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Operation Better Block Announces 2015 Monthly Community Meetings

Posted by Toni McCl on January 15, 2015 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Operation Better Block has anounced the 2015 schedule for its monthly community meetings to inform residents about upcoming events, share resources, and spotlight the work of various organizations in Homewood. Meetings are open to everyone.

The Monthly Community Meetings will be held in the Auditorium of the Homewood Library, 7101 Hamilton Avenue, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm on the fourth Thursday of each month (except for November and December, when they will take place on the third Thursday).  Here are the dates for 2015:

January 22, 2015

Februrary 26, 2015

March 26, 2015

April 23, 2015

May 28, 2015

June 25, 2015

July 23, 2015

August 24, 2015

September 24, 2015

October 22, 2015

November 19, 2015

December 17, 2015

The topic for this month's meeting will be, "A Report Card from Homewood Schools."  The meeting will cover academic achievement, support services, etc., at Faison K-5 and Westinghouse 6-12. The principals and other personnel have been invited.

For more information call Lois Toni McClendon at Operation Better Block, Inc. (412) 731-1908 or email her at: lmcclendon@obbinc.org

Operation Better Block, Inc. is a community-based, community development organization that has served Homewood residents for over 40 years. Its mission is to "strategize, organize, and mobilize block by block to benefit the Homewood Comunity". Besides the monthly community meetings, OBB is engaged in a Cluster Planning Process for visioning Homewood's future land use.

TRID Study Hosts Second Public Meeting

Posted by Elwin Green on December 9, 2014 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

This is just an announcement, not a story, because this event happens this evening.

The meeting described above is the second in a series of three meetings on transit-oriented development. The first was held on November 13 at the Carnegie Homewood Library.


At that meeting, consultant Lynn Colosi, principal of Delta Development Group, Inc., led the audience of about 65 people through a presentation to introduce the concept of Transit Revitalization Improvement Districts. TRIDs are a mechanism to provide funding for certain types of public improvements within an area that centers on a major transit stop.

That meeting deserves its own story. For now, you can check out Ms. Colosi's presentation here. 

Tonight's meeting will present the results of a breakout session from the first meeting, in which attendees were asked to indicate which types of projects they would like to see receive TRID funding, if (and it's a big if) a TRID were to be created here.

CEA Hosts Meeting On Homewood Development

Posted by Elwin Green on November 14, 2014 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (1)

by José Antonio Diaz

On Saturday, November 8, roughly 100 people came together at Community Empowerment Association for “The People’s Plan”, an interactive town hall session to address the economic growth and stability of Homewood.


Over a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, potatoes, and grits and bacon, Rashad Byrdsong, executive director of Community Empowerment Association, addressed the audience by saying that the town hall was the culmination of a year’s worth of advisory board meetings of residents and local community-based organizations. “This has been in the works for a long time,” he said.


Councilman Rev. Ricky V. Burgess echoed some of Mr. Byrdsong’s comments, noting that “where you have community consensus, development happens” and that Homewood has the full support of the City, particularly Mayor Bill Peduto, who he said is fully committed to the neighborhood’s vitality. The councilman also advised that this work will require a multi-pronged approach, with “multiple projects and multiple activities to get what we want.”


That sentiment was shared by state representative Ed Gainey, who encouraged those in attendance to get more involved. “Each and every time there is a community meeting, you need to come out,” he implored. Acknowledging the lack of a strong middle-class African American neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Mr. Gainey cited Homewood as an example of a community in transition, pointing to recent developments as the Homewood Station senior high-rise and the proposed Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center.


“Homewood can be a middle-class community again, but we have to demand it,” Mr. Gainey said.


Attendees had an opportunity to work in small break-out groups, each with a different focus: housing; business and commercial development; workforce development and training; and youth development. Some of the questions raised included how best to prepare residents for jobs that are coming into the community; how to include youth in any development activity; and public safety. (“It begins with our relationship with the police, not the other way around,” said one audience member.)


