Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer
January 3, 2011
Thank you. I am honored and humbled to serve as your mayor and to be the 50th leader of our great city.
Today isn’t about me; it’s about us. Today is a celebration of our community. Today is about our similarities. It’s about who we are and what we can be.
Just two blocks from here -- at 4th Street and Muhammad Ali -- the Trappist monk and scholar Thomas Merton had a famous epiphany, a sudden moment of insight, as he stood amidst the hustle and bustle of what was then our city’s main shopping district.
The year: 1958, the year I was born.
Merton – who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown – was gripped by an overpowering realization that all those bustling people were not strangers. All human beings were connected: “They were mine and I was theirs,” are the words he wrote in his diary on that 1958 day.
“We are already one,” Merton wrote. “But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity.”
His epiphany has powerful relevance for our city today, as we stand on the cusp of a new era of leadership in a global community.
We are One City. We are One Community. We are One Family. Our entire city is connected.
However, we often dwell on our differences -- what divides us rather than unites us -- that we are from the East, the West or the South, that we attended this school or that school; that we differ by race, religion or politics.
Since 2002, we have merged our city and county governments -- taking two of everything and creating one new government.
Now, it is time to truly unite the people of this community as one and that is my goal as your next mayor --to fulfill our common vision of a city of vitality, hospitality, and energy, celebrating new ideas, creating a culture of entrepreneurship that will lead to job growth, a robust economy, and a platform for all citizens to reach their potential.
Our competitor cities are growing and the world is rapidly urbanizing. As a city, we must take care of our day to day business but we must think big and we must think bold. We must reward risk takers and we must grow because the future of our city, the relevance of Louisville as a thriving 21st Century city, is at stake.
We will set our sights high: Our city may not be the biggest, but we can always aspire to be the best.
We must tackle three major challenges if we are to reach our potential:
#1, we must grow jobs by improving our education;
#2, we must dramatically improve our health;
and #3, we must become a more compassionate city.
First, with nearly 1 in 10 working-age adults unemployed, and families struggling to pay bills, it’s my top priority to put our city back to work. I’ll help create immediate construction jobs and grow new jobs in our city’s economic clusters, from logistics to aging and health care to automotive.
But we all know that a long-term path to a strong economy starts and ends with better education.
A city that values education, from cradle to grave, creates strong lifelong learners – and ultimately thrives in the new economy, where innovation and entrepreneurship are rewarded.
We cannot continue to allow our children to drop out of high school -- 1 in every 4 freshmen does not graduate. We cannot continue to have thousands of graduates fail to earn post-secondary degrees -- 90,000 working age adults here in Louisville have started college but not finished.
We must have a workforce that is ready to take on the many challenges and opportunities in the increasingly connected global economy.
Right now, let me encourage every resident to get started:
• If you have not finished high school, get your GED.
• Embrace our new 55,000 degrees program...get your college degree or trade certificate
• If you have a bachelor’s, seek a master’s.
• Join a book club. Learn a foreign language. Get that certificate to improve your jobs skills.
Second, we must make Louisville a healthier city. We are at the top of too many of the wrong lists when it comes to the health of our residents – rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer.
Poor health not only decreases quality of life but it also drives up the cost of health care for employers – a cost we cannot afford in a competitive world economy.
All of our neighborhoods should be safe so children can play, and we can all walk, bike and run – enjoying each other and the outdoors. We need healthy foods available in all neighborhoods to encourage better diets that prevent and manage disease.
The call for a healthy city is a call to action for everyone: government, parents, schools, health-care professionals, recreation providers, houses of worship, and neighborhood groups.
Third and finally, we must make Louisville an even more compassionate city -- where neighbor cares for neighbor, friend for friend, stranger for stranger.
We must volunteer more often; we must take better care of our environment; we must embrace our humanity through our arts and our parks; we must ensure affordable housing is available for all. In short, we must care more about the whole than for ourselves.
Compassion means everyone has a chance to succeed, to realize their potential, no matter their background, color, orientation, or nationality.
We are all the same in the eyes of our creator.
Louisville is a city with a strong volunteer tradition. I grew up in a family where helping others was expected: If you could help others, you did it and didn’t ask what was in it for you.
I will always remember my mother who, while raising five children, still found time to deliver Meals on Wheels every week to the elderly and shut-in. This lesson of others before self will be with me for all my days.
That is why, in my first official act as Mayor, I will proclaim this Saturday, January 8th as a citywide Day of Service. More than 450 people have already volunteered to complete nearly 50 service projects around the city, from building at a Habitat for Humanity house to painting at St. Joseph’s Children’s Home. This Day of Service is the first of many that I will plan over the next four years.
My three-pronged agenda is bold -- and there will be cynics who say I am reaching too far. I will be sharing details with you later this month in my State of the City address. Let me remind you that the people of Louisville have faced big challenges before. We’ve responded, and we’ve emerged stronger.
Early in our city’s history, when the Falls of the Ohio were a life threatening obstacle to moving goods down river, city leaders took a risk and built the Portland Canal. When the canal opened in 1830, our city grew and prospered.
In 1971, when 9-year-old Bobby Ellis died of starvation on Thanksgiving Day, our city mourned – but we also acted and created the Dare to Care Food bank to ensure that no child would go hungry again.
And, in recent history, when the University of Louisville took a hard and critical look at itself, the institution transformed from a commuter college to a major metropolitan research campus. The results are very promising, including an impressive 14 Fulbright Scholars and the school’s first Rhodes Scholar within the past year.
So, close your eyes with me, and imagine Louisville in the future -- 20 years from now.
We will be a city where every child knows they will go to college or trade school. All of our centers of learning, from pre-school to college, will be impassioned with being the best in the world.
We will be a city of entrepreneurs, ambitious thinkers, and risk takers. We will think big and bold. We will know our strengths and spawn great companies and innovation.
Yes, we will be a healthier city, with not only cleaner air and water but healthier lifestyles as well. Our beautiful city of parks will be teeming with smiling families enjoying the outdoors.
We will be a compassionate city where we celebrate our diversity and know we are stronger for it. There will be so many volunteers that agencies won’t be able to find enough work to keep them all busy.
This is the Louisville that I dream about -- and this is the Louisville we will create when we all join hands, and enjoy the journey, together.
As Thomas Merton shared with us that day in 1958 -- we are all connected.
It’s a new day in Louisville, and I ask you to join me on this journey of unity, growth and possibility.
We are One City.
We are One Community.
We are One Family.