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Zone 5 Mission Statement Short, Deep

Posted by Elwin Green on July 13, 2016 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (5)

I visited with Zone 5 police commander Jason Lando yesterday., and learned that Zone 5 has a mission statement.

I don't know how common (or not) it is for police zones, or even departments, to have mission statements. I don't think that it would have even occurred to me ask about such a thing. But there it was, firmly secured under the glass top of the conference table in Lando's office.

And here it is:

I asked him how it came to be, and this is what he said.

I like everything about it: its brevity, its contextualization of law enforcement, the fact that "Act ethically" is #1. And as a publisher, I really, really like the font - gotta circle back and ask him about that.

But what I may like most is that it can become a tool for use in interacting with police and evaluating their performance. Citizens can use it to challenge officers when we believe they are falling short on one or more of the four points, or we can use it to affirm them when we think they're doing well on one or more of the four points.

What do you think?

Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights...Pittsburgh?

Posted by Elwin Green on July 13, 2016 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Alton Sterling (l) and Philando Castile (r) were killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and Falcon Heights, Minn. last week.

I'm going to make a pitch here. But first, a story:

I was out late, and stopped at a 24-hour convenience store around 3 a.m. to use the restroom and possibly grab a snack.

A younger Black man — I’d say early 30s — came into the restroom after me. We were both washing our hands when he began telling me about an encounter that he had just had with some police officers.

Actually, he said a lot less about the encounter itself than he did about how he felt about the encounter. He never said exactly what happened. But whatever it was, was so humiliating, so infuriating, that he fought to hold back tears as he talked about how police need to change their treatment of Black men, and the consequences that could result if they didn't.

I wanted to give him a hug that would grant him permission to release his tears. My attempt to do that felt awkward when it didn’t work.

We eventually parted (“I'm going to go back to my car and cry some more."). We did not exchange personal info, and I have not seen him again.


In the wake of the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., it's natural for citizens across the country to ask, “Will it happen here?” Will the next horrific instance of bad policing resulting in the death of an unarmed citizen happen in my city, in my neighborhood?

Living in Pittsburgh, in Homewood, my answer is, “I don't think so.”

Here's why:

The string of killings of Black men and boys by police officers that we have seen over the past two years represent and illustrate defects in America’s police departments — defects in training that allow officers to view Black suspects as more threatening than others, or even as less human, and defects in culture that allow officers with repeated complaints of excessive force to continue without correction or discipline.

Since his arrival in September 2014, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay has consistently voiced a commitment to eliminating any such defects in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and to lift the Bureau to a higher standard of policing.

He now has a training program in place to lift the Bureau to that higher standard. Based on a curriculum offered by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, the program is designed to place values-based decision-making at the core of the Bureau's operations and individual officer's behavior.

Part of what that involves officers learning to think about their own thinking — to step beyond knee-jerk responses, even in tense situations, to access their higher brain functions.

That alone could help to prevent unnecessary citizen deaths.

A second aspect of change that is happening under McLay's command is that of community relations — going beyond simple public relations to the development of genuine relationships with the communities.

In Zone 5, Commander Jason Lando has made communicating and relationship building priorities. Each week, he emails a report of police activity to anyone who wants it. (To get on the list, email him at jason.lando@pittsburghpa.gov). He also sends occasional bulletins such as one sent Saturday in response to the Sterling and Castile shootings as well as the killing of Dallas police officers. In it, he reminded readers of Zone 5’s relationship building efforts.

“We have initiatives such as ‘Raising Readers Together’ where our officers read books to young children at Willie T's Barber Shop in Homewood.” he wrote. “We regularly engage in small-group meetings between our officers and teenagers from the community, to help each of us understand the needs of the other. Our officers work with the youth football leagues, stopping by after practice and having pizza with the kids, allowing them to see police officers in a non-threatening manner.”

When officers engage in that kind of work, it becomes impossible for them to view residents generically as thugs, or for residents to view officers generically as pigs.

The key word there is “work.” It's not magic. It is work, and work takes time. The total elimination of bad, racist policing will not happen overnight. In the meantime, part of what needs to happen is that when bad policing does occur, citizens need to report it.

