LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) announced its launch of the Derby Equity and Community Initiative (DECI), a partnership with Churchill Downs and Humana Inc. that hopes "to incorporate equitable programming into the Derby season with the intention of directing economic impact and ensuring a sense of belonging to Louisville communities that have encountered a lack of access to those opportunities and the spirit of Derby season," according to a release from KDF.

What You Need To Know

  • KDF announces partnership with Churchill Downs, Humana to launch Derby Equity and Community Initiative (DECI)

  • The initiative aims "to incorporate equitable programming into the Derby season"

  • DECI will be a phased, multi-year project

  • After conversations with community leaders, the initiative will focus on three main pillars: Support, restore and create

Officials said the phased multi-year initiative "will build upon Kentucky Derby Festival’s long-established mission to provide creative and unique entertainment and community service for the people of Greater Louisville that directly contributes to the aesthetic, cultural, educational, charitable, and economic development of the area."

“The Kentucky Derby Festival’s mission has always been to bring our community together in celebration and that has not changed,” said KDF President and CEO Matt Gibson. “Over the past year, as we’ve all faced extraordinary challenges, we’ve taken the opportunity to reflect and to listen alongside our partners at Churchill Downs and Humana. We are committed to being part of the solution in the effort to unite our city. This initiative will help us ensure the celebration throughout the Derby season is inclusive of our entire community.”

Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated, echoed Gibson's sentiments.

“It is important that the Kentucky Derby is inclusive of the entire Louisville community,” said Carstanjen. “We have always believed that the Derby should be used as a platform for positive community impact, and we thank our partners at Humana for supporting that goal. In the last year, we’ve made substantive efforts within our industry and our own organization to nurture an environment in which everyone felt welcomed or included, and we knew we could entrust KDF, whose goals to create equitable opportunities around the Derby already aligned with our own, to help us carry the spirit of this mission throughout the region.”

For Humana, the partnership is part of the company's larger efforts to address health disparities and equity, said Dior Cotten, Humana’s Bold Goal Population Health lead for Louisville.

“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. 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. This partnership furthers Humana’s commitment to address social determinants of health like social connectedness and financial security in order to create lasting change and make it easier for all Louisvillians to achieve their best health,” Cotten said.

Over the past several months, the three organizations have worked with community leaders to solicit feedback and research proposed ideas to develop the initiative's framework. KDF said those conversations continue and have resulted in three pillars for promoting equity through Derby season: Support, restore and create.

In 2021, the initiative's first phase includes supporting Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) program, Justice Now, a project that brings students together to discuss, research and propose solutions to community-wide issues. In May, elementary, middle and high school students will present their solutions to experts, community partners and potential funders at the new Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation event called JusticeFest. The event, sponsored by Churchill Downs and Humana, "empowers students to be the change and acknowledges that the youth of Louisville will be the key to actualizing a more equitable and inclusive city," said KDF. Participating students will be asked to help answer the question: "How can the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Derby Festival be used as a platform to create social and economic impact in our city?”

“The courthouse is not the only place that justice should be served. The schoolhouse is the place that justice must be taught,” said Dr. John Marshall, who serves as chief equity officer for JCPS. “Our students continue to be problem solvers and are driven to find solutions. That’s why we need Justice Now and why JusticeFest is so important.”

The partners have pledged to fund DECI over the next five years.