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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


Homewood Nation publisher appointed to Citizen Police Review Board

Posted by Elwin Green on October 13, 2014 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)

by Denise Johnson

Homewood Nation publisher Elwin Green is a new member of the Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB), appointed by District 9 Pittsburgh City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess.


He was sworn in Aug. 26.

The CPRB is the only entity mandated by the City of Pittsburgh's Charter and city Code to receive, investigate and recommend appropriate action on the complaints related to police conduct and through the board’s work, to improve the relationship between the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the community. The board also provides advice and recommendations to the mayor and Chief of Police on policies and actions of the police, including recommendations on police training, hiring and disciplinary policies and discipline for individual officers.


A dedicated neighbor and community activist, Elwin’s main focus is “To play a major role in the positive transformation of my neighborhood.”


He has lived in Homewood since 1984. In recent years, he has served the community as chair of the Save Race Street Committee, working to improve the quality of life on the street; as chair of Block Watch Plus; as a member of the Bridging the Busway steering committee; and as a member of the Homewood Children’s Village Leadership Committee.


His civic and community involvement have garnered the Rev. J.A. Williams Community Leader Award, 2010; African-American Leadership Association Leader of Influence Award, 2010; Pittsburgh Black Media Federation 2011 Community Service Award and recognition as one of the New Pittsburgh Courier 50 Men of Excellence 2014.


Elwin’s term on the CPRB ends October 2015.

John Edgar Wideman To Appear

Posted by Elwin Green on October 11, 2014 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (1)

Award winnning novelist and essayist John Edgar Wideman will be at Duquesne University this afternoon 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.

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

Wideman’s brother, Robert, who is the subject of the award-winning 1984 book Brothers and Keepers, has taken three Inside-Out classes while incarcerated and is a founding member of the think tank. John Edgar Wideman, professor of Africana studies and literary arts at Brown University, will deliver "Brothers and Keepers 30 Years Later: A Reading," based on his 1984 memoir about his brother's arrest, trial and imprisonment, at 4 p.m. in the Africa Room. He will then participate in a 5 p.m. panel, titled "Think Tanks as Mechanisms for Social Justice," with 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 Xl. Moderator will be Lenny McAllister, host of PCNC-TV’s NightTalk.

The program is free and open to the public.

For more about Inside-Out, view the Spring 2011 issue of Duquesne University Magazine.

Homewood Children's Village head resigns

Posted by Elwin Green on September 26, 2014 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Homewood Children's Village President and CEO Derrick L. Lopez has resigned, the organization announced this evening.


An emailed press release from HCV said that Mr. Lopez is stepping down to complete his doctoral dissertation at Michigan State University, where he is studying educational policy.


Dr. Shannah Tharp-Gilliam has been promoted from Deputy CEO, and Director of Evaluation and Research, to interim President and CEO.


Mr. Lopez was HCV's first President and CEO, having served in that dual capacity since 2011.

In the absence of a standard file photo, we leave with this shot of Mr. Lopez, pre-HCV, at the Build Day for Homewood's first KaBoom! playground, in 2010:

The French Connection

Posted by Elwin Green on September 25, 2014 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Last November, I shared the news (passed on to me by Councilman Burgess' chief of staff Shawn Carter) that France had issued a warning to its citizens not to visit Homewood. Noting that French citizens were unlikely to do so anyway, I asked "Why should we care?" and answered:


I care because I see opportunity here. If Homewood can be internationally famous for one thing, then it can be internationally famous for something else...The opportunity is to make Homewood famous enough so that French citizens (among others, from everywhere) would plan to visit.


Well, it looks like a bit of that is happening. There's a young man in Paris named Olivier Saby. He's a government official and a businessman and a novelist. With all of that going on, the German Marshall Fund of the United States has named him as a young leader whom they want to visit our country. As part of his trip, they asked him to arrange a meeting with someone who inspires him.


He wants to meet with me.


Paris, meet Homewood.


When Homewood's transformation becomes obvious enough for everyone to see, what many people will not see is that what they see is the result of hundreds of incremental steps taken by individuals over a period of years - steps that looked - and WERE - so small when they were taken: like a young man in France choosing to read a blog from an overlooked neighborhood in America.

Homewood, meet Paris.

