Mayor Fischer honors JCPS board chair Diane Porter with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award

January 11, 2019

Mayor Greg Fischer today announced that Diane Porter, educator and Jefferson County Public Schools board chair, is the 2019 recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award.

A native and lifelong resident of Louisville, Porter’s immense impact on our community’s young people as an educator and leader spans generations. During her remarkable 39-year tenure with JCPS, Porter demonstrated a tremendous commitment to educating youth in many roles, where she gained an expansive viewpoint on our city’s education system. Following her retirement in 2009, she has continued to offer her wealth of knowledge as a JCPS board member representing District 1.

And she made history when she became the first African American woman to serve as JCPS board chair in 2012.

“Diane has a keen appreciation for the power of education as a tool for advancing the principles of justice, freedom, racial equality and civic activism that are at the heart of this award,” the Mayor said. “Her tireless work to ensure our city’s children have access to a high-quality education that will support them in achieving their full human potential is most worthy of this significant recognition."

Mayor Fischer will present the Freedom Award on Sunday, Jan. 20 during the “Keepers of the Dream” community arts celebration dedicated to Dr. King, at the Brown Theatre, 315 West Broadway. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 5 p.m.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in educating all children with equity and compassion, and that is the work I am committed to,” Porter said. “I am humbled and honored to receive this award and be amongst a group of extraordinary community leaders.”

Porter’s own education began during segregation, at Virginia Avenue Elementary School. It was there, she recalls, that she received the kind of support and encouragement to achieve her dreams that she would later extend to many others as an educator. Following her graduation from Louisville Male High School, Porter went on to complete a degree in business at the University of Louisville. An advisor at UofL encouraged her to complete elective courses in education, and with her degree in hand, Porter returned to her alma mater as a business teacher to begin nearly four decades of service as a JCPS employee. In addition to a 10-year tenure at Male, Porter also taught business classes at Fern Creek and PRP. She completed a master’s degree in counseling, which positioned her to advance to a job as a guidance counselor. In that role, she worked at Bruce Middle School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and the Brown School. She also served as an assistant principal and principal at three vocational schools before those programs were integrated with high school curriculum.

Later, as a JCPS central office administrator, Porter applied her experience to areas such as magnet and advanced programs, and to strengthening the relationship between the district and parents. At the time of her retirement in 2009, Porter, herself a JCPS parent, was director of career/workforce education. During a second tenure as JCPS board chair, which began last January, JCPS unanimously passed a new racial equity policy.

“Education is the key to breaking down walls and opening doors of opportunities for young people across this city,” she said. “It is always the right time to do the right thing, and that is my commitment to our children.”

Porter’s boundless work on behalf of children extends to a number of community organizations, including the 15K Degrees Initiative, which aims to increase the number of African-American degrees by 15,000 by 2020. She is a board member for the Fund for the Arts, Leadership Louisville and the Louisville Urban League, and is a lifetime member of the Louisville NAACP and Louisville Urban League. As a member of the 2014 class of Leadership Louisville Bingham Fellows, focused on boosting west Louisville, Porter worked to create the Little Libraries initiative in partnership with Metro United Way – literally bringing accessible and free learning opportunities to neighborhoods across our city.

The Mayor’s Freedom Award, sponsored by Republic Bank and first presented in 1988, recognizes citizens who have dedicated their lives to promoting justice, peace, freedom, non-violence, racial equality and civic activism. Last year’s winner was the Rev. Charles Elliott Jr. (A list of other previous winners can be found here.) Porter will be presented an award of blown glass created by Ché Rhodes, Associate Professor, Head of Glass, University of Louisville Hite Art Institute.

The 9th annual Keepers of the Dream concert and community arts celebration is presented by Kentucky Center ArtsReach, in collaboration with the city and the River City Drum Corp. The Jan 20. Event, hosted by Tytianna Wells, will feature a presentation of the Freedom Award by the Mayor; the ArtsReach Living the Vision Awards; reflections on Dr. King by Oak & Acorn Elder Serve Community; along with dance, music and spoken word.

Performances include Freedom Singer Charles Neblett with AMPED & Burnett Avenue Baptist Church Teen Choir; visual artist Jalen Posey; ArtsReach Our Voices Dance Collective from Chestnut Street YMCA; River City Drum Corp; Maestro J and Monique Brooks-Roberts; ArtsReach Violin & Percussion Studios from West End School, WESTEC & Lighthouse Community Center; Lipstick Wars poet Quiet Storm; and ArtsReach Playwriting and Dance Studio from Metro Parks South Community Center & Cabbage Patch Settlement House.