Here, Pittsburgh has an advantage over many other cities. In most cities, a report of officer misconduct is subject to an internal investigation only. Here, we have an independent agency tasked with investigating complaints against officers — the Citizen Police Review Board.

Created in 1997, the Board does not have the power to issue disciplinary actions against officers, and for that reason some view it as toothless. But its power to subpoena, to hear testimony and to investigate means that when it makes recommendations regarding disciplinary action, those recommendations are based on a preponderance of evidence, including evidence that otherwise might not have been gathered.

I am on the Board, and I encourage citizens throughout Pittsburgh, but especially my Homewood neighbors, to make greater use of us.

When you believe that an officer's behavior is out of line, don’t just complain. When I had my late-night encounter with the young man in the convenience store, I tried to encourage him to report the incident to the Citizen Police Review Board, but I think he was too caught up in his feelings to hear me well. I regret that, and wish that he had given us the opportunity to do what we can.

Your reporting of police misconduct need not begin and end with the Citizen Police Review Board. You can also report it to a second agency, the Alliance for Police Accountability. The Alliance is a local nonprofit that began as an informal group of citizens advocating on behalf of Jordan Miles after he was beaten by undercover police officers in 2010. It has grown to provide ongoing support for those whom it considers victims of police misconduct, as well as strengthening police-community relations.

While the Citizen Police Review Board is limited to seven members, chosen by the Mayor and by City Council, anyone can participate in the work of the Alliance. Visit www.apapgh.org to learn how.

The horrors of last week can make one feel that America has turned a dark corner, and that things will inevitably get worse. But in Pittsburgh, in Homewood, we are at a time when every one of us can be involved in helping to making things better. Let's not waste it.


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A print version of this piece appears in the July 14 - 20 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy TODAY at the Frankstown Road Giant Eagle, 9001 Frankstown Road, then SUBSCRIBE  for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!


Press Conference To Protest Gun Violence.

Posted by Elwin Green on July 12, 2016 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (0)

From the just-passing-along-a-press-release department...this event is happening TODAY:

The Moving the Lives of Kids (MLK) Community Mural Project will host a press conference at 11 a.m. to address the rampant gun violence that has plagued the city and the nation. More than 100 students will participate.


On July 4, gun violence hit the MLK project hard. A 14-year-old boy would be gunned down in a neighboring Pittsburgh borough. That slain teenager’s brother is a painter with the MLK mural project.


In response to senseless gun violence, MLK launched "Paint All Over Pittsburgh," which will culminate with 10 murals painted throughout the city. The site of the press conference is a mural which will eventually depict a more vibrant Homewood.


At the press conference, more than 100 students will assemble in solidarity to protest senseless gun violence. The students will stand in front of a wall that will eventually become a mural depicting a more vibrant and lively Homewood. The Rev. Glenn G. Grayson, whose son Jeron Grayson was a victim of gun violence, will talk and deliver a prayer at the press conference.


"Our organization provides a safe outlet for the youth to leave their mark," MLK Executive Artist Kyle Holbrook said. Holbrook himself has lost 40 friends to gun violence and hopes MLK stops the devastating trend of gun violence. Since its inception, MLK has used an orange undercoat for all of its murals. Orange is the color that represents gun violence awareness.


Coincidentally, Paris Wellons, the artist supervisor at the Homewood site lost his brother to gun violence as a student working at the project. He is providing comfort to the youth artist who also lost his brother. The press conference will be held on the one-month anniversary of the deadly Orlando shootings at a night club. It is also days after the Dallas incident where several police officers were killed and incidents in Minnesota and Louisiana where unarmed men were killed by police.

CEA Hosts Day of Black Male Solidarity

Posted by Elwin Green on June 25, 2016 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Richard Garland (University of PIttsburgh Graduate School of Public Health) and Jack Jackson (Black Panther Party New Jersey chapter)  listen as T. Rashad Byrdsong,president and CEO of Community Empowerment Association, addresses the Day of Black Male Solidarity

“Our house is on fire,” Community Empowerment Association Inc. President and CEO Rashad Byrdsong told the audience at the first Day of Black Male Solidarity, on June 22, 2007.

