Making a Difference:
KET has helped me a lot—providing me opportunities.
University of Louisville student
Adversity can often be the crucible where greatness is forged. Take Smoketown, for instance—a predominantly African-American neighborhood near Louisville’s downtown. One of the city’s poorest, true, but it’s also the neighborhood where the one man who can call himself “The Greatest” was born.
While wisps of Muhammad Ali still can be found—a peeling mural on the back side of the old Presbyterian Community Center gym, an Ed Hamilton sculpture of Ali’s boxing gloves—Smoketown today is forging a new generation. And while old problems still linger, the community is home to young people whose potential is recognized and nurtured.
One of them is Lavel White, a 21-year-old college student whose curious nature gave him aspirations to become a filmmaker.
“I was always known to probe people and ask questions—it was always fun,” says the University of Louisville junior with an infectious smile. “I would always go up, anywhere I would go, to people like at concerts and stuff, and ask them, ‘How did you do that?,’ ‘Why did you do that?’ Always being like, nitpicking people and stuff.”
Those are the very qualities of which journalists and filmmakers are made. But as a high school student, Lavel didn’t see anyone with his skin color on the school’s news broadcast. So he kept wanting, talking about his dreams, until people started making connections for Lavel.
KET, through its Outreach Division, is one organization that’s had a hand in helping Lavel realize those dreams. Partnering with the Making Connections program, which helps agencies and members of the local community network with one another, KET Louisville Outreach Liaison Laura Crawford has guided Lavel’s progress.
Lavel’s first step on the road to becoming a filmmaker was working with a group of young people from the Smoketown area on their own video production. It was part of an outreach project in association with the nationally aired documentary Critical Condition funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and its theme was access to health care.
But that topic didn’t mean much to the kids in the projects, who saw sexually transmitted diseases as a more real threat. The result was Don’t Fall for the Okie Doke, which starred the kids themselves and has since won awards and been used as a teaching tool for other at-risk youth.
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“They led the cause,” Lavel notes. “They were very vocal about how that affected them and their peer groups at school, and how they lacked the knowledge and all that stuff.”
Funding for Crawford’s mentoring also comes from the Casey Foundation, a private organization that helps disadvantaged children. Crawford also brought Lexington filmmaker Joan Brannon on board to offer additional guidance.
“That’s the power of networking,” says Crawford. “For Lavel it’s been great to help him make contacts, which is especially important in film and video.”
His new project, as yet untitled, is a profile of a young activist—none other than Lavel himself. It began as an advocacy video, documenting efforts to pass House Bill 70 in the Kentucky General Assembly, which would restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time. When that effort failed, Lavel changed the film’s focus.
“During this process I’ve become more politically involved myself,” he said. “It’s going to follow me going to rallies, like the Hillary Clinton rally, the Barack Obama rally, talking to state representatives and senators. It’s going to follow me at a student rally we held on the University of Louisville’s campus, where we had a tuition walk-out.”
That interest in the political process might be one of the most important things Lavel has learned—and something he can pass on to others.
“It’s going to show how a kid from the Smoketown community who was raised in the housing projects has overcome obstacles and barriers. That you can go to college, that you can live out your dreams,” he said.
“You can become a part of the political process, because it’s very important—it’s very important to me. I didn’t think it was, but it is because politics is what drives this life in this whole United States of America. If you don’t have a say in the political process, then you can’t gripe about it. You ought to just stay at home, that’s what I would say. But I would rather you get involved.”
And for Lavel, that engagement means pursuing a filmmaking career.
“KET has helped me a lot—providing me opportunities,” he said.
“Eventually I could one day be working at KET or PBS.”