Marty Loffer: Okay, I'm Marty Loffer here interviewing Carolyn Miller-Cooper onAugust 29, 2012 at the Human Relations Commissions Office in Louisville, Kentucky. And Ms. Miller-Cooper, thank you for your time today.
Carolyn Miller-Cooper: You're welcome.
ML: For the recording, will you acknowledge and understood the consent gift formthat I gave you.
CM: Yes, I did sign it and I do understand it.
ML: Right. Thank you. Can you say and spell your name for the record?
CM: Carol Miller-Cooper C-A-R-O-L-Y-N Miller. M-I-L-L-E-R hyphen C-O-O-P-E-R
ML: Thank you. Tell me when and where you were born.1:00
CM: I was born, August 28, 1965, Bronx, NY.
ML: You're in, you're not born in Louisville, how did you end up in Louisville?Or Kentucky?
CM: I was born and raised in NYC and when I planned on going to law school Iapplied to law schools all over the country and selected the University Of Kentucky College Of Law.
ML: Okay. And after that how did you end up in Louisville, after Law School?
CM: After Law school I actually left the state of Kentucky and spent some timein Europe working on my Masters of Law and some time in California and when it was time to grow up and look for a job, I ended up working as a public defender in Paducah, KY because I was licensed to practice law in Kentucky. After working in Paducah for close to a year, I took a job in Lexington, KY and was there for about a year, a year in a half. I met a gentleman and became engaged and he was 2:00from Louisville. So, we relocated to Louisville.
ML: I know you touched on it before, but can you again, briefly describe youreducation and professional background.
CM: Yes, I was educated for the most part in the NYC public school system withthe exception of kindergarten I spent some time in a Lutheran school. After graduating I attended Hunter College in NYC. Graduated from Hunter College, and did some graduate work at Hofstra University. I actually did a year towards my MBA- never completed it. Then moved on and did some other graduate work at Long Island University and Brooklyn College, I was teaching at the time, and so it was mainly education courses. Later on I attended the University Of Kentucky 3:00College Of Law. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, I went on to the McGeorge School of Law and got my Master in Transnational Business Law.
ML: Okay, and your professional background? You mentioned briefly before --
CM: while in college I worked for Bankers Trust Inc., I stayed there for a yearand moved on and became a NYC public school teacher in Brooklyn, NY for two years. While I was in law school I did an internship in Madrid, Spain for my second year of law school. When I graduated and worked on my Master's Degree, I did an internship in a law firm in Valencia, Spain. I then, upon graduation, 4:00took a job as a public defender in Paducah, Kentucky. Left there and took a job in the law office of Shirley Cunningham. After working for Shirley Cunningham, I took a job working for Howard Robinson in Louisville, Kentucky. After two and a half years I left that position and took a job with the Cabinet for Families and Children in Frankfort, I was offered a job as assistant director for the Human Relations Commission. I took the job as assistant director in 1998 and I was promoted to executive director in 2008.
ML: How did you become involved with the Human Relations Commission? Meaning howdid you find out about the position and so on? 5:00
CM: Actually [clears throat] it was by accident, I was applying for a job withthe law department and just when I was sitting in the lobby, saw the advertisement for assistant director and applied for it. But at the same time I was applying for the position in Frankfort and was actually was hired on in Frankfort before I heard back from the city. Shortly after working in Frankfort, maybe a month later, I got the call offering me the job of assistant director of the commission and I actually turned it down. I turned it down. They kept calling me and then finally I prayed about it. Because they kept calling and I felt that it was a type of work that I was to do.[clears throat] And so I took the chance of taking the position. I really went out on the limb because at the time the administration was getting ready to change over. I took the job right before the election and actually Jerry Abramson was leaving and Armstrong was to 6:00become the new mayor. When I took the job, I said "Well, I'll do this for 6 months and I'll move on to something else."
ML: What date are we talking about? Like, that you started?
CM: I started in June 1998, around the 28th or 29th of June in 1998.
ML: And you've been here ever since?
CM: Yes, I have.
ML: Who was the director at that time?
CM: Phyllis Altetha Brown, when I came on board as assistant director.
ML: Describe your official duties and responsibilities with the Commission.
CM: Basically to head up the organization to be the public face of thecommission. To interact with all groups in the community. To definitely in combination with my boards, the Advocacy Board, Enforcement Board, to deal with any issues of a discriminatory nature. So if there were racial tensions, religious tensions, if there are tensions regarding sex or sexual orientation, 7:00we deal with that. To try and bridge the gap amongst the communities regarding race relations, and also to deal with the day to day operations. We investigate discrimination complaints. We monitor the contracts the city signs off on, and we also have a small piece, citizen advocate piece, which allows the public to file complaints against local police officers.