Nine years later, “our house is still on fire,” he says.

In 2007, before hundreds of people who had marched from the City-County Building to Freedom Corner, at Centre and Crawford avenues in the Hill District, Byrdsong pointed out that firefighters do not have to agree about everything, and do not even have to like each other, to work together to fight a fire.

At the most recent Day of Black Male Solidarity at Community Empowerment Association’s Kelly Street headquarters, held on June 18, Byrdsong challenged the men present to unify more strongly against persistent challenges.

“If we don't get anything else from this conversation today, we need you as Black men to make a commitment to, at least once a month, reconvene to talk about the issues that impact the Black family, impact Black women, impact Black children and impact the Black community.

“We're talking about power,” he said. “We can't be afraid of saying that word. We can't be afraid of empowering our people to be able to compete in the broader marketplace — to make sure that we stabilize ourselves, stabilize our families, and that we have access to the same resources that any other human being, any other citizen in this country, has access to.”

He continued at length, speaking about divestment from, and gentrification of, Black neighborhoods; the inequities of the criminal justice system; and the lack of representation in redevelopment, using the Animal Rescue League's move into Homewood as an example. “The nerve of people to steal three to five blocks in our community and we're not even in the discussion.”

That assertion might be challenged, not only by Animal Rescue League, but by some residents who negotiated with the organization to prevent involuntary displacement of residents. But on Saturday, the assertion was met with a “That's right!” from the audience.

He then read, and commented on, a CEA white paper, “Message to Black Leadership: The Unfinished Business of Black Political, Social and Economic Empowerment,” which calls upon Black leadership “to redefine its political interests, then cultivate and advocate these interests in making them relevant to current issues.”

When he finished, it was time for the audience to divide up into breakout groups, devoted to five topics: defining Black leadership; mothers raising Black boys; warrior conflict: the code of the streets; being successful and still being down; and building wealth and black economic unity.

By this time, I'd say there were around 40 people in the audience.

I joined the last group; six men, all but one of whom was Black, discussing questions such as “What does wealth and development mean to you?” Anthony Ogletree, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, said, “For me, wealth isn't attained until you can help others attain it as well. What good is having a million dollars if everybody else is busted and broke?”

In the cavernous space of the gym-turned-auditorium, the voices from other groups echoed toward us as their discussions grew more spirited. When we reconvened as one audience to hear the groups’ reports on their discussion, we learned why voices might have been raised.

Shawnee Wright, resident advocate for the Glen Hazel Community Resident Management Corporation, reported out from the women's group.

“Part of the problem that we have in our community is us,” she said. “Those of us who want better for our children, who stick our neck out, we don't have the support of people who look like us. How dare you tell us that because I want my son to go to a better school to have a better life, that I have to be that crab in a bucket and stay down here with you? I'm trying to raise you up here with us.”

She continued with a strong call to personal responsibility.

“Some of us parents need to be parented,” she said. “They don't know what they're doing, and it's not their fault. My generation, my mother's generation … we dropped the ball.”

(WARNING: NSFW language)

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After the groups all reported, Jack Jackson of the Black Panther Party's New Jersey chapter, spoke about programs to clean up urban neighborhoods block by block, to provide clothing and hygiene products for boys and young men, and to give groceries to families in need.

His from-the-streets, for-the-streets presentation was laced with profanity and frequent interjections of “You know what I'm sayin?” — a style of speaking perfectly suited for the audience he works to reach, “to soften the heart of the homies.”

This account is woefully incomplete. There were enough ideas shared that day to keep a half-dozen committees busy for a year. I'll close by quoting someone who was not scheduled to speak, but who gently challenged us all with something for each of us to do individually.

As the meeting wound down, Byrdsong referred to the concern, or curiosity, that some people have expressed about his succession plan. He called up Minnekeh Thomas, who prefers to be called simply Minnekeh or Brother Minnekeh, and who grew up as a CEA kid, and said, “He's my succession plan.” And he asked him to speak.

And Minnekeh said,

“One of the things that we have to do is we have to forgive one another. And I really mean it. Everybody in this room has something that someone has done that hurt you.”

