Amy Shir is an advocate for financial equity and empowerment among the poor and historically maligned, and she’s using her position to make a lasting difference in these communities. Amy is the director of Louisville Housing Opportunities and Micro-Enterprise Community Development Loan Fund, Inc., or LHOME, a community development financial institution. LHOME makes loans, promotes ownership and provides coaching to people and businesses with low-income to combat historic redlining and chronic poverty. She is a passionate advocate, and she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Meet today’s FACE of Louisville, Amy Shir.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
I was raised by a Jewish mom, and I think my Judaism really affects me because I lost a lot of family in the Holocaust. There’s this Hebrew word, tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.” I think that my Judaism led me to be a spiritual person where I connect with a higher power that informs me to be of service and doesn’t judge depending on your life choices or your religious choices.
I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where I was a psychology major. And I took a whole year of Ghanaian West African dance for credit because they had this huge ethnomusicology department.
Why is music important to you?
My mother was a musician. She passed away a couple of years ago, and I was raised singing. I have a good voice, and I sing in Voces Novae, which is a semi-professional local choral group that you have to audition to get into. We’ve sung with the Louisville Ballet and the Louisville Orchestra. I met my husband, Ron Shir, while singing. In fact, Shir, my last name, is the Hebrew word for “song.” Neither of us was attached to our last name, so we came up with a new last name. A really important part of my life story is music and singing — Ron sings, I sing, and the children sing. Music saves my life on a day-to-day basis. Thank God for Lucinda Williams; thank God for Bruce and Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens!
Why is financial empowerment important to you?
I think it comes from being raised by a single mom and living in an apartment complex. It was actually the apartment complex right next to the ice skating rink on Gardiner Lane. It had a barbed-wire fence outside of our windows, and on the other side were backyards of wealthy residences in Hayfield. I would look out at their in-ground pools and their big houses, and I think from an early age that barbed-wire fence invited me to start thinking about things like class and the haves and have-nots. Why would they not want me to play with their kids? Why do I have to take this elaborate pathway to get into that neighborhood? I thought about all that as a kid, because that’s what I saw outside my window. And so I think a lot of my work has been around challenging the status quo and asking the hard questions.
Most people accept those disparities as, “Well that’s just the way it is. This is the system.” And I will ask the question, “Well why?” and “What can we do to make it better?” A lot of things are not in your control, but a lot of things are in your control. So identify what is in your power to affect change for good.
Tell us about one of your mentors or role models and why they inspire you.
Sadiqa Reynolds is the executive director of the Urban League. What I love about Sadiqa is that she tells it like it is, and it’s uncomfortable, and I think the city can get so polite and avoid being uncomfortable. But if you avoid being uncomfortable, then you’re probably not creating radical transformation and radical change, because you have to be in the discomfort and feel white privilege to be able to be part of a better solution and a better system.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to sing. I love to hike. Louisville is so beautiful, and a 20-minute drive gets you to so many gorgeous places. I love Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest. Right across the river is Charlestown State Park in Indiana. And I think those trails are among the most beautiful trails in Metro Louisville.
Tell me something most people would be surprised to learn about you.
I lived on a kibbutz, a Jewish commune, in Israel in 1987, and I picked avocados in the fields for about a year. It was on the Mediterranean Sea. It was a gorgeous kibbutz.
What do you like to listen to?
WFPK is my best friend! We have the best public radio station anywhere, and I’ve been everywhere in the United States!
What’s your best advice?
Pay attention to what brings you joy, and go do more of that. For me, what brings me joy is being of service and doing mission-related work because I get to model the kind of person I want my kids to be in the world.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Music, fresh air and five blankets on the bed in the wintertime. There’s something about all those blankets and getting into my little cocoon and having all that weight on me. I need a good night’s sleep to be able to have energy and continue being productive.
Thank you, Amy! And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these beautiful photos.
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