Dr. Kevin Cosby’s passion for West Louisville was tested after a shooting occurred in late 2016 in Shawnee Park, near his home. It brought the expected negative media attention, and came on the heels of the collective disappointment the community after Walmart canceled plans to build a new store on Broadway.
Cosby, pastor at St. Stephen Church and president of Simmons College of Kentucky, took his frustrations to print, writing an editorial in the Courier Journal under the headline “West Louisville Needs Some Wins.”
“After the shootings, I said all we hear about West Louisville is the negative,” he says. “There are a lot of positive things going on in west Louisville but it’s not getting the exposure. West Louisville has a great team, but we always seemed to lose to other great teams by 3 points or 4 points.”
That editorial ultimately got the attention of Passport Health Plan CEO Mark Carter, and put the wheels in motion for that company to announce it would build a new headquarters at a 20-acre site near 18th Street and West Broadway.
“Now this is the kind of win that West Louisville needed,” Cosby says. “It’s the equivalent of a team being defeated by Western Kentucky and then the next game they beat Duke.”
The reality is that Cosby has been responsible for plenty of wins. He leads St. Stephen Church, which has about 14,000 members and is one of the largest churches in the country. He has led a resurgence in enrollment at Simmons College a historically black university that has seen enrollment grow from 40 to 215 in five years, with plans to double that number in 2018.
“The beautiful thing about St. Stephen Church is that it is an institution located in the poorest ZIP Code to which people from all over the city and state migrate on a weekly basis,” he says. “Many of our members who live in the East End of our community say that if it weren’t for St. Stephen, they would have no reason to drive west of Ninth Street.
“The fact that we are here is creating great health in this community. It is creating important social relationships between the residents of this community.”
Cosby calls it an “oasis in the wilderness.” He insists that the lives of residents of the California community will improve, while recognizing the challenges many face. He says that the area is indeed getting some big wins, and that it may take some time to turn around years of economic disinvestment.
“Those on the outside who read about the crime need to understand that is a small segment of West Louisville,” he says. “Most are God-loving, country-loving, God-fearing patriotic Americans who are looking for opportunity. The fact of the matter is people are operating in a survival culture. When there’s economic disinvestment and there’s an absence of jobs, people will do untoward things just to survive.”