He went on to state the need, not only to forgive, but to sincerely and deliberately apologize for wrongs we've committed, and to commit to not doing them again.

“Once you do that you will have the courage and the power to step to anybody about anything, anywhere.”

I can think of no better starting point for the monthly meetings that Byrdsong plans to convene as follow-up to the Day of Black Male Solidarity.

Can you imagine what a group of men who forgive, and who know that they are forgiven, can do?

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A print version of this piece appears in the June 23-29 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy Friday at Dorsey's Record Shop, 7614 Frankstown Ave., then SUBSCRIBE  for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

Homewood Farmers Market Launches

Posted by Elwin Green on June 8, 2016 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (3)

Homewood resident Celeste Taylor (r), chats with YMCA garden program director Hanna Mosca (l) and Shiloh Farm manager Nick Lubecki of Grow PIttsburgh (c).

In a January post titled, "A New Script for Homewood," I wrote, “An alternative way of developing both people and land would be through urban agriculture.... Residents of a neighborhood with as much vacant land as Homewood has should never go hungry. Period.”

The movement to make agriculture a significant part of Homewood's economy made a step forward Saturday, with the grand opening of the Homewood Community Farmers Market.

The open-air market, conducted on the parking lot of House of Manna Worship Center on Frankstown Avenue, was presented by the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-operative.

A banner stretched across one of House of Manna’s windows proclaimed the group's mission: “to establish, educate and assist Black people for sustainability and food sovereignty.”

“Our people getting together to start urban agricultural groups is nothing new,” said organizer Raqueeb Bey. “Even after slavery, sharecroppers had to do it.”

The 25-member group was formed in June 2015, and is itself a member of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Co-operatives, an advocacy and networking group for worker-owned and member-owned businesses.

Bey said they decided to conduct the farmers market in Homewood because the neighborhood is a food desert, which she defined as “an underserved neighborhood where community residents don't have access to inexpensive, affordable, fresh groceries.”

“A lot of times their options are to go outside the neighborhood to a major grocery store. Sometimes even at the corner stores the prices are very high. And a lot of times the faces of corner store owners don’t look like us.”

Consistent with the group's ethnic focus, during an opening ceremony storyteller and master gardener Amir Rashidd of the Hill District offered libations in accordance with African tradition, pouring water onto the earth of a potted plant in honor of both ancestors and future descendants.

After that, it was time to shop among the small group of vendors, whose tents offered shade on a day that had turned sunny after raining earlier.

Grow Pittsburgh was there with a table that offered collard greens, kale (which sold out), and swiss chard, among other items, grown from two local gardens: one at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA , the other (Shiloh Farm) at Homewood Avenue and Thomas Boulevard.

“All this stuff was grown within a half a mile of here,” Shiloh Farm manager Nick Lubecki boasted.

I ran into Demi Kolke of Operation Better Block. During the organization's community planning process, urban agriculture emerged as a potential use for the vacant lots that make up nearly half of Homewood’s land parcels, a fact reflected in the final consensus vision plan unvelied last  November. Kolke reminded me that OBB operates agricultural space in the 7300 block of Frankstown Avenue, a block away from House of Manna — a set of four lots on which Homewood youth have begun growing corn, peppers and greens. So they may show up as vendors in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Louis Smith was already there, vending under the name, “King of Spices.’ His setup offered dozens of family-sized containers of all-natural spices —- and caps, ties and purses on the side.

After 25 years of operating stores and restaurants, Smith, of Wilkinsburg, said he has focused on selling his wares at farmers markets for the past four years.

Republic Food Enterprise Center came the longest distance to be there, from the town of Republic, Fayette County. It offered an assortment of vegetables and packaged goods with names like "Grandma’s Old Fashioned Buttermilk Flannel Cake Mix" and "Ernie’s World Famous Chipotle Wing Sauce."

Being around food can make a person hungry, so culinary student Essence Muhammed-Howze was offering free samples of cornbread and vegan chili (which was better than it sounds).

There were non-food vendors as well.

