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Don't Blame Homewood

Posted by Elwin Green on November 10, 2016 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (0)


President-elect Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters afer Hillary Clinton concedes his victory in Tuesday's election.


Don't blame Homewood.

 

In the first 24 hours after the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, my Facebook feed lit up with people blaming and shaming other people who voted for third-party candidates, who cast "protest votes," or who didn't vote at all.

 

Media outlets also seem to be grasping at any explanantion they can find to account for Trump's election, which no one seemed to expect (other than documentary filmmaker Michael Moore). Indeed, U.S. News and World Report goes so far as to present this headline: "Clinton Made Her Case To Black Voters. Why Didn't They Hear Her?"

 

The subhead is even better: "Black voters in swing states may have cost Clinton the election."

 

Pennsylvania's a swing state, and Homewood's a Black neighborhood, but don't even come near here with that mess.

 

Homewood was Hillary-or-bust.

 

True, voter turnout could have been higher (I always want it to be): Voter turnout in the 19 districts of the 13th Ward ranged from 50.64% to 73.05% of registered voters, and averaged 60.16%. That's more than 10 points below the countywide turnout of 70.65%.

 

But those who did vote were firmly in Clinton's corner, giving her a total of 4,105 out of 4,287 votes cast, or 95.75%.

 

Trump received 89 votes; Libertarian Gary Johnson, 22; Green Party candidate Jill Stein, 18; and Constitution Party Darrell L. Castle, 8. There were also 16 write-in votes.

 

Here's a district-by-district breakdown:



So, we voted for Clinton, we got Trump. What do you think a Trump presidency will mean for Homewood? How shoud we prepare to navigate the next four years?


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Monday Meetings Provide Opportunities For Engagement

Posted by Elwin Green on November 6, 2016 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

These things are happening tomorrow, Monday, November 7:

 

At 2 pm, "a discussion about housing and community development, health and environmental justice, and crime and safety in Homewood," sponsored by Masters of Social Work students at the University of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Homewood Children's Village and Operation Better Block.

 

The flyer that appeared in my door a few days ago says that food from Homewood caterers will be provided, and that childcare and transportation are available upon request.

 

The flyer asks for day-before RSVPs to (412) 450-0354 or [email protected]; when you read this, it may be too late to do that for tomorrow.. The good news is that anyone who can't make this meeting has two more opportunities to participate - at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, or at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15.

 

Tomorrow's meeting is at the Carnegie Library, 7101 Hamilton Avenue; Wednesday's meeting is at Operation Better Block, 801 N. Homewood Avenue; and next Tuesday's meeting is at the Homewood-Brushton Branch of CCAC, 701 N. Homewood Ave.

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Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay stunned many of us Friday by announcing his resignation; Tuesday will be his last day of work.

 

At 5 p.m., The Alliance for Police Accountability is hosting, "Send Chief McLay Home with Gratitude," an opportunity for citizens to express appreciation for the work that Chief McLay has done to improve policing generally and police officers' relationships with Pittsburgh's Black population in particular. The event will be held at The Kingsley Assocation, 6435 Frankstown Ave., and is scheduled to run until 7:30.

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At 5:30 pm, you can express any concerns that Chief McLay's resignation raises for you by attending a special community meeting of The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations at the CCAC Homewood-Brushton Center, 701 North Homewood Ave.

The Commission also invites attendees to 

- share your experiences and observations of discrimination in policing, housing, employment, and accommodations such as transportation, health care, etc

- submit requests for an audit of the City of Pittsburgh regarding systemic patterns of discrimination in capital budget and CDGB spending, development and zoning practices, housing policies, etc

- express your concerns discrimination in housing, employment, and accommodations such as transportation, public services, etc.

An email from commissioner Helen Gerhardt notes, "The Commission is determined to take decisive action, both to address individual complaints of discrimination as well as systemic patterns."

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At 6 p.m., there will be a Homewood community meeting to present the Homewood, East Hills, East Liberty, Lincon-Lemington-Belmar, and Larimer Protection Initiative (aka "HELP Initiative"), described on its website as "a comprehensive, resident-driven initiative to protect, strengthen, and rebuild targeted East End communities."

 

The meeting will be held at Community Empowerment Association, 7210 Kelly Street, and is scheduled to run until 7:30. It will include an overview of the HELP Initiative, and updates on current and coming projects.

 

To get a sense of the scale and type of activity invovled, PLEASE visit the initiative's website. It's surprisingly good at not only introducing HELP, but documenting the process that has occurred so far, and the status of projects underway. That documentation includes videos like this one, from a meeting held on February 16:

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.


