Ahead of the 147th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1, Kentucky Derby officials and Humana (No. 25 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020) have announced a new equity initiative meant to make the race more accessible and welcoming to everyone, regardless of race, gender, age or sexuality.
Hayes Gardner and Bailey Loosemore of the Louisville Courier Journal have reported that “the initiative — spearheaded by the Kentucky Derby Festival — comes seven months after a historic 2020 race that saw hundreds of protesters descend on the track, calling on Churchill Downs to play a larger role in addressing racist systems that have put Black people on unequal footing for generations.”
While some members of the Louisville community have claimed the race is a longstanding “symbol of segregation” and called for it to be canceled following the police murder of Breonna Taylor in March 2020, Derby officials are using the criticism that was levied against them as a catalyst for increased diversity and inclusion — not just at Churchill Downs on race day but also within the city as a whole.
“I think one of the lessons that really was amplified coming out of last year is there were portions of our community … who really felt that a lot of institutions in the city, including us, had not met the standards [and] had failed,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. in an interview with Gardner and Loosemore. “We felt that way too. We felt when we really looked in the mirror and thought about where we devoted our time and where we devoted our resources, we realized that we needed to do better.”
To help remedy the situation, Carstanjen said the Kentucky Derby Festival has partnered with Humana to launch the Derby Equity & Community Initiative — a five-year program designed to add inclusive new events and programs across the city that celebrate the history of the Derby, bring new money into the community and promote improved diversity and equality for all Louisville residents.
“It is important that the Kentucky Derby is inclusive of the entire Louisville community,” Carstanjen added in a separate public statement provided to DiversityInc. “We have always believed that the Derby should be used as a platform for positive community impact.”
Matt Gibson, president and CEO of Kentucky Derby Festival, said development of the initiative has been ongoing for months and has helped bring about numerous beneficial ideas and topics for the group to consider.
“It’s like walking through a big cavernous room with a flashlight. Every time we turn our flashlight, it’s unlocking new conversations,” he said. “That’s why we would have loved to make this announcement a long time ago, but it would have been premature.”
“We’re going to go in and get from the community what we’re missing and bring this back to our collective group and say, ‘This is what was presented, this is how we respond and this is how we grow,'” Gibson added. “That’s been the exciting part to say, ‘OK, we don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re going to start to get them.’”
Dior Cotton, the population health strategy lead with Bold Goal Louisville at Humana, said the health care company was hoping the new initiative could help improve the quality of life for Louisville residents as a whole.
“This Derby Equity and Community Initiative partnership is a part of Humana’s larger efforts to address health disparities and increase health equity here in Louisville and across the other communities Humana serves,” she said in a statement. “In our 60-year history, Humana has supported our corporate hometown through a variety of investments aiming to inspire whole-person health and well-being. We recognize the need to continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts more broadly, and to take actionable steps to ensure Louisville is on a path to becoming a community in which all of its residents feel a sense of belonging.”
The Derby Equity & Community Initiative includes three main goals: adding new and existing diverse and inclusive events to the official Kentucky Derby Festival lineup; establishing new traditions and programming that pump money into underserved areas; and expanding contracts with businesses owned by underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.
“As an example of new programming, the partners have agreed to sponsor a new Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation event called JusticeFest, where Jefferson County Public School students in the Justice Now program present solutions on community-wide issues,” Gardner and Loosemore reported.