Bey's Temple of Natural Products had a table set up to offer natural soaps, skin butters and bath teas — large bags of herbs to be placed into a hot bath. Owner Jean Felisor Bey, of Duquesne, said that he and his wife began creating the products because “we didn't want use the harsh chemicals” in commercial soaps to bathe their four children. They have been in business since Februrary 2015.

And there was a raffle for small prizes, including artwork and bottles of wine.

When I first learned about the market, I was afraid that it would be a one-time event, or that it might happen just a couple of times before fizzling out. So I was delighted to learn from Ms. Bey that the organization plans to hold the market every other Saturday through the end of October, and one day each in November and December inside the worship center.

The next market, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 18 will be followed by the group’s monthly meeting at 3:30 p.m.

The Homewood Community Farmers Market is a practical example of “ujamaa,” or cooperative economics, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. It’s good see that principle being practiced beyond the holidays, just as it would be amazing to see “good will toward men” practiced beyond Christmas.


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A print version of this piece appears in the June 9 - 15 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy Friday at Baker's Dairy, 7300 Hamilton Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

A Dinner In Homewood

Posted by Elwin Green on May 18, 2016 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Britee Clay, co-owner of Jones Printing, and Vernard Alexander, owner of The Minority Networking Exchange, welcome guests to a dinner held at Jones Printing that was part of 200 Dinners Pittsburgh.

Erica L. Upshaw-Givner was adamant.

“It is not a prevention, it is a deterrent. It is part of a solution.”

“It” referred to the installation of cameras along Homewood’s streets to make them safer. Upshaw-Givner had mentioned cameras in response to the question, “What do you want to see in Homewood?”, and had received pushback — not hostile, but strong — from other members of a small group of people who had gathered for dinner.

A fellow attendee spoke up in support.

“One of the ways they cleaned up Lincoln-Larimer was cameras. When (State Rep. Joseph) Preston put those cameras right there on the corner, them gangs, that drug dealing, was shut down,” Orrein Godfrey said to a chorus of agreement. “And nine times out of 10, drugs and gangs lead the shooting. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

The exchange was part of the conversation at a dinner held on Saturday, May 14, in an unusual location — a back room at Jones Printing, one of Homewood's oldest businesses. Founder Denise Jones was absent; co-owner Brittee Clay was our host.

Vernard Alexander, owner of The MInority Networking Exchange, organized the dinner as part of a much larger citywide event, 200 Dinners Pittsburgh.

200 Dinners Pittsburgh offered Pittsburghers the opportunity to host dinners throughout the city “focused on a discussion of ideas that will make Pittsburgh an even better place,” as the project's online FAQ put it. It was a collaboration between Vibrant Pittsburgh, a nonprofit working to build the region’s workforce diversity, and NEXTpittsburgh, an online news outlet.

The organizations created 200 Dinners Pittsburgh as a way for everyday citizens to participate in the Pittsburgh Bicentennial, which kicked off March 18 with a celebration of Pittsburgh receiving its incorporation charter from the state in March 1816.

(If you're thinking, “Didn’t we do that a few years ago?” it’s because in 2008 we celebrated the sesquibicentennial, or 250th anniversary, of the city’s 1758 founding.)

With a sofa and some small high tables, the room was just the right size for the gathering of 10 women and five men. A covered pool table served as a buffet table, where caterer Malik Jones (The King's Plate Soul Food Catering) laid out a meal - a very tasty meal - that included chicken wings, meatballs, green beans, mac and cheese and potato salad.

Alexander opened the evening by asking people to introduce themselves, including saying what part of town they were from, and their relationship to Homewood.

Besides Alexander, of Friendship; Clay, of East Liberty; Upshaw-Givner and her daughter Felicia Robinson, both of Lincoln-Lemington; and Godfrey, of Stanton Heights; the dinner was attended by Simone Arnold, North Side; NIckye White, Penn Hills; Greg Morris,  East Liberty; Amber McNeal, North Side; Stacey Luck, Penn Hills, Pareese Smith, Duquesne, and Denise Johnson, Hill District  — a group that, while all black, was at least geographically diverse.

Celeste Taylor and I were the only current Homewood residents, but some had lived in Homewood previously. All of us were invited as people who care about Homewood.

