Homewood15208 - dispatches from the heart of Homewood Nation.
|Posted by C. Matthew Hawkins on August 11, 2014 at 3:05 PM||comments (0)|
For some reason there has been a recent flurry of discussions on social media about the racial disparity report that was written by Ralph Bangs and Larry Davis of the School of Social Work back in 2007, as an op-ed written by the two for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pittsburgh's shame," makes the rounds. Bangs has been documenting racial disparity in Allegheny County for the past 17 years. Most Black Pittsburghers have been aware of this problem far longer than Bangs has documented it. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has continued blissfully on its way, winning accolades as the "most livable city" on national surveys, making one wonder whether or not Black Pittsburgh is really part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area at all.
It might be tempting to, as many do, blame racism for all of the problems facing Black Pittsburgh, but that would be too simplistic. To be sure, Pittsburgh is a very cliquish, parochial, and conservative town. It has, historically been a union town, and it has been a town that has been run by political machines and private philanthropy. You had to be in the union to have access to jobs, and blacks were excluded from the unions. You had to be "part of the loop" to have access to philanthropic funds, and very few blacks could penetrate that exclusive inner circle. You had to be part of the party machine in order to leverage political power, and blacks were often crowded out by more affluent and better-connected communities.
It has always been the case that if one could not break into the "right" social networks then one was plumb out of luck in Pittsburgh. That's just the way this city works.
But it's not as though there haven't been openings over the past 50 years. It's not as though there haven't been opportunities that the Black community has not taken advantage of.
There were increased opportunities for neighborhood empowerment during the Community Action days of the 1960s and later, during the neighborhood-oriented governance under the Caligiuri administration, but those opportunities were not fully exploited by Pittsburgh's black neighborhoods.
There were opportunities to develop competitive commercial districts when funding was available for community economic development, during the 1980s, but the CDCs in black neighborhoods were stunningly dysfunctional and weakened by in-fighting.
There were opportunities to get a foothold in the universities during the heady days of the '70s and the '80s -- but the black intelligentsia allowed itself to get bogged down in petty university politics instead. It did not network or collaborate on important matters such as research, publication and mentorship. It was disengaged from the academic culture that is necessary to survive in an academic institution -- and rather than teaching and transmitting an academic culture to young people it promoted an impotent and futile discourse of grievance and entitlement.
The movement from "at large" representation on city council to council-by-district gave black Pittsburghers a greater opportunity to have a voice in local politics, but voter turn-out in African American communities is consistently low and the unwillingness to hold elected officials accountable for more than just token gestures and showmanship ensures that black votes can either be taken for granted or ignored altogether by local politicians.
So this is the state of things. Pittsburgh, as a city, may be cliquish, conservative, parochial, and insular -- thereby marginalizing black Pittsburgh, but black Pittsburgh is also cliquish, parochial, conservative and insular, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to bring about change.
Pittsburgh is like a game of musical chairs, and all the seats have already been taken. Yet there are accelerating changes in technology, the local economy, and local demographics that should provide some margin of opportunity for black Pittsburghers, if we are prepared to identify and take advantage of openings -- or create them.
In this game of musical chairs the music is starting up again. The players are circling around even fewer chairs in the local economic, cultural and political landscape. Yet the untapped resources in this region are rich. But if we continue relying on the same leadership, the same institutions, the same excuses, the same insularity and the same mindset that we have relied on for the past 17 years then we will be reading headlines like this one 17 years from now.
That, my friends, will be the real "shame" about black Pittsburgh.
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|Posted by Elwin Green on July 25, 2014 at 9:30 PM||comments (1)|
I'm just going to leave this here, ok? From the office of Mayor William Peduto:
PITTSBURGH, PA (July 25, 2014) The governing board of the National League of Cities today chose Pittsburgh as the site of its 2016 Congress of Cities and Exposition, which will draw thousands of local government officials from around the country to the city.
That year will also mark the 200th anniversary of Pittsburgh city government.
"I want to thank the NLC for this honor, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to show off Pittsburgh to fellow government officials from around the nation,” Mayor William Peduto said. “It’s going to be a great birthday.”
