and they were willing to cash in to get what they needed. Affection, attention, someone to think they are important, someone to give them nice things. Someone to listen.
We know these girls are strong. We know they can withstand anything. But, we also know they have been done a great disservice when they cannot even conceive of goals and dreams past their physical assets. We want them to learn to be bold in their convictions. We have speakers who have incredible stories to share. One was molested and had incredibly low self-esteem and is now leading a movement for the disenfranchised in our community. Another was a drug addict and a prostitute and is now a Pastor running a ministry for the homeless.. Still another is an activist, a community organizer, a musician, and so much more who was formerly beaten and terrorized by a boyfriend. These survivors will admit their struggles and highlight their victories through boldness and believing in themselves. Some will share how their faith got them through. Others will give tangible steps for how to set goals. But, they will all risk vulnerability to pour themselves out into these girls.
Yes, the East End may never make sports news or bring in as much money as the horse industry does in Lexington. But, when we touch the lives of these girls we are making a difference in the world around us. Not too shabby.