(The famed Twin Spires of Churchill Downs / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Churchill Downs Media Team:

Kentucky Derby Festival (“KDF”) is launching the Derby Equity and Community Initiative, (“DECI” or “the Initiative”), with support from Churchill Downs and Humana Inc. This partnership is a combined effort 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.

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 Initiative vows to support, restore, and create Derby traditions that invite diverse participation through economically impactful programs with a focus on educational elements and multi-generational programming.

“The Kentucky Derby Festival’s mission has always been to bring our community together in celebration and that has not changed,” said Matt Gibson, Kentucky Derby Festival President & CEO. “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 be part of the solution in the effort to unite our city. This initiative will help us ensure the celebration around the Derby season is inclusive of our entire community.”

“It is important that the Kentucky Derby is inclusive of the entire Louisville community,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated. “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.”

“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,” said Dior Cotten, Humana’s Bold Goal Population Health Lead for Louisville.

To develop the framework for this initiative, and with a focus on how to best respond to community needs, the three organizations have engaged a diverse group of key community leaders over the past several months to solicit feedback and research proposed ideas. Those conversations continue and have resulted in a direction to focus on three primary pillars to promote equity through Derby season: Support, Restore, and Create. (Full details on the pillars can be found online at KDF.org/derbyequitycommunityiniative.)


The first phase of the initiative in 2021 includes support of the Jefferson County Public Schools program, Justice Now, a project that brings together students to discuss, research and propose solutions to community-wide issues. Justice Now will culminate this year in May with elementary, middle and high school students presenting their solutions to experts, community partners and potential funders at the new Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation event – JusticeFest on May 22. Sponsored by Churchill Downs and Humana, JusticeFestempowers students to be the change and acknowledges that the youth of Louisville will be the key to actualizing a more equitable and inclusive city. Participating students will be asked to help shape the future of DECI by answering 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 Chief Equity Officer for Jefferson County Public Schools. “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 course of the next five years, in partnership with the event and marketing expertise of KDF, with the goal of establishing intentional practices that lead to long-term, sustainable, and meaningful impact on the way the Louisville community perceives and experiences the city-wide celebration of the Kentucky Derby.