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Rev. Dr. Jamesetta Ferguson

President and CEO, Molo Village CDC, Louisville, Kentucky

In 2011, as the pastor of St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, I founded Molo Village CDC in a distressed neighborhood in Louisville to provide much-needed services for the community’s mostly Black and poor residents. This is a labor of love that offers hope to residents who believe they were forgotten.

Louisville’s Harlem Was Falling. This Pastor Revived It

The problem I am trying to solve

Once a diverse and desirable neighborhood, the community of Russell, covering 1.4 square miles in West Louisville, was called Louisville’s Harlem because of its thriving African American business community. Russell began to decline after World War II, exacerbated by national policies. Redlining and urban renewal divided this once-robust community, destroying development and creating segregation.

Today’s residents experience inadequate housing, limited access to food, low education and systemic racism — all social determinants of health, leading to poor health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and early death. In 2019, of the 9,590 residents, 91 percent were Black. Sixty percent lived in poverty, compared to 17 percent in the rest of the county. Almost 30 percent were unemployed.

spinner image jamesetta ferguson
Courtesy of Jamesetta Ferguson

To address these needs, Molo (“welcome home” in Xhosa, a South African language) developed the Village@West Jefferson, a 30,000-square foot, mixed-use facility. When it opened its doors in July 2021, the Village became the first new economic development on West Jefferson in Russell in over 30 years.

Russell residents now have a community bank, their first sit-down restaurant, an Early Head Start program, a technology business incubator for minority-owned businesses, a Realtor and the Norton Healthcare Institute for Health Equity, among other entities. At a second site, we provide substance abuse groups, elementary school programs and a food pantry, and we work closely with 200 recently incarcerated citizens who are reentering the community.

The moment that sparked my passion

After I was called to be the pastor at St. Peter’s in 2006 and realized the needs of the community, many people would tell me they’d been lied to. They told me, “People said that they would help us, and we’re still waiting.” One young man stood out. He said, “Everybody I care about leaves. Sooner or later, you’re going to leave too.” In the moment I knew I wasn’t going anywhere and that I was in it for the long haul. I didn’t know that I could do much, but I was going to do something.

What I wish others knew

It’s important to listen to the people whom you serve. Many times, we put together what we think they need, instead of allowing them to communicate their needs to us. It also helps to form partnerships so you’re not working in isolation but are working together to create change. The duplication of effort wastes money and other resources. We allow each “villager” to bring their particular skill set to the village to benefit the community as a whole. If others adopt this model, then they will also be able to bring much-needed help to their communities.

Advice to others who want to make a difference

Many times, people will volunteer to do one thing and then disappear. In communities like ours, we need people who are willing to walk beside us for a period of time, because change doesn’t happen overnight. You have to build trust. It takes a while for people to say, “You’re not just a do-gooder who is feeling sorry for us. You’re standing by us and supporting us.”

What makes my approach unique

We take a holistic approach with our services. Most organizations have one focus. We realized that you often have multiple issues in a family that need to be addressed in order to make that family whole. You might have a child who needs tutoring support. And that child is being taken care of by her grandmother, who is isolated and overwhelmed. You also might have somebody who is in recovery, has just returned from prison, or is looking for a job and needs additional training in order to be able to bring income into the household. You might also have someone with health challenges. We address the needs of an entire family, because we want to create space for them to move to a place of physical, emotional and financial prosperity.​

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