One of the Mayor’s first acts in office was to rejoin the league, where he had long been a delegate from the Pennsylvania Municipal League. This year alone the NLC has awarded the city $230,000 for a program seeking to enroll eligible children in health care programs, and it announced plans to soon hold a community forum in Pittsburgh on early childhood education with the U.S. Department of Education.
The selection was made after a vote by NLC’s Board of Directors at their annual meeting in Saint Paul, Minn.
“We are thrilled that the Congress of Cities and Exposition will be hosted by the City of Pittsburgh on the city’s 200th anniversary,” said NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. “Pittsburgh is an excellent place for our conference and has a great story to tell. The city’s rich history and recent urban renewal has transformed the Steel City into a strong economic center with a diverse and educated workforce. Pittsburgh has been a leader in sustainability and technology efforts, and can provide great examples of city programs for local leaders attending our conference.”
The Congress of Cities and Exposition will be held November 16-19, 2016. It is expected to attract more than 3,500 participants to Pittsburgh and include 300 exhibition booths.
“Hosting the National League of Cities brings a tremendous amount of visibility and prestige to the Pittsburgh region in addition to the economic impact the actual conference will garner,” says Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh. “We are proud to have worked on the team with the Mayor.”
Registration is still open for this year’s NLC conference in Austin, Texas, held November 18-22, 2014.
The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.
Laying aside the question of what the whole "200th birthday" thing means - we celebrated a 250th birthday in 2008, and I wouldn't wish on any generation the prospect of having to hear, much less pronounce, "sesquibicentennial" again - leaving all that aside, this raises questions for me like, "Is there something that Homewood can partner with the Peduto administration to do over the next two years that would both benefit residents and make Peduto & Co look brilliant in Nov 2016?"
In any case, it behooves those of us who are working to make Homewood better to think deeply about how to link our work here with what is happening in the city as a whole.
So...what do you think, Homewood? What could this mean for us?
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|Posted by Elwin Green on July 21, 2014 at 3:20 PM||comments (1)|
UPDATED July 22, 2014, 8:33 pm.
Olivia Jones, who served as branch director of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA for 24 years, passed away early Monday morning.
An earlier, longer version of this story has been taken down in accordance with the wishes of Ms. Jones' family, who have requested a media blackout - other than sharing information about the memorial arrangements - until after Ms. Jones' funeral. We will provide more complete coverage then. Meanwhile, the arrangements are as follows:
The memorial viewing will be held Friday evening from 4 p.m. - 8 p.m., at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, 271 Paulson Avenue, followed by the funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday, also at Mt. Ararat.
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|Posted by Elwin Green on July 12, 2014 at 7:20 AM||comments (1)|
I'm about to head across the street to Baptist Temple Church to participate in the 5K Homewood Prayer Walk. Registration starts at starts at 8 am, and the walk begins at 9.
The walk is a fundraiser for the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, to help celebrate the branch's 100th anniversary. Registration is $5.
The fundraising aspect is especially timely, as the YMCA suffered a fire a few weeks ago. Branch executive Ric Williams said that the while the fire was a small one, it damaged electrical systems that now need to be replaced, and that it caused extensive smoke damage. For those reasons, the branch has remained closed.
Still, the branch will be the end point of the walk, which will conclude with prayer at 10:30 (there will also be several prayer stops along the way). That will be followed by a community day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the YMCA parking lot.
The celebration continues tomorrow when Baptist Temple honors the branch during its 10:45 a.m. worship service. The church is at 7241 Race Street, at the corner of Race and Sterrett.
While some folks are walking, some other folks will be selling. Residents of Monticello Street are holding a flea market this morning, in the 7300 block of Monticello.
The neighbors are selling clothing, toys, household items, etc....and food (a body's gotta eat, right?) to raise money for the National Night Out, the annual event created in 1984 that encourages folks to reclaim their streets in a small way by turning on their porch lights and doing things outside together.
This will be Monticello Street's third year celebrating NNO - they are one block north of Race Street, so the Save Race Street Committee has encourged our residents to join in their festivities.
