Honoring Living Legend Shirley Mae Beard - Smoketown

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Shirley Mae’s Café is housed in a 3-story clay-brick building that dates back to 1880… when it was the home of Andrew Willinger, manager of the W.M. & C.D. Campbell Tobacco Company in Louisville, KY.  Nestled in the heart of Smoketown, Shirley Mae’s Café is located in the oldest African American community in Louisville… originally a post-Civil War encampment for freed slaves in 1868.  

Shirley Beard became the first black owner of the building… and changed the name to Shirley Mae’s Cafe. Shirley Mae’s Café opened on New Year’s Eve 1988. If the walls in Shirley Mae’s Café could talk, they’d have a rich history and a wonderful story to tell.  Now, countless photos of celebrities line the walls behind a time-worn bar.  But when you step through the door and hear the sounds of blues in the air or smell chicken frying and fresh-cut onions summoning your appetite or see Shirley Mae kneading a fistful of her famous hot water cornbread to lay in her cast-iron skillet to fry… then you know you’re in the right place!  As if running a restaurant and a jukejoint weren’t enough to keep her busy, she founded the Salute to the Black Jockeys Who Pioneered the Kentucky Derby event in May 1989.  (The name was later shortened to Salute to Black Jockeys, Inc.)  

With both of her businesses situated on the outer fringe of the Sheppard Square and Clarksdale Housing Projects in Smoketown — Louisville’s first African-American community — Shirley Mae sought to cut through the apathy that lassoed the community and inspire the youth in the nearby housing projects to aspire to finish their education and to avoid early teenage pregnancy/parenthood and criminal pursuits.  The event was always free to the public to ensure that these kids would always be afforded the opportunity to participate and be included.  In fact, Shirley Mae depleted her retirement funds to fund this event annually to ensure that the event remained free to the public… and that it remained in the projects… easily accessible to the children there.

While Shirley Mae and her sons and daughters had learned about the black jockeys who had pioneered the Kentucky Derby from a set of World Book Encyclopedias she purchased back in the 1960s, she was shocked to find that no one in Smoketown had ever heard of these black pioneers.  The Salute to Black Jockeys then took on a second misson… to educate African-Americans about their rich roots in the Kentucky Derby and to give them their own Kentucky Derby event to celebrate those roots during the Kentucky Derby Festival. 

She is featured in a episode of the ESPN program, Undefeated entitled The Reign of the Black Jockey. Congratulation's Shirley Mae Beard for being such a great inspiration in Smoketown and in many peoples heart.


What a pleasure it is to work with this group of young ladies with Debra Mitchell.  Last Saturday, GIRLS (Great, Intelligent, Respectful, Loving, Strong) is a group of middle and high school girls that are being empowered to build character/self-esteem, express themselves, build sisterhood, leadership and now entrepreneurship. This Saturday, they will be participating in Build A Stand Sperk A Dream at YouthBuild Louisville. We are almost a week away from Lemonade Day. Please help us locate a spot to set up our stand. 

Contact ShawnNika Queen @ 502-439-4427

Justice League

This week in Justice League, the students continue to be engaged with strategizing a plan to oppose the HB169 bill (Anti-Gang Bill). The group went over the social media toolkit passed out last week to help them proceed with taking action. Students were told that the bill has been passed but Governor, Matt Bevin has 6 days to veto the bill.

As the students talked through next steps, Chris with Black Lives Matter, engaged them in learning more about taking direct action. Students participated in an activity of learning resistance by sitting  in and the linking of arms. There was also some discussion about how this bill will affect the black and brown communities and led further into talking about how slavery What is slavery and how things happening today are similar to back in the day. They learned a new term


Chattel slavery, also called traditional slavery, is so named because people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of the owner and are bought and sold as commodities. Typically, under the chattel slave system, slave status was imposed on children of the enslaved at birth.[14] Although it dominated many different societies throughout human history, this form of slavery has been formally abolished and is very rare today. Even when it can be said to survive, it is not upheld by the legal system of any internationally recognized government.

 Some of the students also was able to participate in taking the Explicit Bias test. We are seeing it through segregation in our schools, workplaces and throughout the communities we live., They talked about human trafficking and how the woman almost always gets the penalty while the seller and purchaser get off without penalty.

