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Incoming interim LMPD chief Yvette Gentry talks to The Courier Journal about taking over a department dealing with protests, criticism and a pandemic.

Louisville Courier Journal

Phelix Crittenden and volunteers with Blacks Organizing Strategic Success (BO$$), a local organization focused on empowering minorities with business resources, had no intention of marching. 

But as pepper balls cut through people scrambling for safety in a thick haze of tear gas, she realized there were no exceptions for anyone who was in the vicinity. Protester or not.  

In the final week of May, protesters had taken to the streets demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician who was shot and killed by police in her apartment in March. In support of those demonstrations, Crittenden and BO$$ volunteers spent the first few days delivering water and snacks to protesters in Jefferson Square Park.

Despite clashes between the police and protesters,  they had always returned to their cars safely. But a few days after protests began, police converged on protesters and anyone close, without warning, said Crittenden, a local queer artist, organizer and founder of BO$$.

For what felt like hours, she was trapped on Fourth Street, separated from her group, as police surrounded roughly 40 protesters. Pepper balls ricocheted off her body, and flashbangs became the soundtrack of the night.

Since being cornered by LMPD that night, Crittenden has evolved BO$$ into a major player in Louisville’s social justice scene. Volunteers supply protesters with everything from water to medical supplies via donation. They’ve pressured NuLu business owners to comply with a list of demands that address gentrification. They stage daily virtual sit-ins on Zoom calls during eviction court hearings to make sure officials know someone is watching them. 

Background: ‘Mafia tactics’ or ‘legitimate’ demands? NuLu businesses respond to protesters

BO$$, Crittenden says, wants to fuel the “revolution.”  

“There was no way for me to sit on the sidelines,” Crittenden said. “I was literally sitting on the sidelines, dropping off water, and I still got gassed. Do you know what I mean? So, it just made it very obvious to me that my contribution was going to have to be greater than the water.”

Phelix Crittenden is the founder of BO$$ and local organizer and activist. (Photo: Phelix Crittenden/Contributed)

When BO$$ originally launched on Labor Day 2019, its mission was to level the playing field for minority entrepreneurs. As a freelance fashion stylist for seven years, Crittenden, 28, recognized some of her white counterparts were getting paid more for the same jobs or landing opportunities not afforded to her. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, BO$$ hosted four events where it provided attendees with professional headshots, insight from speakers and a space to network.

“Louisville needs what she is doing,” said John Faughender, a local artist and organizer that BO$$ helped land a gig with Levi Jeans recently. 

By January, BO$$ launched another branch of its organization, Blacktivist — a nonprofit extension focused on Black empowerment — and raised enough money to give $200 grants every month to Black small businesses.

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But coronavirus halted much of the organization’s momentum. 

“I felt devastated,” Crittenden said. But this pause “changed the dynamic and the direction of where we wanted to take things. It was a good and bad thing though. It gave us a chance to sit back and navigate that space and how we wanted to continue to contribute to the community.”

As protests have continued through the summer and fall, BO$$ has provided more supplies to protesters, including medical jump bags, tourniquets and serrated tactical knives.

Snacks, water and supplies BO$$ would drop off to protestors in Jefferson Square Park. (Photo: Phelix Crittenden/Contributed)

The early support BO$$ provided at rallies and marches caught the attention of Black Lives Matter Louisville, she said, and the organization asked Crittenden to manage their supply collection.

She accepted, and BO$$ has been fueling the supply line of the protests ever since, she said.

“Some other people, in my opinion, seem like they are opportunists, that this is ‘trendy’ so they can make money off of it,” Faughender said. “But Phelix is doing this because it is ‘Blacks Organizing Strategic Success.’ This is exactly what her goal has been.”

In late July, Crittenden spearheaded a demonstration in NuLu that demanded business owners employ more Black workers, purchase from Black retailers more and undergo diversity training.

These demands were in response to the history surrounding NuLu. In the early 2000s, Black residents that lived in Phoenix Hill, an adjoining neighborhood, were displaced during the demolition of the Clarksdale housing project. It was an attempt to integrate mixed-income housing and other new developments. 

The group saw the businesses as complicit.

Based on the response of each business to their demands, Crittenden handed grades to each business that resembled health inspection reports.

A contract created by Black Lives Matter protesters hangs in the window of Garner Narratives, an art gallery in NuLu. (Photo: Bailey Loosemore)

The NuLu Social Justice Health and Wellness Code: “A” for ally, “C” for complicit, and “F” for failed. Several businesses signed a contract acknowledging their role in the gentrification process. 

However, there were some who disagreed.

“When they put the letter in the store and I read it, I thought, ‘You guys don’t even know me, you don’t know my business and how hard I’ve worked to make sure that we have diversity,” Lisa Kahl-Hillerich, owner of Roxy Nell, told The Courier Journal at the time.

Crittenden said she understands the fear that can grip a person who takes to the streets to protest. She gets that everyone is not equipped to face that.

That’s why the organization created “Eviction court sit-ins.” 

Since COVID-19 began, eviction court hearings have been held on Zoom. There is a major problem with that, Crittenden says. If people are being evicted that would also suggest they do not have the access to the internet to attend. This is something volunteers see every week in court.

In response, BO$$ says it dispatches roughly 300 members of its eviction team to conduct sit-ins every week.

Those involved document the cases, collect contact information on those evicted, and make it clear that “somebody’s watching,” said Hannah Truxell, a BO$$ volunteer and Blacktivist’s eviction lead. 

For those evicted, Blacktivist helps them clean up the home, move out, provides U-Hauls, and occasionally Airbnb’s, to momentarily relocate them. These expenses are covered by funds Blacktivist has raised, and sometimes out of the personal pockets of the volunteers.

The evolution of BO$$ was unintended but necessary, Crittenden acknowledged, “I want Black people to get healing,” but she feels the organization has had a deeper impact.

“It’s been a real honor to be a part of this work and to see it grow,” Truxell said. “I think it speaks volumes of the organizer that Phelix is and how Phelix was able to pivot quickly and respond to the needs of this community and the needs of this movement.”

Contact Andre Toran at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @andretoran. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: subscribe.courier-journal.com.

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