Today's flea market runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
At 11 a.m., Seshemet Community Council will sponsor a lecture/discussion on Black male/female relationships and the Black family, at the Homewood-Brushton Branch of CCAC, at the corner of Homewood Avenue and Kelly Street.
Sharise Hembry and Tess Kenney, of Handinhand Counseling Therapy Services, will present.
Seshemet Community Council co-sponsored, along with Sankofa United, a "Day of Unity in the Community" event on June 14 featuring child psychologist Dr. Umar Johnson, who spoke on "The Academic War On Black Boys."
Today's event, which runs until 1 p.m., is part of an ongoing study group held each Saturday.
That's it, time to get out here and burn some calories. And pray.
|Posted by C. Matthew Hawkins on July 2, 2014 at 5:55 PM||comments (0)|
Two weeks ago we were discussing, on these pages of Homewood Nation, whether or not President Obama should have made a swing through Pittsburgh’s African American neighborhoods to wave at his most ardent and unapologetic supporters as he visited the Tech Shop in Bakery Square. At the time I said that I thought that the president made frequent trips to Southwestern Pennsylvania to strengthen support for Democrats in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio and that the White House probably believes that high-fiving African American neighborhoods would not be politically helpful for that objective.
Monday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it is awarding a $30 million grant to the Larimer neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End for eco-friendly housing development. This, of course, is an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood. Significantly, other neighborhoods that were awarded grants from this program were in Eastern Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Connecticut, meaning that three of the four neighborhoods that have been awarded these grants are in swing states.
This is not to take anything away from the hard work that the various professionals, government officials and agencies put into this highly competitive national grant, but given the president’s January 29th visit to the modernized U.S. Steel plant in Irvin, PA, his April 17th visit to Allegheny Community College in North Fayette to tout his $500 million initiative to promote efforts to link community college instruction with the training that employers say they want to see in their workforce, and his Mid-June visit to the Tech Shop in Baker’s Square to promote high-tech innovation through designing prototypes in do-it-yourself workshops – not to mention his decision to hold the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh in late September of 2009 – it is not unreasonable to assume that the president is using Southwestern Pennsylvania as a model for post-industrial economic recovery and what he wants the public to believe are the benefits of economic globalization.
Over the past five and a half years the Obama administration has been unwilling to even acknowledge the disproportionate impact of the sluggish economy on African American neighborhoods. He has been unwilling to acknowledge the need for programs specifically targeted at distressed African American neighborhoods, regardless of whether or not such programs could actually get funding from the current Congress. Still, a part of me wants to see, in Monday’s announcement, the emergence of a “hidden” Obama. A part of me wants to see Monday’s announcement as being an example of political substance over style. Too often political constituencies tend to be satisfied with the trappings of support and attention without the substance, which generally goes to those who are able to cut sizable checks to support political campaigns; it would be a refreshing change to see a national politician responding to distressed populations with more than mere symbolism.
A part of me drifted into a fantasy where Obama said, in effect, “What would you rather have, a president who drives through your neighborhood and waves at you during a nationally covered visit, or one who more modestly directs $30 million your way through the Department of Housing and Urban Development?”
Yes, a part of me wanted to believe this fantasy, but – as a practical matter – we still have to see the fine print in order to find out who is most likely to benefit from this HUD grant. Whatever benefit the residents are likely to get out of it, my bet is that the greatest beneficiaries will be developers, contractors and social service professionals who don’t even live in Larimer. This is not to say that the two different types of beneficiaries must be mutually exclusive; it is to point out, instead, that one set of beneficiaries, in the funding process, are certain while another set are less so. Assistance to a geographic area, after all, is not the same as assistance to the people who live there – especially in the challenges that prevent them from becoming stakeholders in the social, political, and economic mainstream, which are more complicated than the physical development of a part of their neighborhood.