 

It also provides the opportunity for residents to sign "The HELP Pledge," which reads as follows:

"I Pledge To HELP:

• Transform distressed low-income communities into stable mixed-income communities.

• Improve the health, safety, employment, and education of families.

• Demand living wage jobs, high performing schools, early childhood education, and accessible public transformation.

• Create parks, clean open spaces, green design, conservation and energy reduction.

• Support local entrepreneurship and the rebuilding of historic business districts.

I SUPPORT THE HELP INITIATIVE!"

Check it out! 

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An Open Letter To My Neighbors Who Are Electing Their First President

Posted by Elwin Green on November 3, 2016 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.


Unfortunately, voting isn't usually this much fun.


To my neighbors, Isaiah and Dorian:


Gentlemen:


This letter is to follow up on the conversation we had a few weeks ago about this presidential campaign, and somewhat about politics in general. I really enjoyed that conversation; I think you guys are pretty sharp.


I've been thinking some more about how you're both in your early 20s, and how this is the first presidential election in which you will be able to vote. And I have to say...


I apologize.


I apologize because, as someone who has been an adult citizen for more than 40 years, I have helped to create the political landscape that lies before you now.


When I say “adult citizen,” I mean someone who is able to vote. I have voted in 11 presidential elections now, in which seven men have won the presidency, four of them twice. Double that number for congressional elections, since members of the House of Representatives have two-year terms. Add in elections for governors and for the statehouse, for mayor and for city council, and I have voted in more elections than I care to remember.


But somehow, it seems that — how can I say this? — I've never quite gotten the hang of it.


By that I mean that I have never walked into a voting booth, or walked up to voting machine, and cast a vote for every office shown, feeling confident that I was making a decision based both on good information and my own values.


Sometimes I've voted on the basis of party; sometimes I have voted on the basis of knowledge of a candidate; and in 2008, like Steve Harvey, I voted on the basis of race.


But voting on the basis of good information and my own values? Not much.


I could list multiple reasons for that, but none of them would be excuses. In fact, I would say that I, and other Baby Boomers, should be the wisest generation of voters ever. We saw a president assassinated, we saw a president resign, we saw a president refuse to seek re-election. We saw a president impeached, we saw a presidential election basically decided by the Supreme Court. As a generation, we should have mastered presidential politics by now.


But if we had, perhaps the leading two parties would not be able to block third party candidates from participating in presidential debates. If we had, perhaps no one could conduct a serious presidential campaign without ever mentioning the poor. If we had, perhaps climate change would have become a key issue on both parties' platforms a decade ago.


If we had gotten good at electing presidents who bring out the best of this country's potential, we certainly would not imprison more of our citizens than any other country in the world (mostly young Black men like yourselves).


Sorry — I'm supposed to be speaking for myself. If I had been a better voter — a better citizen — for these past 40 years, perhaps I would have helped to make those changes.


Anyway, here we are now, with an election right around the corner. And you have a lifetime of elections ahead of you after this one. And I would like to share some lessons that can help you to be a better citizen than I've been so far.


1. There's more to voting than electing a president and a vice-president. Much more. On Nov. 8, you will have the opportunity to cast votes for at least seven offices other than the presidency and vice-presidency: U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, State Senator, State Representative, and State Attorney General, Auditor General and Treasurer. In other elections, you'll be able to choose governors, mayors, sheriffs, city council members, county council members. Every choice deserves the best attention you can give it.


2. So-called “mid-term” elections are just as important as any others. These are the elections in the middle of a president's term in which we elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Some of us who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 didn't pay attention in 2010, and the Republicans took over the House and have controlled it ever since.


3. There's more to citizenship than voting. Citizenship requires ongoing awareness. So, develop trustworthy sources of information about what your government is doing — local, county, state and federal. If that seems like too much, start with the local level and build from there.


4. Let your elected officials know what you think about how they're doing. Call, write, use social media, whatever. Let them know that you're watching. Again, start with the local level. Why? Because the local level is where you will have the most influence and where your action can produce the most immediate results.


5. You can take your citizenship game to a whole new level by reading the U.S. Constitution. Even if you don't understand the entire thing right away, the act of reading it will make you politically smarter than 90 percent of Americans. Discuss it with your friends, and you're on your way to being political geniuses (pizza night, anyone?).


6. Act out your citizenship between elections. Sign online petitions. Attend meetings. Share what you know. Participate in fundraising activities for causes that you care about.


7. There are more than two parties available for your participation. As much as people speak of “the two-party system,” it only exists as much as we allow it to. If neither of the major parties suits your thinking, find one that does. Be prepared to work at building it, and be prepared to explain to people why you're there. Learn to vote for platforms, rather than for personalities.


