The Kentucky Derby is a cultural landmark event that represents excellence and community for many people across the country. Despite the origins of the Derby, it has become exclusionary of minority groups, especially Black folks, in the many years since its inception.
In this spirit, Tawana Bain founded Derby Diversity Week as a means to encourage a new understanding of the Kentucky Derby and invite in new groups of people through programming such as AfroDerby.
Bain spoke with EBONY about the value in diversifying the experience of the Kentucky Derby for new audiences.
EBONY: What sparked the creation of Derby Diversity Week?
Tawana Bain: Statistically, Louisville is one of the most racially segregated cities in America and during Derby week this especially feels like the case, when the economy here truly blooms, and the Black community receives very few of those flowers. Creating Derby Diversity Week is a way to ensure Black and Brown people have an opportunity to participate and feel welcome.
We began six years ago. In that time, of course, Louisville, the nation, and really, the world was rocked by the killing of Breonna Taylor and its aftermath. This is a time when we feel that people of conscience and concern of every race, every background, feel the need to recognize that we are overdue as a society to be mindful about inclusion. Because what we've learned is that if we don't make it happen, it won't happen.
Why is the Kentucky Derby such an important cultural event to open new audiences to?
Before Jim Crow, many jockeys were Black. Including many of the initial winners, starting with the first one, Oliver Lewis. It makes sense for us to rejoin the future of the Kentucky Derby, as we're already integral to its legacy.
What was your initial connection to the Derby?
I have to admit that before I came to Louisville, my misconception of what it might be like was less than flattering. But once I came here, I fell in love. It's been said that it's often found people on the West Coast tend to be nice but not kind, and those on the East Coast are kind but not nice, but people here, sort of near the middle, are both. They're really both. And I love that, and when I went to the Derby for the first time, I really experienced it in the feeling in the air. I just want to help expand and share it with all walks of life.
What can folks expect during AfroDerby experience?
Pure vibe. AfroFuture brings such a fantastic energy. I feel like people are going to have such an exquisitely amazing experience there that they will remember their whole lives.
How do you envision the future of the Derby?
I want this thing we call DDW a week full of activations. There's the Business by Day; Festival by Night with activations such as AfroDerby, Black Girl Magic Poised for Excellence Awards and Brunch, Sneaker Ball, and more to go on long after I'm gone because I'm proud to say, for many, it's become another way to say "home." And that's what I want for the future of Derby—for literally everyone to feel that they can find a home here in the city I've come to love, essentially erasing the invisible line.