Mayor to Present Freedom Award to Ed White

January 12, 2015

Mayor Greg Fischer today announced that Ed White, the founder of the River City Drum Corps, is the 2015 recipient of Louisville Metro’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award.

Fischer will present the award 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18 during the “Keepers of the Dream” community arts celebration dedicated to Dr. King at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall, 501 W. Main St. The event is free and open to the public.

“Many people talk about what needs to be done, but Ed is a person of action and he has done outstanding and pioneering work developing young folks into productive citizens through the River City Drum Corps and other community programs to engage and inspire youth,” Fischer said.

“Awards are wonderful and I am grateful to receive the honor by the Grace of God,” White said. “However, at the end of the day it is about the children and work that stills needs to be done daily, to give them some hope.”

In 1990, White, with encouragement from his late wife Zambia Nkrumah, founded the River City Drum Corps, a cultural arts initiative that brings together traditional African drumming, drum making, drum line performance and leadership for at-risk youth. The corps is now active at three JCPS schools, Farnsley Middle, Maupin Elementary and Wheatley Elementary, at Nativity Academy at St.
Boniface school and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, its community home since 1995. Youth from two to 18 years of age perform in the corps and over the years hundreds have gone through the program which has helped motivate and steer them in the right direction. Many have gone on to earn music scholarships for college.

The River City Drum Corps has served as a national model and drumming programs have been launched in Paducah, Atlanta, Lake Charles, Louisiana and in Florida.

While the drum corps was getting started, White became a traveling cultural ambassador, bringing awareness of African and African-American music, art and culture to students in Eastern Kentucky.

An innovator in academic enrichment programs, White worked with others to change JCPS policy to allow basketball programs at elementary schools. He has helped launch many other out-of-school time programs and activities with JCPS and at the city’s community centers.

White worked at the Portland Boys & Girls Club and was director of the Parkland Boys & Girls Club in the early 1990s. He spent time as an industrial welder, working at the Union Carbide Atomic Energy Plant, Jeffboat and International Harvester. He then majored in photography at Jefferson Community College and became staff photographer at a local advertising agency. While doing photography work, he was encouraged to start the Shawnee Youth Council which developed flag football, T-ball, and softball leagues at Jewel Park on 38th Street which eventually led to the Shawnee Boys & Girls Club.

White has earned numerous awards including a 2014 National Education Association Human & Civil Rights Award, a United States Artists Fellowship and a Folk Heritage Award from the Kentucky Arts Council.

A native of the Portland neighborhood and a member of Portland Memorial Baptist Church, White is currently renovating a home on Lytle Street to return to his roots.

The Freedom Award, first presented in 1987, recognizes citizens that have dedicated their lives to promoting justice, peace, freedom, non-violence, racial equality and civic activism. Previous winners include Suzy Post, Ishmon Burks, State Rep. Darryl Owens, Charlie Johnson, Merv Aubespin, Dr. Bernard Minnis, Ben Richmond, Raoul Cunningham, Georgia Davis Powers, Ed Hamilton, Lyman T. Johnson, Beverly Watts, Sam Watkins and Deborah Todd.

This year’s award is a blown glass design created by Ché Rhodes, associate professor, Head of Glass, University of Louisville Hite Art Institute.

The Jan. 18 concert and community arts celebration is presented by the Kentucky Center ArtsReach in collaboration with Louisville Metro Government and the River City Drum Corps. The event, hosted by high school junior Jahne’ Brown, will feature presentations by ArtsReach dance and violin students representing Chestnut Street YMCA, Shively City Hall, Shawnee Arts and Cultural Center, WESTEC and West End School. The program will also include drummer Joan Brannon, vocals by Illusive & C.J. Russell, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech delivered by Westerfield Tolbert, Phillip Cherry & Pfilil Stirgwolt performing the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Students from Louisville Central Community Centers will perform and Stage One will present a world premiere of “In This Corner…Cassius Clay.” Also featured will be a tribute to featured artist Victor Sweatt, by pianist Kennedy Wickers, and a performance by the River City Drum Corps Percussion Ensemble with special guest conductor Dr. Don N. Parker.

A pre-performance in the Kentucky Center lobby from 4-4:45 p.m. will feature the Louisville Leopard Percussionists. Following the main program, there will be a post-show celebration in the lobby featuring the River City Drum Corps, with refreshments provided by Sullivan University.

In addition to the Mayor’s Freedom Award, ArtsReach will present Living the Vision Awards to Norton Foundation, Vean Thompson, Diane Downs, and Lyndell Johnson.