Final Business District Planning Meeting Tonight

Posted by Elwin Green on September 25, 2014 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Just a reminder that the last of three meetings by Operation Better Block, about the redevelopment of Homewood's business district, will be held this evening at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Homewood branch, 7101 Hamilton Avenue. Come at 5:30 for refresments; the meeting will start at 6. This meeting is for everyone in Homewood who wants to have a voice in the future of our business district.


Tonight's meeting will offer a recap of the first two. Here's a preview of the recap: In the first meeting, residents were asked what the identity of the business district should be - i.e., how do we want the business district to be known, or what do we want it to be known for? The emerging consensus, which was consistent with what residents said during the Bridging the Busway planning process, was that of wanting to see Homewood's business district as a regional destination for African-American culture.


(When Christine Brill, of Studio for Spatial Practice, asked me if I agreed with that, I said that I would if the word "global" replaced the word "regional." My friend, the Rev. John Wallace, pastor of Bible Center Church, got a laugh out of that, but I meant it. In my view, this work will require too much from too many people over too long a period of time for us to deliberately set our sights any lower than global.)


In the second meeting, the focus was on the kind of uses that people would like to see in the business district, which planning consultant Jonathan Kline, who as facilitated the meetings, divided into two categories: uses that would support the idea of building an African-American cultural destination, and uses that residents need in the neighborhood. The first category would includes restaurants or performance venues; the most commonly-discussed item in the second category is a grocery store.


Tonight's meeting, Kline said, will focus on market realities such as the number of households in Homewood, the retail spending patterns, how many households have cars, and how many people move through the neighborhood as commuters. That type of data drives developers' and other businesses' decision making - no one wants to locate a business in a place where there would not be enough customers to sustain it. So those of us who want to help development to happen well, need to understand those market realities.


After tonight's meeting, Studio for Spatial Practice will, as they have for other clusters in OBB's cluster planning process, produce a document to guide future planning efforts. But the one for the business district will differ from the others, Kline said.

While the previous documents have been "very prescriptive," he said, the one for the business district will contain "a list of scenarios."


"It's not going to be quite as definitive as the other clusters,..I'd say there are more unknowns about how the business district might develop."

Byrdsong presents "Urban Agenda Strategy" for Homewood - Part 1

Posted by Elwin Green on September 18, 2014 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (1)

T. Rashad Byrdsong, President and CEO of Community Empowerment Association

About two dozen people came out for a meeting at Community Empowerment Association in which CEA President and CEO T. Rashad Byrdsong presented a document for the community's review and use, titled "Homewood Urban Agenda Strategy: An Inner-City Model for Urban Revitalization."

Mr. Byrdsong devoted the greater part of the evening to walking the audience through a PowerPoint slideshow that provided background on the year-long process that produced the Urban Agenda.

He also challenged the leaders of Homewood's organizations to do better at coming together in order to present a unified front to government and the foundation community, both of whom are expected to be major sources of funding for redevelopment efforts in Homewood.

He emphasized that the document distributed to attendees was not in its final form, saying twice that "it's 75 percent done."

Describing it as "a theoretical framework," he said, "This document will never be done until we receive the concrete goods."


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Urban Agenda To Be Presented

Posted by Elwin Green on September 18, 2014 at 8:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I'm just going to leave this here for now:

HN Updates

Posted by Elwin Green on September 15, 2014 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)


1) The two episodes "Building A 21st Century Journalistic Enterprise" which I've announced twice already are on hold until I do some higher-level work on my calendar. The next time I mention either, it will not be with location TBA. The location will be included. Thanks for your patience.


2) I missed the deadline for completing the NewU grant application for which I urgently requested your help two Saturdays ago. The first question on the application asked for the URL for a 3-minute pitch video. Since I did not have a pitch video, much less have one posted online, that meant that I needed to write, shoot, edit and upload said video in order to complete that first question. I didn't make it. And the survey's design required the completion of the first question in order to advance to any others.


But working on it convinced me that a pitch video for Homewood Nation is a good thing to have anyway, so I will press forward with that. It will be a general-purpose video to introduce people to Homewood Nation and to invite them to partnership - with partnership being defined broadly enough to include everything from bringing supplies to an HN social gathering to providing financial support. Not to mention things like writing, photography, or managing back office stuff.


Anyway, thanks tons to all of you who expressed your support in response to my earlier request.


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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