Before concluding the town hall, Mr. Byrdsong announced several next steps. The first would be to re-establish “Brother to Brother”, a monthly meeting to bring Black men together to discuss how they can support one another and leverage each other’s assets and resources. Second, he hopes to create a broad-based coalition of organizations and residents that will be coordinated and work in unison, similar to the former Homewood-Brushton Community Coalition Organization, which comprised several groups including Community Empowerment Association, Operation Better Block, Homewood-Brushton YMCA, and longtime residents such as Sarah Campbell and Mary Savage.


Lastly, Mr. Byrdsong assured that those in the room would be actively engaged in ongoing projects and discussions related to the break-out groups, underscoring the need for continued community involvement.


“Development is not coming to Homewood – development is already here.”


DEVELOPMENT: Meeting To Explain TRID Opportunity

Posted by Elwin Green on November 6, 2014 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Here's another flyer, regarding another meeting:

I asked Ivette Mongalo to help Homewood residents to make sense of all this. Ms. Mongalo is a principal with Mongalo-Winston Consulting LLC, which specializes in urban design and community engagement.  Her firm has been engaged by the Urban Redevelopment Authority to help conduct a study on transit-oriented development (TOD) around the Homewood stop of the East Busway.

The idea behind Transit Oriented Development is that the areas around major stops on public transit are good places to do real estate development, because of the amount of foot traffic those transit stops generate.

Besides the basic question of how to develop the area around the Homewood Busway stop (or station), there's the question of how pay for the work to be done. That's where TRID comes in.

The acronym stands for Transit Revitalization Investment District, which is a designation that can be given to a specific area targeted for development. Designating an area as a TRID creates a financing tool that can be used to do improvements.

Ms. Mongalo gave an example.

"If there's a large new development, the real estate taxes they have to pay...a portion could go to improving the sidewalks in the business district, or doing demolition or site prep for a new building somewhere else."

Next week's meeting will be the first of three, whose overall purpose is "to figure out if a TRID is a viable option to pursue, and if people in Homewood see it as a tool that could help the community."

In next week's meeting, she said, the study team will "explain what TRID is and ask what types of things it could pay for, then start to ask, 'Which of those things are most important to you?'"

At the second meeting, in December, "We will start to present some proposals on what people want to have paid for," and at the third and final meeting in January, consulting firm Fourth Economy will present the results of a feasibility study "based on what projects are possible.

"They'll make a recommendation to the community, and we'll see what the community thinks about that."

Where do developers come into the picture? 

"They're free to attend all of these public meetings just like anybody else," Ms. Mongalo said. "There's people that have approached the team. We're basically encouraging them to participate in the process and engage that way for now.

"Obviously, if developers come into the picture down the road, they're going to look at the study and see what the priorities of the community are."

For residents, the series of meetings are a way to declare those prorities, she said.

"You get to prioritize what TRID can pay for. You get to raise your concerns to the top. You get to be part of the decision making process."


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CEA To Host Meeting On Development

Posted by Elwin Green on November 6, 2014 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

This flyer being circulated gives the basics:

The meeting continues the Community Empowerment Association's multi-year work of developing an "Urban Agenda."



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Did You Show Up?

Posted by Elwin Green on November 6, 2014 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

by Denise Johnson

Election Day 2014 - the day when "We, the people" have the freedom to select who will represent our needs and concerns. The majority of "We, the people" (that is, the ones registered to vote) didn't show up to vote. Here's an overview:

There are 7,269 registered voters in Ward 13. On Tuesday, 2,150 of them (less than 30 percent) actually voted.


What does this mean? It means we will feel the impact in the Commonwealth for the next two years. And if you know about civics and state government, it means that Governor-Elect Wolf is in the same predicament as President Obama; so fasten your seat belts, its' gonna be a bumpy ride!



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THE ARTS: Taking Our Culture Seriously - The Future of Jazz Performance and Jazz Education

Posted by Elwin Green on November 4, 2014 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

by Kevin Amos

The African American Music Institute (AAMI) was the setting on October 27 for a symposium think tank as part of Jazz Week 2014. The annual Pitt Jazz Seminar brings together educators and musicians to present issues and instruction to students and community members. For the past 44 years this event has brought together a who’s who of Jazz. Homewood as well as the entire Pittsburgh region has been the foundation for many of the Jazz stars we have known and loved. Vocalist Dakota Station from Kedron Street and composer Billy Strayhorn from Susquehanna Street are examples of the many that have contributed to this American-bred genre.