The 200 Dinners toolkit suggested five questions for hosts to use during the dinners:

1. What makes you proud to call Pittsburgh home?

2. How can Pittsburgh attract and retain the best and brightest to continue creating opportunity here at home?

3. What is one idea that would solve a problem in your neighborhood to make it better?

4. What is preventing Pittsburgh from tackling inequities in our communities?

5. What should Pittsburgh become and how do we get there?

But Alexander asked us a different set of questions:

What are your perceptions of Homewood? What would you like to see in Homewood (a bowling alley or other similar recreational spot; a program to allow youth to burn off aggressive energy through boxing or martial arts; cameras)? Are you encouraging your children to leave Pittsburgh? (Yes.) How many of you have white friends? (I think everyone raised their hands initially before opening a discussion on what “friend” means, which led to some saying they have, rather, white acquaintances).

He gave special time to Celeste Taylor, who has waged a campaign of peace since moving to the 7000 block of Monticello Street, where she owns and operates the Monticello Street Hospitality House. During her time there, the block has been the scene of multiple shootings, including one in September in which one woman and two children were injured. In response, she has organized block parties and started a community garden.

With all that she could have said about all of that, she spoke instead about Vanessa German’s Art House, where she volunteers three days a week.

“I'm noticing that mainly white people volunteer there,” she said, “and I'm wondering, is there something about us, in terms of volunteering and knowing the needs of our children — do we need a more formal way that people understand where the volunteer opportunities are?

“Are you looking for volunteer opportunities, and has it been easy for you to find ways to give back?"

As often happens, the answers slid away from the question, into explanations of why people don't volunteer more: volunteering has become less of a cultural norm than it once was; neighbors don’t know one another’s needs; people are too needy themselves. No one said they were looking for opportunities; the clearest suggestion for getting more volunteers was to let more people to know about the opportunities.

As the evening went on, certain topics — black-on-black crime, portrayals of black people in mainstream media — made their way into the conversation without being invited there by any of the questions.

The conversation was lively enough so that we went well past the scheduled end time of 8 p.m. (“There's a lot of strong personalities in the room,” Alexander said during the opening), and the event as a whole was of a type that I would like to participate in more often — small gatherings to get acquainted and to explore topics of interest.

But I fear that not much of the conversation that was generated suited the larger purpose behind 200 Dinners Pittsburgh.

In focusing on Homewood, we didn’t expand the conversation to talk about making Pittsburgh as a whole better. I wish we had done more thinking together about Homewood being a part of Pittsburgh, and how Homewood can participate more fully in, and benefit more equitably from, the transformation of Pittsburgh.

Still, I am glad to have met a whole group of smart people who are all working hard to make life better for themselves, their families and the world.

And with the power of social media, we are just a few clicks away from having new conversations whenever we choose.

I look forward to those.


A print version of this piece appears in the May 19 - 25 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy at Baker's Dairy, 7300 Hamilton Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!



If you find value in Homewood Nation, please help it to continue by using the button at the right to make a donation. Thanks!

The shortest survey ever.

Posted by Elwin Green on May 3, 2016 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

What are you reading, and how is it helping you?

Lecture To Examine Faith-Based Entrepreneurship

Posted by Elwin Green on April 27, 2016 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)


Carnegie Mellon University Fellow Dr. Stephanie C. Boddie


A lecture this evening at Carnegie Mellon University will explore the intersections between faith and commerce in the Black community.


In "Unfinished Business: Black Religion and the Entrepreneurial Spirit," Homewood immigrant  Dr. Stephanie C. Boddie will highlight the work of three pastors - Richard Allen, Chalrs Albert Tidley and Leon Sullivan - whose congregations developed businesses that impacted local economies. In doing so, she hopes "to lift up this idea of entrepreneurial spirit versus the more traditional appraoch to being involved with community and community work."


Boddie acknowledges that entreprenurship as a path to community development runs counter to the more common conception of the entrenpreneur as rugged individualist.


"It's really more about people working together to promote initiatives that are both innovative and...really address issues that serve the common good.


"I'm not interested in 'the Oprah effect,' where you have one person who becomes tremendously successful and then typically leaves the community."


