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Churchill Downs 'Champion for Change' highlights Black jockeys' contributions to horseracing

Tuesday of Derby week has a new meaning with hopes of educating people about the hidden figures in the history of the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Tuesday of Derby week has a new focus, educating people about the hidden figures within the history of the Kentucky Derby.

"Champions for Change" highlights the horse racing contributions of African-Americans. Black jockeys dominated the sport in its earliest years, but they were never recognized for their work. Churchill Downs Racetrack made an effort to change that Tuesday, Apr. 27.

The rebranding is part of Churchill's goal to increase diversity and inclusivity in its programs during Derby festivities.

"Half a story is a lie and so we want to complete the story to make it the truth," said Bruce Mundy, co-chair of Phoenix Rising Lex. "Our history is a shared history."

The daylong event brought community members together to celebrate the Black athletes who made history on the track, like Oliver Lewis -- the first jockey to win the Derby.

"As a librarian, that is one of the most important things to me is to make sure information is accessible and equitable," said Becky Ryder, secretary of Phoenix Rising Lex. "It was the trainers, the owners, saddle makers...Blacksmiths it was a whole community of African American horseman."

Churchill partnered with several Kentucky organizations to highlight the hidden figures. This year, the track donated more than $200,000 to several of those nonprofit and educational organizations to support their work in creating more equity in the industry of horse racing. 

"Tells a lot about the partnership and about where we are in Louisville in trying to make and accelerate change," said Tawana Bain, founder of Global Economic Diversity Development Initiative (GEDDI). "There is a way in which we all can be at the table and be involved, and it's critical that everybody feels included and that everybody belongs."

Kentucky Derby Museum featured items from its new Black Heritage in Racing Exhibit and Tour. Louisville artist Kacy Jackson signed free posters of his drawings that highlight Black jockeys.

Churchill changed one of the names of the races Tuesday to "Isaac Murphy Marathon" in honor of the Black Kentuckian who was arguably the greatest jockey in American racing.

"There's so much more that we could be doing but we all got to start somewhere," Bain said. "And the fact that [Churchill Downs] extended the gesture not only from a financial perspective but from a resource perspective we are really excited."

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