The Jazz seminar was founded in 1971 by Pitt Professor Emeritus of Music Nathan Davis who started this groundbreaking seminar and concert series. Pitts Jazz Studies Director Geri Allen has continued the tradition of bringing this important presentation to many. This Monday event was a crucial discussion on preserving Jazz culture. Dr. James Johnson of AAMI served as host and moderator for the evening.

The participants of the panel were: Joe Jennings, artist emeritus from Spelman College; Ralph Jones, senior lecturer and musical director of the Spelman College Jazz Ensemble; Alphonso Sanders, chair of the Department of Fine Arts, Mississippi Valley State University. It was brought out by the presenters that not enough has been done by Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) to uplift this important genre. Not only have the institutions failed to start Jazz Ensembles on a larger scale but these schools still don’t think Jazz Studies is relevant to be taught in the colleges even though White institutions of higher learning have been teaching Jazz courses since the late 50’s. Not only have HBCU’s failed to focus on Jazz but other musical genres created by us. The presenters also added that the parents of HBCU students. like the schools themselves, often focus on European musical traditions and ignore African-Americans' musical heritage. In the question and answer session Mr. Jennings addressed the ignorance connected with this by referring us to the Franz Fanon book “The Wretched of the Earth”.

In the discussion on Jazz performance it was mentioned that, “Most young audiences really don’t know what Jazz is”. Most are not aware of the creators and innovators record companies and other mass media platforms only expose them to instrumental pop music that gives a false impression of what the music really is. This brings up the ethical dilemma of capital gain versus art when it comes to creating and performing the music. With this going on now at a wider scale, Jazz today continues to lose Black audiences.

Further discussing the performance aspect, it was brought out by Joe Jennings that “We should carefully monitor how this music is interpreted.” Jennings further stated that, ‘Young Black Jazz musicians should reach back to their roots”. “No one should stop developing new ideas but the musicians should not forget the feeling from within and not ignore the spirit of the original innovators.” “You cannot ignore Jazz, the spirit-feel and holy ghost”.

It was also brought out that community organizations such as AAMI play a very important role in educating us all about Jazz and our other musical traditions. With the constant cutback in our elementary and high school music programs it is crucial that these entities take up the supporting role along with parents, broadcasters and community members to educate younger generations. Creating alternative performance spaces is also essential for keeping the music and culture alive. The presentation gave attendees a lot to think about and was a great way to kick off this edition of Jazz Week. And it took place in Homewood!



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Library To Host Open Mic Night

Posted by Elwin Green on November 4, 2014 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

If you're between the ages of 12 and 18, and you have a song, a dance or a poem you want to share, the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is the place to be this Friday night.


The branch will host the CLP's Teen Underground Cafe: Open Mic Night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The online announcement invites "poets, lyricists, musicians, actors and performing artists of all kinds" to participate. CLP will provide a PA system, microphones, guitars, amplifiers, drum kits, projector and a place to plug in beats.


Oh, and snacks.


"Kids, you've got to feed them," said branch head Denise Graham.


The Teen Underground Cafe: Open Mic Night is a monthly series that began in Februrary and has already visited Knoxville, East Liberty, the Hill District, Brookline, Carrick, Hazelwood and Squirrel Hill.


Kids from any of those neighborhoods, or others, may show up.


"It doesn't just have to be Homewood kids," Ms. Graham said. "whoever can get here, gets a shot on stage."



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THE ARTS: "The Book of Ezra"

Posted by Elwin Green on October 15, 2014 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

by Denise Johnson

"Th​e Book of Ezra" closes on Oct. 25. Before you grab your Bible and go to the Old Testament, you should know that "The Book of Ezra" is a world premiere one-man theatre work by Leslie Ezra Smith _ and that it is well worth your time.


Autobiographical, "Th​e Book of Ezra" is a road map for his teenage son (something Smith's absentee father never provided). Smith retraces days of his youth growing up in Homewood during the late-80s at the height of gang violence. A deeply personal piece of theatre in which Ezra lead us through places he's never spoken of before, as well as tween angst with girls and a bitter lesson in loyalty.


