smokey robinson*As a roving writer, I’ve found myself in many intriguing spaces and places, from the east to the west coast and various international destinations to boot.  And as par for the course during my travels, given my hard-to-pin-down accent and sensibilities, I’m usually asked the question, “where are you from?”

I used to hesitate a touch before answering because in my mind I had previously never felt like I exactly hailed from the pride of our great country … Louisville, Kentucky. It was no New York, LA or Miami, etc.  So, once I would manage to get it out, without fail, I’d receive the polite yet sympathetic, “oh … OK…”

But things do change, because I’m now proud to reveal that I’ve found a reason, a very solid reason, to hold my head up about my often misunderstood hometown. I can now confidently assert that I was born and raised in the charming little city of Louisville, aka ‘Derby City’ … and therein lies the source of my pride.

Nestled below the Mason-Dixon Line in the Ohio river valley, but curiously often mistaken as a Midwestern city, lou-a-vul, as it’s pronounced, is home to one of the most prestigious event in the world: the Kentucky Derby.  Held at the city’s Churchill Downs horse racing track, this event, including the centerpiece race billed as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” happens every 1st Saturday in May and – despite annoyingly erratic weather – generates not only local, but international excitement. The Derby instantly transforms Louisville into a top U.S. Destination. Sure, it may turn back into a pumpkin on the 1st Sunday in May, but one can’t deny Louisville’s derby week charm and appeal.  Heck (one of our signature terms), even the honorable Queen Elizabeth has dropped in in the past to join the fray, as have numerous A-list celebrities from around the world.

I only recently began – maybe four years now – fully immersing myself in what the longstanding event has to offer and it’s been a very fulfilling love affair ever since.  As a Louisville born and bred African American, it was at once believed the things that comprised the Derby were not for really “us.”  Horses, bow ties, seersucker suits and elaborate hats, the mint juleps and such just didn’t seem to be for us … but oh, contraire!  Broadened horizons work wonders in how one moves through and views the world.

But since ‘the reason for the season,’ the race itself, only lasts for two quick minutes, what else is there to do in such a relatively small city for those VIPs who travel from near and far to experience the Kentucky Derby?

To answer that question, the derby spawns almost an overwhelming number of events around the city during the period that leads up to it and helps to close it out with a resounding bang.  But while there are many, there are a few that stand out as “the” events to attend. One in particular is the annual Barnstable Brown Gala, an event that draws those aforementioned A-listers – including music royalty the like of Smokey Robinson and Darryl McDaniels – whom not only attend to celebrate, but also to help encourage noteworthy financial support to very worthy cause of diabetes research.

The Barnstable twins, Patricia Barnstable Brown and Priscilla Barnstable, once the very popular faces of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum along with numerous other acting credits, co-founded the Barnstable Brown Foundation – along with mother Wilma – and eventually found a way to harness all that the derby has to offer to impact their mission of helping to battle the disease. The result was the Barnstable-Brown Gala, a renowned black tie affair.  The support that the extremely purposeful event garnered from the business and entertainment community alike made it an instant tradition, which has now become almost synonymous with the derby itself.

Of the many attendees  and performers who graced the red carpet for this years event – now in its 25th year, Johnny Gill, Smokey Robinson, Taylor Dane, Jennifer Holliday, Morris Day, Freddie Jackson, John Wall, Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, Joey Fatone, Kid Rock, Garrett Morris and more, were all on deck to ensure another successful year.

So one of, if not THE hottest, ticket in town, the Barnstable Brown Gala is a multicultural celebration of the very thing that gave me a reason to proudly proclaim Louisville, Kentucky as my birth home, the Derby, and it’s a significant weapon in helping to stamp out a disease that can impact anyone irrespective of race, religion or creed.   It was an honor to experience the BB Gala for the first time this year and I look forward to giving you a peek inside in years to come.