When it comes to sure winners, there is no doubt that certain members of the professional class and their related agencies and organizations will receive funding and continued relevance through this grant. There can also be little doubt that this grant will further enhance the image of a city administration that has made the reduction of urban blight one of its signature objectives. Those will be the sure winners, and this is not, necessarily, a bad thing. What is much less clear, however, is how effective this initiative will be in helping Larimer’s current residents to move into the social, political and economic mainstream. The proposal identifies programs to help accomplish this, but the effectiveness of those programs remains to be seen.
FURTHER READING: "The Myth of Community Development" - Nicholas Lemann, New York Times, January 9, 1994.
|Posted by Elwin Green on June 20, 2014 at 6:40 PM||comments (0)|
Crunched for time here, so this will brief and informal...
If you are a business owner in Homewood, whether your operate your business online, from a home office, or in a storefront, and you have not yet participated in any of the meetings that are happening NOW (not the ones that happened XXX years ago) to form a Homewood Business Association, then you need to check out the process underway.
The meetings, which began last month, are being facilitated by Marteen Garay, of the Homewood Children's Village (her title is longer than she is tall: Manager, Community and Economic Development Projects). They are being held in sets, with a meeting on Wednesday evening followed up by a meeting on Saturday afternoon with the same basic agenda. That's to accomodate differences in people's schedules.
That may be helping to keep attendance high enough to provide the energy needed to move forward. I attended a meeting June 4, and there were about 15 people there. That meeting was primarily devoted to brainstorming a mission statement. Since then the group has formed a mission statement development committee, in addition to these other committees:
The next meeting is tomorrow, at 1pm, at the Early Learning HUB, located at 7219 Kelly Street, next to Wade's Barbershop.
|Posted by Elwin Green on June 17, 2014 at 11:10 PM||comments (2)|
I went into today's event at TechShop with a rough outline of expectations of how things would go with President Obama.
He did not follow my script.
After that came a surprisingly brief exposition about the resurgence of American manufacturing. As he spoke, I waited for a weighty moment, in which he would say something like, "Today I am proud to announce...." Because, you see, I had spent at least a couple of hours trying to craft The Best Possible Question to ask as a follow-up to The Announcement.
But The Announcement didn't come, at least not in the way that I expected. Yes, he mentioned giving more people access to federal equipment, and mentioned a commitment by mayors. But for me, it felt almost off-the-cuff.
Then he launched right into a Q & A from the audience, who seemed to be all TechShop members.
I was live-tweeting, and when The Announcement didn't happen the way I expected, I got confused about whether I should continue tweeting, or focus on re-crafting my question. I wound up going back and forth, and not doing either to my own satisfaction.
The theme of the day was not just that American manufacturing is coming back, but that the comeback comes in large part because more and more Americans are gaining access to manufacturing tools, an access exemplified by TechShop. The essence of my question was, "What does any of this mean for Homewood and neighborhoods like it?" But since he probably doesn't know Homewood from Timbuktu, I was trying to figure out to provide context for the question.
And while I was scribbling and scratching out, and trying to listen well enough to tweet well, my brain played an awful trick on me.
It went into Cynic mode.
You see, the further along we went into the event, the more Mr. Obama's answers to the questions being asked began to sound generalized, insubstantial and predictable. And my brain said,
"Even if you ask the perfect question, he will not give an answer worth believing."
And that stopped me. At least, it stopped me for long enough so that by the time I got my juices flowing again, someone else was already asking the last question.
And then he was gone, and Lindsay Patross, of IHeartPgh (whom I met at the National Day of Civic Hacking event at the Homewood Library) - Lindsay and I talked a bit, and agreed that we had just witnessed fluff.
I wish I had more quickly quelled my inner cynic with the response that came later, that it's not my job to make Mr. Obama or anyone else give a credible answer. It's my job to get better questions, and their answers (credible or not) on the record.
Mr. Obama quoted TechShop's PR line about having access to manufacturing tools for the price of a gym membership. I could have asked, "What about those who can't afford a gym membership?"
But I didn't. The Cynic won, and I missed a chance to represent Homewood (and neighborhoods like it) at a higher level.
Man, I hate that. But, better functioning next time.
"The overall economic effect of the initiatives Obama announced is likely to be marginal, however, because advanced research and development jobs go to skilled workers, most of whom have college degrees and can find work, said Matthew Rousu, associate professor of economics at Susquehanna University.