Smith keeps real and relevant as he cites a litany of unarmed black youth killed by police, and talks about not wanting his son to join Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, among other challenges of urban life.


PG-rated language makes this a production a great conversation with your teens (or your friendly neighbor knucklehead who insists on sharing his music so you can feel it) , with parts that are guaranteed to spark a dialog and keep the conversation going.

Wideman Appears On Behalf Of Inmate-Student Think Tank

Posted by Elwin Green on October 13, 2014 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

by Denise Johnson

Author John Edgar Wideman was at Duquesne University Saturday for a panel discussion on a program that has created a think tank in which prisoners collaborate with those outside to study issues of common concern as a part of the national Gaultier Symposium, a two-day seminar developed by Dr. Norman Conti through his Gaultier Faculty Fellowship with Duquesne’s Center for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research.


The panel, titled "Race and Justice Inside-Out: Think Tanks as Mechanisms for Social Justice," also included Dr. Tony Gaskew, director of the criminal justice program and associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford, and rapper-activist Jasiri X. Moderator was Lenny McAllister, host of PCNC-TV’s Night Talk.


The Inside-Out concept, began at Temple University in 1997. Dr. Norm Conti, an associate professor in Duquesne's Department of Sociology and the Graduate Center for Social and Public Policy, established it at Duquesne in 2007, partnering Duquesne students with inmates at SCI Pittsburgh.


Wideman’s brother, Robert, who is the subject of the 1984 book “Brothers and Keepers,” has taken three Inside-Out classes while incarcerated and is a founding member of the think tank. After sharing “Brothers and Keeper 30 Years Later: A Reading,” Wideman was followed with a reading of an essay by an incarcerated participant in the Elsinore Bennu: Inside Out Think Thank (Elsinore refers to the miserable foreboding castle where “Hamlet” takes place; Bennu is a predecessor to the phoenix from ancient Egypt. Thus, the think tank’s name is about being burned and rising from the ashes within a hellish context to a better place or “peace of mind”.


Under the pen name Malakki, inmate Ralph Bolden writes, “For the Elsinore-Bennu, our resurrection comes at a cost and our role in this think tank is our best attempt at restorative justice. That’s what this name means to us.”


The panel discussion examined the place of think tanks within the current scheme of social justice from the perspective of three generations of Black men. Professor Gaskew, who worked in law enforcement before teaching, shared an edict from his father, who “told my brothers and I that we had a moral duty to be mitigators within the criminal justice system.”

Later he added, "The criminal justice system is a great white shark...24 hours a day, it arrests."

Moderator McAllister kept the discussion flowing by addressing the panelists in turn with specific questions. Of Wideman, he asked how to further highlight the role of race in the criminal justice system so that things can change.

"We stop pretending," Wideman said. "Our justice works on the principle that...justice is only possible if certain people are kept under wraps."


Jasiri X recalled an experience from the early days of 1Hood Media Academy, when the police asked for help in getting community to cooperate with them more. 1Hood asked for their help with police officers who acted inappropriately.

"The police said they couldn't do that.”

After a discussion that touched on themes of police brutality, mass incarceration, genocide and revolution, the panelists, including Wideman, allowed themselves to lighten things up in post-event conversation.

When Wideman met high school students Montana Howard of Homewood (center right) and Lemuel Jackson of Wilkinsburg (far right), escorted by Homewood Children's Village staffer Walter J. Lewis (left), and Jackson said he once lived in Homewood, he asked him why he had left Homewood.

"Don't you know Homewood is the center of the universe?"

Photo by Kilolo Luckett

Additional reporting by Elwin Green



Coming Soon...

The Homewood Chronicles

Oct. 2005 - March 2010

Reports from a community in transition

In October 2005, after a bullet came through his living room window, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Elwin Green began writing "My Homewood," the first blog on the P-G's website. For 4 1/2 years, "My Homewood" shared stories of tragedy and beauty, of perplexity and hope - stories that live again in "The Homewood Chronicles."

Watch this space! 

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