The lecture will be held at 5 pm at CMU's Steinberg Auditorium, Baker Hall A53, following refreshments at 4:30.


Dr. Boddie is the 2015-16 Postdoctoral Fellow in CMU's Center for African American Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE).

Born and raised in Baltmore, her mother insisted that she apply at Johns Hopkins University, not because of its stellar reputation as an academic institution, but because it was readily accessible via public transportation. After completing her degree in natural sciences there, with a focus on biomideical engineering, she began working as a tissue culture lab technician.

One day, she cut her hand in an accident. Being unable to do lab work with one hand bandaged up, "I had to go get a job I could do with one hand." That turned out to be a job with the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland, as the director of one of their Compassion Care Centers, located in Havre de Grace, a small town on the Chesapeake Bay.

Thus began her career in social service work. While working at the Mission Society, she began her studies in social work at Eastern University. Then she transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, moving to Philadelphia to complete her masters in social work, then a doctorate in social welfare.

She began making her mark as a scholar by publishing journal articles and co-authoring four books

Besides her work at CMU, she serves as  an adjunct professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a faculty associate at Washington University’s Center for Social Development. She is also a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Program for Research on Religion & Urban Civil Society and the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program.

Her strong interest in the role of faith-based institutions in rebuilding underserved communities made it natural that she would cross paths with Dr. John M. Wallace Jr., the University of Pittsburgh professor who, as pastor of Homewood's Bible Center Church, was working to bring the insights of sociology to bear on the church's community work. The two met at a conference in 2003 and kept in touch afterward.

She moved to Homewood in 2012 to participate in a program, "Healthy Living, Healthy Learning, Healthy Lives," a joint project of the University of Pittsburgh and the Homewood Children's Village, of which Wallace is the co-founder.

She had visited Homewood prior to that, and one of her visits coincided with the annual Good Firday prayer walk that House Of Manna, pastored by Rev. Eugene Blackwell, initiated in 2010.

The convening of people from all faiths impressed her.

"There seemed to be some potential for united efforts to transform the neighborhood and reach the aspirations that the community had for itself," she said.

As a result, "I could always see Homewood as a community that had vitality, that had life and energy."

A Last Minute Note

Posted by Elwin Green on April 22, 2016 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

It's not too late to register for The Each One Teach One Music And Radio Conference, an annual gathering that brings together musicians, techies, writers and others to explore a range of topics.

The conference, being held tomorrow, will include panel discussions on "Starting A Record Label," and "What Is News?"

Homewood native Kevin Amos, recently described Pittsburgh City Paper as "among Pittsburgh’s longest-serving radio DJs and perhaps its most eclectic," produces the conference, which is in its fourth year.

After a networking hour at 9 am, the FREE event will run from 10 am - 4:30 pm, at Bloomfield-Garfield Community Center, 113 S. Pacific Avenue.

Go here to register.

Homewood Children's Village To Report Out

Posted by Elwin Green on April 22, 2016 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

 Fred W. Brown Jr., president/CEO of the Homewood Children's Village

This evening, the Homewood Children's Village will host its "Today and Tomorrow" quarterly community gathering, the second in a series of events designed to keep residents informed about HCV's work.


The event, to be held at Bethany Baptist Church from 5:30 - 7 pm, will include a report in the form of a scorecard that grades the organization's performance, both internally and externally.


This will be HCV's second time offering such a scorecard for public perusal. The first was in December, at a similar gathering held at Bible Center Church.


The quarterly reports are one of the more obvious changes made by Fred W. Brown Jr. since becoming president and CEO in August of last year. His predecessor, Derrick Lopez, left the organization in September, 2014.


Brown came to HCV from The Kingsley Association, having served as associate director of program development from January 2009 until he began at HCV.


A native Homewoodian, he received his bachelor's degree in education from Indiana University in 1987, and his master's in social work from the University of Pittsburgh in 1988.


I think I first met and became friends with Fred when we both attended a weekend training event given several years ago by Transition US, an organization devoted to helping communities lead the nation in a move away from fossil fuels. He went on to become a trainer with the organization.


So when we met in August, some two weeks after he began at HCV, it was not just as interviewer and subject. It was as friends getting caught up. We spoke over lunch at the Fireside Caribbean restaurant in Wilkinsburg.