'If you're looking at a jobs program, a far better program would simply be to spend a lot of federal money to fix Pennsylvania's bridges, for example,” Rousu said. “People working on bridges have a much higher unemployment rate than, say, the scientists who are more likely to obtain research and development jobs.'"
RELATED: Hail To The Chief
|Posted by Elwin Green on June 16, 2014 at 11:10 PM||comments (2)|
I am a member of TechShop.
I was invited to be there tomorrow (okay, later today) for President Obama's appearance.
I said yes.
Now I am having second thoughts, primarily inspired by a commentary by Fred Logan which has been circulating on Facebook, which suggests that "Obama should at the very least motorcade through Homewood and throw kisses to the people who put him in office."
This is the President's third visit to Pittsburgh this year. The first came right after his State of the Union speech in January, when he visited the U.S. Steel Irvin plant in West Mifflin. On his second visit, in April, he visited the North Fayette campus of Community College of Allegheny County.
I wouldn't even try to count the total number of times that Mr. Obama has visited the Pittsburgh area (including the 2008 visit when I glimpsed him at the Post-Gazette and thought, "He's SKINNY!" The camera does indeed add 10 pounds). It's a bunch. But with all of those visits, he has, as Mr. Logan says, "never ever" visited a black neighborhood.
So, I'm having second thoughts. Not on the order of, "I should have declined to go." They are on the order of, "If I get a chance to interact with President Obama at all, is there anything at all that I could say or do that would lead him to consider the possibility of visiting Homewood next time? Or any other part of Pittsburgh's black community?"
Probably not. But that bug is still gonna be crawling around in my brain.
RELATED: An Hour With The President
|Posted by Elwin Green on June 16, 2014 at 9:55 PM||comments (1)|
By: Jose A. Diaz
On June 4, parents, students, and community partners gathered at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty in support of the YMCA Lighthouse Project’s End-of-Year Celebration. Lighthouse – an after-school program that educates and empowers high school youth through an integration of curriculum-based art and media projects, career exploration, and academic support – closed out the school year with a showcase of students’ varied and eclectic talents.
Walking into the lobby of the Kelly-Strayhorn that evening, the fruits of students’ hard work were palpable: images of Lighthouse students toiling in the vegetable garden at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA bookended the hallway; poster boards of recent trips to far-off places like Prague lined the display tables; and samples of homemade vegetable dip (made with fresh ingredients from the aforementioned garden) were distributed by excited students encouraging attendees to taste it. On sale were CDs of Lighthouse performances and t-shirts designed by students commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.
The celebration kicked off with an opening poem by Lighthouse participant (and Westinghouse valedictorian) Tracey Thomas, who compared Lighthouse to a family. “It is a place to build lasting connections… that forever bonds people with no prior relationship together,” she said. The female performers of hip-hop troupe State of Minds took the stage next with “Blue & Gold”, an ode to Westinghouse High School, before being joined by the full band for another song, “If You’re Feeling Me”.
Lighthouse’s snapshot photography crew then aired a moving montage, “Civil Rights of Passage”, a collection of photos that incorporated students and iconic photos from the Civil Rights Movement. Following that, Emoni Jones, from the Mixed Media Crew, delivered a moving piece entitled “Woman of Gentrification”, a cautionary tale about the importance of self-respect and acceptance in a world that offers so little of it.
One of the most innovative pieces came in the form of “Lighthouse News Network”, a mock news channel produced in the same vein as CNN and MSNBC. (A voiceover for the fictitious cable channel announced the network’s tagline: “LNN – Your guiding light, every night.") Preceded by a commercial and a promo, three news stories punctuated the broadcast. The first was a look at the 100th anniversary of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA and featured interviews with Homewood resident and historian John Brewer and Rick Williams, executive director of the Homewood Y. “If the community has thrived, the Y has thrived,” Mr. Brewer was quoted as saying.