The teacher shared what some of the Fern Creek students will be doing on Saturday, April 28. And if they wanted to participate, they could.

Smoketown Year of Arts, Healing & Action (AHA)

On Friday, we had an awesome time celebrating with the Smoketown community. AHA! Moments Is a completely FREE series of events and performances in partnership with the Muhammad Ali Center.

The series is being launched in collaboration with IDEAS xLab’s 2nd One Poem At A Time (OPAAT) campaign. The celebration featured pictures of community members for the “Worthy of Everything” campaign, lightning talks about youth programming at Meyzeek MS from artists Brianna Harlan and Hannah Drake. Tonia Phelps and Tom Walton talked about the HOPEBOX Community Development Project underway in the community, Trinidad Jackson researcher from U of L shared information about Youth Violence Prevention and continuing to disrupt the systems that have oppressed black and brown people while we also had multiple performances from our youth: Brandon B. Shatter, James Newton Patrick, and Shades of Ebony. Department of Health & Wellness had a table with resources and Steam Exchange engaged the community in a FREE Screen Printing activity. Let’s not forget about the hot dogs, water and Shirley Mae’s to keep people from being hungry.

Thank you to all the performers and attendees for making AHA Moments a great success. Thanks to Doo Wop Shop, Clevetta Drake for the awesome grilling, Department of Health & Wellness, Pastor Williams, Louisville Water Company,  and anyone else that played a part in making this a great success. We couldn’t have done it without you! This event was truly healing for the mind, body, and soul.

Muhammad Ali once said " If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough" 


“Let’s Get Cooking” Resident Social


Monday, January 29, 2018

This week we kicked off the ‘Let’s Get Cooking’ resident social in Smoketown. It took place formerly known as the Historic Presbyterian Community Center on South Hancock St. It’s always such a pleasure to fellowship with Smoketown residents.

We prepared a veggie lasagna with garlic toast. I shared with the residents that they can be as creative as they want with dishes like this because it’s the beauty of cooking. I shared with them that I make my lasagna differently every time and enjoy the creativity of tasting various natural flavors from different foods. For this dish, we used squash, zucchini, eggplant, baby spinach, garlic, tomatoes, tomato sauce, red/green peppers, onions, parsley, herbs and spices, three kinds of cheese and of course you can’t forget the pasta. Oh my goodness, it was DELICIOUS!

The best thing about socials like this is the creativity of preparing food. You don’t have to follow the recipe exactly. There’s no limit to the art of cooking.  Taken for instance eggplant, most people wouldn’t eat it by itself but will gladly eat it when cooked in various dishes and mixed with other flavors. I printed out some nutritional facts about zucchini and eggplant and shared copies of three recipes that they could play around with. 

The idea for this cooking social came from a previous conversation that included cooking classes the Family Health Center offers. Several Smoketown residents were interested in the cooking classes, but the timing was an inconvenience. Evening classes are offered at the Portland location but would be inconvenient for the residents to attend due to lack of transportation. I suggested that we could start a cooking social that will meet their needs. They thought it was a great idea and I knew it be as well because it would tie into one of the initiatives IDEAS xLab Project HEAL (Health. Equity. Art. Learning) called “Hey Neighbor”.

Hey Neighbor is an initiative that focuses on identifying the needs block by block in Smoketown while increasing neighbor interaction and community engagement. The first potluck was held in mid-December on the block where the Smoketown Laundry will be located (Breckinridge St between Hancock/Jackson St.) This block is identified as Block 1 and other blocks are also numbered. We identify how many residents live on the block, how many houses are abandoned, etc. Within each Block, there is a leader/point person and a co-assistant that will help with planning regular socials for their Block.

Leaders are chosen based on the resident's decision to volunteer to be a leader. A discussion happens during regular interactions I have with the residents to inform them of community news and activities they can engage in. With this being the first cooking social, it opens opportunities for neighbors to interact with each other as well as me identifying needs, sharing news, and building relationships with the residents.

Tony and I were excited to plan this event. He is a Smoketown resident that I connected with several months ago. He happily volunteered to host the cooking social in his apartment. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to planning events is, wondering if those interested will actually show up. His encouraging words ensured me not to worry about those who don’t show. Just focus on the purpose of having the social… I was so excited to know that this was coming together quite nicely when residents started to arrive.