I already knew the Village's stated mission, which is "to simultaneously improve the lives of Homewood’s children and to reweave the fabric of the community in which they live." So I fired up my phone's voice recording app, and asked about goals. And he said (this is verbatim, from the recording),.


"The goal of the Village in the next few years is to realign our internal processes so that we create four distinct institutions to serve as pillars to Homewood, to better interface with the existing ecosystems of programs and projects and institutions, so that we help support a holistic delivery system that changes the caliber and capacity of community residents to actively engage in the change process from the ground up to interface in a vertical and horizontal way at the micro- meso- and macro-levels within our systems."


That is Fred Brown - a man whose conversation may repel you if you're dislike language such as "interface," "ecosystems" and "holistic.".Or whom you may find intriguing if it doesn't.


Either way, it reflects both the training and the sensibility that he brings to his work: a training that allows him to easily cite "The Big Rethink," a 2012 report on Pittsburgh's community development system, which stated that 80,000 Pittsburghers live in communities the report described as vulnerable - and then to add to it: "what the report doesn't go into greater detail and discern, is that in those communities where there's 80,000 vulnerable people, up to 44,000 are on probation or parole." And a sensibility that leads him to describe HCV's work largely in terms of relationships, and to describe relationships as either "transactional" or "transformative," expressing a preference for the latter.


The Homewood Children's Village was incorporated in August, 2009. I was on the steering committee that met for a year before that to design it; it would be another year before its unveiling to the public in a community meeting held in September, 2010. The two years of planning resulted in the organization getting off to good start in terms of funding. It received $165,731 in its first fiscal year, running from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. The next year, its first full year of operation, it landed nearly $2.2 million in funds. In FY 2011, it received $1 million, and in FY 2012, $2.1 million.


In FY 2013, the Village received $2.3 million, and had expenses of $2.5 million. Most of that - $1.9 million - went to salaries for 41 employees.


Now, Brown said, there about about 25 full- and part-time employees, in addition to interns.


"We have several PhDs working in our community, in our building," he said. "I find it compelling that those individuals could have taken jobs anywhere in the country.


"I don't recall in my lifetime as a child or as a young man, that I could knock on the door of a facility in our community, interface with four or five PhDs that are willing to help me with my homework, help me understand what quantum physics means, help me learn how to aggregate data."


That kind of interaction between staff and children is intrinsic to the work done by four divisions of the Village - the "institutions" he referred to back in August: its Full Service Community Schools program, the Office of Promise Fulfillment, the Office of Child and Community Health, and the Office of Evaluation and Research.


The scorecard that will be shared publicly at the "Today and Tomorrow" meeting will grade the work of all four offices. And if the first scorecard is any indication, it won't be pure self-congratulation. "Transparency" is another one of Brown's favorite words, and in December, an "F" stood out like a sore thumb from the list of As and Bs. The lapse was under the heading, "Community of Health," with this simple note:


"There have been a lot of snacks this month, few of which have been very healthy."


It may sound like a punch line, but Brown is serious about having employees, and the organization itself, pay attention to small things "so that we can model a behavior that transforms a community, not through an event, but through an ongoing process that gets down into the sinews of who we are as human beings."


He places all of this within the context of Homewood's redevelopment, and sees an opportunity for Homewood residents to learn from our neighbors in Larimer (whose work resulted in a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), "so that we're not weak sisters at the table, but strong partners - not just by our assets and volunteer hours...but by our latent skills and our ability to understand systems, resource allocation, land that can't be created.


And then he does this thing that he does - he elides seamslessly from the practical to the conceptual, from the political to the metaphysical.


"Now, this causes us to rise to a different frequency, to discern our dharma, our purpose, right?

Einstein said energy can never be created or destroyed, but simply altered. Right? So are we truly cognizant that..." and here his tonality changes, so that what started out as question becomes statement, "that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and at this time in the universe we are here to perform a service, because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.


"Are we really cognizant how we should be living our life?"


A print version of this piece appears in the Aprll 21 - 27 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy at Baker's Dairy, 7300 Hamilton Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!


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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."

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