The second segment, hosted by LNN reporters Latisha Giles and Alicia “Ace” Collins, was a roundtable of local musicians, including Jacquea Mae, Akil Esoon, and Gene Stovall, to find out what their musical influences are and what first inspired them to pursue music. The final segment was an exposé on the girls’ bathroom at Westinghouse High School. With camera in hand, reporter Latisha Giles shows the audience the conditions of the bathrooms: unclean floors, bathroom stalls with no locks, and missing mirrors. When Ms. Giles interviews a female student about what she typically sees in the bathroom, the student quips, “What don’t you see?”
Musical group The Ink sang an original song, “Aqua Lagoon,” before closing their set with a second number, “Not Done Yet”. James Brown, Lighthouse project director, appeared afterwards to present Leadership Awards to students and thanked the teaching artists who have been the “aunts and uncles of the Lighthouse family.” Phillip Thompson, Lighthouse project manager, commented that he was especially proud of the seniors in Lighthouse because he’d watched them grow and mature during their four years in the program and at Westinghouse. In recognition of their accomplishments, award recipients were also given notebook computers.
Rounding out the evening were performances by the Lighthouse Step Team and hip-hop group Blow Ya Mynd, who brought down the house with “Strayhorn’s Curtains” and “Lights On”, a music video shot in and around the Westinghouse campus that paid tribute to the school, to Lighthouse, and after-school programming.
Located at Westinghouse High School in Homewood, Lighthouse is open to all high school teens living in the 15206 and 15208 zip codes and meets during the school year, Monday through Thursday, from 3:00 to 7:30 pm. For more information, contact the YMCA Lighthouse Project at (412) 436-0535 or email@example.com.
|Posted by Elwin Green on June 6, 2014 at 5:15 PM||comments (1)|
This entry is reposted from my personal blog, "ReVisions: Bekitemba's GUT."
Tuesday, I received a letter in the mail from the New Pittsburgh Courier, addressed to "Elwin Green, Publisher, Homewood Nation." It opens with this:
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been chosen as one of the New Pittsburgh Courier's 2014 Men of Excellence."
That means that I will be featured, along with other Men of Excellence, in the Courier's July 23rd edition. It also means that I'm invited, along with the others, to a cocktail reception to receive an award on July 24.
Meanwhile, the June issue of Pittsburgh Magazine has a two-page spread about Elwin Green in their monthly feature, "You Should Know." So all this month, people who have never heard of Elwin Green will be reading about him, and next month some folks will read about Elwin Green some more.
All of which is seriously cool. Now the question is, can I turn it to a higher purpose?
As Homewood Nation's tagline suggests, I'm working to elevate the conversation in and about Homewood.
To put it another way, I want to facilitate transformative conversations.
Can I use this newfound fame somehow to do that?
The answer may depend on figuring out why that isn't happening already. Most of my posts receive 0 comments. They ignite no conversation.
Is that because I come across as being hard to talk to?
Are the design and layout of Homewood Nation so uninviting that they turn people off from commenting?
Or is it a matter of who is reading?
On Saturday, I met three Homewood Nation readers for the first time at the OpenPittsburgh Open House held at the Homewood Carnegie Library as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking.
I always love meeting readers; what made Saturday's encounters especially interesting was that one of the three has commented on Homewood Nation. I recognized her name, and gave her a hug (with her permission) and felt comfortable with her right away.
The other two have not commented, so I had no sense of them as people. I was more tentative with them, even while encouraging them to chime in online.
And I've just thought of something: the reader who has commented is 1) Black, and 2) a Homewood resident. The two who haven't are 1) White, and 2) non-residents. And both of them, when I encouraged them to comment, said they don't feel qualified to do so.
I find that deeply interesting. Maybe the majority of my readers are non-residents. Heck, maybe the majority of my readers are white. Maybe the ones I met Saturday are following a good instinct, and should keep quiet and learn.
But from whom? If those people should keep quiet, who should converse? Who is likely to engage in transformative conversations?
My bias says, "Begin with residents. The best use of your newfound fame would be to get more residents using Homewood Nation."
Is that a valid answer? If it is, how might I go about it? I would love to hear what other people think - especially you