Black Lives Matter activists are calling for African-American horse owner Greg Harbut to pull out of the Kentucky Derby, CNN reports — but Harbut refuses.
Activists insist Harbut boycott the annual event in order to protest the police killing of Louisville, Kentucky, resident Breonna Taylor.
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Harbut, 35, says he will not pull out of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby because of the very fact that he is an African-American.
“I stand with Black Lives Matter, and I stand for justice for Breonna Taylor,” he told the network. “But as an African-American man involved in an industry that’s not very inclusive to people who look like me, there’s no way that I could sit out on one of the largest race days in the U.S. and not bring awareness to the contributions that African-Americans have given to horse racing.”
Harbut — who owns horse Necker Island — explained that his presence in the event is a continuation of important contributions to the history of African-Americans participating in the Kentucky Derby.
“The history of the Kentucky Derby started with African-Americans,” he said. “The first horse, Aristides, was trained by an African-American named Ansel Williamson and ridden by an African-American jockey named Oliver Lewis.”
He continued, “[W]e are the only black representation in the Kentucky Derby this year. There hasn’t been any representation for us for the past 13 years.”
Harbut added that he has high hopes to “strategically bring other African-Americans into this industry and onto the national stage.”
In the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, several activist groups and coalitions have demanded the derby be cancelled amid the ongoing police brutality protests.
One such group, the Justice and Freedom Coalition, said that a boycott of the annual event was necessary in order to “put much-needed pressure on the state to not only complete a thorough investigation of Ms. Taylor’s case, but to send a clear message that we will not allow these injustices to continue.”
Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, in a Thursday statement promised that the race would go on.
“We know there are some who disagree with our decision to run the Kentucky Derby this year,” the statement read. “We respect that point of view but made our decision in the belief that traditions can remind us of what binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the terrible pain that rends us apart.”