It would be difficult to find someone with more knowledge of Portland’s history and culture than Judy Schroeder.
Schroeder, who works as senior manager of neighborhood engagement for the Metro United Way is a member of One West Louisville, a group that envisions an economic renaissance in the West End. She’s the fifth generation in her family to live in Portland.
“Portland’s history is Irish, German, and French, but we’ve always had an African-American population,” she says. “It’s always been one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the history of Louisville, but not always happily.”
Schroeder recalls times when residents of the Russell and Portland neighborhoods shared some of the same challenges, just as is true today.
“Portland was the white population of the West End that stayed put when there was huge white flight form the West End in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” she says. “We’ve struggled with poverty, underemployment, unemployment, broken families, and currently drug abuse that’s really wrecking families.”
Today, as part of her work with One West Louisville, she’s helping change the area’s reputation. Chief among the issues is safety.
“My Portland mom moved out to marry a Germantown guy, but then we moved back,” she says. “That’s one of the real advantages of the West End, that there a lot of extended families, a lot of people who have been here long enough that we know what’s safe and what’s not safe. People put their shoulder to the wheel to keep things safe.”
Schroeder believes one thing that’s often overlooked is the importance of family life in Portland and throughout the West End.
“There’s a strong backbone of families in the West End who care about their neighborhoods. That’s the people who really build the community,” she says. “I don’t think people see enough of the good people that do live in the West End.”
Still, she adds, the reality is that most residents are too busy to see the big picture.
“What we’ve got are people struggling every day to keep a job that pays enough to feed their kids, give their kids what kids need, possibly send them later to college,” she says.
But she thinks the economic renaissance that One West Louisville supports is starting to happen, with the addition of projects like the Passport Health Plan headquarters and the YMCA, among others.
“We have the vision,” she says. “There are a lot of neighborhood plans. It starts with family — security, employment, health and education for your kids are really crucial. Physically, the outcome of that should be that there’s enough money for people to live well and it’s visible.”