ML: Um, during this time did you take on any informal or volunteer responsibilities?
CM: Yes, I am very active in the community and on several boards. I'm active8:00with the Metro Housing Coalition. I've been involved with the Anne Braden Institute. I helped develop the curriculum for the Healing History Academy. Anything that is tangentially related to the work of the commission, if I am able to work it into my schedule I try to become involved. I've done things like given presentations and speeches to various groups in the community. Worked on various committees dealing with education outreach with housing, public accommodation, fairness, its multiple organizations or committees that I've worked on. I've also worked on the committee dealing with the violence in the West End. And I was with the community rebuilding group.
ML: Okay, during your time with the commission, what are some of the key issues9:00you've been involved with?
CM: Definitely the one that bubbles to the top is Housing. Second I would sayFairness, and just in general, race relations. I've seen a shift over the years since I've been here. I've been here about 14 years and when I first came on board the focus was more on investigating cases and fairness. And unfortunately over the past few years, especially since President Obama got elected it seems racial tensions have been heightened. In addition to that, the anti-government movement that seems to be sweeping this country has had a negative impact on race relations nationwide. We see more incidences of blatant racism, the types of incidences that we see now, ten years ago would have been unheard of. It 10:00might have taken place, but it was very quietly kept. I also say that it seems there's more publicity because of the social media -- that is in place. So maybe ten years ago a Trayvon Martin case would have taken place but fewer people would have known about it because we did not have social media back then.
ML: How would you characterize the Commission's relationship between communityactivists or social justice groups during your time at the Commission?
CM: Since I've taken over we've made great strides at strengthening thoserelationships, there used to be a times, where I candidly, would have to say, there was a disconnect. But one of the things that I felt was necessary was to build bridges and to close that gap so one of the first people I reached out too 11:00when I was appointed director was Rev. Louis Coleman and we had a good working relationship up until his untimely death. I have a good working relationship with Chris Hartman [Fairness Campaign] with the Justice Resources Center and the Kentucky Alliance [Against Racist and Political Repression] and with the Metro Disabilities Coalition. And, we've made great strides between bridging the group between African Americans and Hispanics and Latinos. I've also made some in-rows with the immigrant community. Specifically with some of the African communities.
ML: How would you characterize the Commission relationship with city government?
CM: I think we have also made strides in that area. At some point, my perceptionwas, "oh it's the Human Relations Commission." Now people are beginning to, especially within the last year in a half, understand the importance of the 12:00existence of the Commission. Unfortunately a few years back, Metro Council listed the commission right above pools as a priority. I believe recent actions and recently community stances on issues have made the community aware of the necessity of organizations such as the Human Relations Commission.
ML: In your opinion are there any governmental laws, acts, rules or regulationsthat are common practices that you see as an impediment to fair housing in Louisville? Please explain in detail.
CM: I'd say the zoning in a big problem. Part of what has happened is, thehousing went up so quickly in the '90s, early 2000's -- that I don't think there was really a coordinated effort in looking at the type of housing, meaning the price points and the individuals that would be living in those neighborhoods. 13:00Zoning has caused us to have a more segregated community and in hence the burden falls on the school system because they are now busing children all over the community. So one of the things I would do is change zoning. If you notice, in driving through Louisville there are areas where people have houses and there are other areas where people have apartment complexes. You don't see a good mix. In other cities, you see homes as well as apartment complexes throughout the community. There are areas where you could drive, you know, several minutes and not run into an apartment complex.
We also need to look at providing housing opportunities for the less fortunate14:00people, the homeless people in this community. It's was a big fight when the homeless shelter [Wayside Christian Mission] purchased the old hotel at First & Broadway. A lot of people were upset. The public story was the college [JCTCS] needed to expand and needed that space. However, the homeless shelter tried to purchase a school near the top of Broadway in the Lower Highlands and that was met with a lot of resistance. So zoning is a major problem so we need to change our zoning laws.
We also need to look at the housing stock. We have older housing stock, a lot ofthese homes are not energy efficient and the owners are older and it's difficult for them to go through and rehab these homes so that they can lower the overhead costs for these homes. We also have communities where we have vacant and 15:00abandoned properties.
[AUDIO FILE STOPS AT 15:09 BEFORE THE END OF INTERVIEW]