U of L student Chad Caldwell on seizing hope and rebuilding community

By Wesley Kerrick–

Harsh conditions in Louisville’s West End shaped a U of L sophomore’s upbringing. Now he is working to shape his neighborhood into a place where more children can succeed.

Political science major Chad Caldwell grew up on Garland Avenue in Louisville’s California neighborhood. Caldwell, who now lives in Cardinal Towne, drove through California last Tuesday. The streets and buildings came alive with recollections. “I was standing like right there, and some dude came from the back side and shot somebody, and I took off running, ’cause I was scared.”

Sadly, such events are common. Caldwell said he knew the last five people killed in the West End. In California, young people tend to end up either selling drugs or behind bars. But Caldwell still believes there is hope. “I see potential in this area,” he said.

Caldwell says the place to start is the California Community Center, where children go after school. He wants U of L students to volunteer to tutor kids at the center. He is working to get computers for the children and fix up the game room. Since many of them lack adequate food at home, Caldwell hopes to reopen a “Kid’s Cafe” where they can get a free meal after school.

Caldwell’s mother Jacqueline Caldwell sat at her kitchen table sifting through mail. “I see too many young people standing on the corners,” she said. “I think if young people around here would have something to do better than commit crimes….” A box of glass shards from the last break-in sits in Caldwell’s former bedroom.

Next-door, James Davis said many teens in the neighborhood do not know how to even fill out a job application. “There’s no one to teach them other than their parents, and half the kids’ parents really do not expect from their children anything like to try to go to college, to try to get a decent job.” In some areas, he said, community centers have either been shut down or become unsafe for children. “Where do kids have to go, but on the corners, in the park getting in trouble?”

When Davis’s son Michael arrived from school and sat down, Caldwell looked over the coffee table and met his eyes. “I care about you. I care about all y’all down here.”

At the community center, activity leader Ron King said he has known Caldwell since he was eight. Growing up, Caldwell often made foolish choices. Today, King is proud of Caldwell’s decision to go to U of L. “I’m tickled pink,” King said, “because most of ’em, they go the wrong way.”

Caldwell stood in a small room in the center where four children sat playing a card game. “How many of y’all want to get the Kid’s Cafeé back?”

“Yeah!” they all cheered.

Caldwell has accepted a transfer scholarship to play football at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan. That means he has until January to make his mark on West Louisville.

To volunteer to tutor, readers can call Chad Caldwell at (502) 540-9541 or Ron King at (502) 574-2658 at the California Community Center.

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Photo courtesy brokensidewalk.com