It was a blessing to have each attendee participate in preparing the meal. Some took notes on the steps of making the meal themselves. Depending on how many people you prepare for, the recipe will have to be altered. There were a total of five people including myself. Two of the attendees were cousins and that was very interesting to know because neither of them knew the other was going to be there. It was so awesome and makes you realize how small Louisville really is.  Mrs. Rose Mary shared that she hadn’t spent time with her cousin in a long while. She explained that this is a fantastic idea and she looks forward to participating on a regular basis.

As we cooked and ate together, we had various conversations around family, health, community engagement and the development of the Smoketown Laundry. We talked through the Smoketown Laundry survey (If you haven’t taken it yet, Click Here!).  One of the residents shared how important it is for all of us to get involved in community meetings and raise our voices on what really needs to be in the community. Mrs. Valerie participated in the last Smoketown planning session and felt empowered to voice her concerns. We also talked about how it can be hard to be involved in community events when they don’t receive notices.  I was happy to share that this is one of the barriers I’m trying to work with the community to overcome. That’s why my relationship directly with Smoketown residents is so important.

I asked if anyone was active on social media, and shared how it’s another pathway to knowing what’s happening in the community. Only one person from the gathering is on social media, so,  I encouraged them to keep a lookout for things posted on the doors and at the leasing office. And, to consider looking at SmoketownVoice.com or the Smoketown Facebook page.

As we cleaned up after dinner, I looked around and was so thankful everyone enjoyed the cooking, sharing, and uniting with each other. A special thanks to Tony, the residents/friends that attending this wonderful event to make it a great success. Looking forward to continuing socials like this to building relationships with residents. A Community Potluck is scheduled on Tuesday, February 20, 6-8pm at Bates, 619 Lampton St.

Hope to see you there!! Please look below to view pictures of the social!!



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January 17, 2018

Happy Wednesday Smoketown, today may be a cold wintery day but the sun is shining bright to ensure you that everything will be alright. Today is a new day to start fresh and do something new, positive and exciting. Enjoying life is the best thing that you can do. Take for instance this tree in the picture. All around this field are trees that have shed all of their leaves, but this tree is still holding on to its leaves despite the blistery cold weather.  

Some people may think that this tree is slow to its seasonal changes and it doesn't belong because it's different from the rest. It's easily judged based on only its appearance. Others may think that it's special and unique in its own way. Everything around it looks dead, but this tree still has life and still is taking on the challenges it faces with the weather.  

This is how life is. We are faced with challenges every day that tends to bend us left and right or tries to take our happiness, and might even try to break us down completely. At one point in your life, you have felt like this tree, simply being judged for being different. I'm sure that the tree doesn't consider itself being better than the other trees. This tree is resilient, it's strong and unshaken by the worlds winds and changes of harsh weather. Despite how other trees fair in the extreme weather, this tree stands apart and flourishes.  

My advice to you is to look at yourself as this tree and say that it's okay to be different. Everything nor everybody isn't meant to be the same. Everything around you can be dead, broken, hurting, hateful, judgmental, etc. But it doesn't mean YOU have to be. Stand out and be proud to be different, unique, and special in your own way. Simply believe you are BEAUTIFUL, STRONG, and RESILIENT - not to be easily shaken by the challenges of life.  

Today, as you walk or drive through Smoketown, please notice the mural painted on Clay & Lampton St. Located across the corner of Shirley Mae's Café. It states "Smoketown is Worthy of Everything". This message comprises the thoughts of this community. It's not just one person who stands out, but each of you that make up this rich historic community. Only when we come together can we make a difference. ANYTHING is possible. Know that you are more than your race, intellect, family history, talent, job, generational curses/situations, violence, hatred, sadness, and poverty that keeps you divided as a person of greatness. Know that YOU ARE WORTHY OF EVERYTHING!! 

A Special Thanks go out to the talented artists "Often Seen Rarely Spoken" for doing the mural for the Smoketown Community. They wasted no time completing the mural in spite of the cold snowy weather. Thanks for your dedication and your awesome talent!!

Thanks from: Shawn'Nika Queen, Project HEAL, Community Health Champion