8. Remember who is in charge. As citizens, every government employee works for us, and the entire machinery of government exists to serve us. Some folks would say here, “It wasn't designed for Black people,” and that's true, but we're here now as citizens rather than slaves. This should not make us arrogant, but it should give us a confidence that may look like arrogance to some people.


To quote Louis Brandeis, who was appointed to the Supreme Court a century ago, “The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen.”


Let that sink all the way in. And let's talk again sometime soon about this crazy world we've stuck you with.


Mr. Green


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

 

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A print version of this piece appears in the Nov. 3-9 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!

Wall of Fame Gains New Members

Posted by Elwin Green on October 7, 2016 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy 6-12 is still known to most as simply "Westinghouse," and is remembered by many of its older alums as the school that prepared them for the world.

 

For years, the Westinghouse Commission on Recognition has celebrated some of those alums who went on to significant achievements in the world with the Wall of Fame, a series of plaques that hang in the school's first-floor hall.

 

On Wednesday, the number of alums so honored grew by 19 as alums and students gathered for the 2016 Wall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The event was part of the run-up to Westinghouse's homecoming weekend. capped by tonight's football game against the University Prep Wildcats.

 

The new inductees covered multiple generations, with graduates from the early 1960s standing alongside those from the 1990s.

 

I was not there for the entire program. But I was there long enough to watch one alum, who actually dropped out before graduating, struggle to hold back tears as he said, "I have lived the American Dream because of this school."

 

Gleyn Ward dropped out in 1962, but credits the school with instilling the character needed for him to get his diploma the following year via night school, then to work his way up through the ranks at KDKA to become national sales manager.

 

A 1970 graduate, Carol Waller Pope, spoke of how her parents moved to Homewood - get this, now - "for the opportunity." She continued pursuing opportunity well enough so that she is now Chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

 

A third inductee became a member of the first parent-child duo to earn their places on the Wall.

 

Brett Banks, class of 1995, is senior executive for visual merchandising with Ralph Lauren. He has been with the fashion company for 12 years, after a stint at Tommy Hilfiger.

 

"Homewood is my foundation," he said. But not just Homewood: Westinghouse.

 

"You go across the country and around the world and you mention Homewood, and they definitely say, 'Westinghouse'."

 

His mother, Cheryl Jones Banks, graduated from Westinghouse in 1964 and was inducted in 2009. Ms Banks spent 35 years with Allegheny County's Office of Children Youth and Families (which means that she was there before it even had that name), and was the first African-American female to be hired as a supervisor there.

 

Quick obeservations:

 

1) Westinghouse pride is a BIG DEAL.

 

I am native of Louisville, Ky., and a graduate of Louisville Male High School (the first high school west of the Allegheny Mountains). I have good feelings about Male, but I confess that my feelings about Male pale in comparison to what I see among some Westinghouse alums. Sometimes I want to say to them, "You know that feeling that strongly about the school you attended 40 years ago is not normal, right?" But I'm afraid that saying so will be taken as a criticism, rather than simply an expression of wonderment.

 

2) The Wall of Fame is, if possible, an even bigger deal. Each person there has a story worth knowing.

 

I'll leave it at that for now.

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Progressive Dinner For A Progressing Neighborhood

Posted by Elwin Green on October 3, 2016 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)



The Homewood Brushton Business Association is presenting an event this weekend that will give folks the opportunity to sample cuisine from Homewood caterers while visiting Homewood businesses and institutions.

 

The Homewood Progressive Dinner, being held Saturday evening, will offer a five course meal, with each course being served at a different location.

 

Libations will be offered at Knotzland, aka Artisan Bowtie Co., a startup in 7800 Susquehanna that recycles textile waste into unique neckwear.

 

From there, diners will move to Unity Consultants for appetizers. Their office is in the first floor of Homewood Station, the senior low-rise on Homewood Avenue near the Busway.

 

The entree will be served at the Afro-American Music Institute, at 7131 Hamilton Ave., which has provided music instruction for Homewood residents and others for more than 30 years.

 

Then it's down to The Wheel Mill, an indoor bike park at 6815 Hamilton Ave, for dessert.

 

Rounding out the pentathlon will be a nightcap at Lounge 7101 2ND Time Around, at 7101 Frankstown.

 

Besides being served at different Homewood businesses and agencies, the courses will each be prepared and served by a different provider.

 

Libations will be provided by Wine and Words Pittsburgh, headed by Erika Turner, who co-founded the company with her mother, Diane Turner. In 2014, Wine and Words received a $10,000 grant in Urban Innovation21' business grant competition.

 

Appetizers will be served by 7 Senses Catering & Event Services. Tia Staples' company is in the process of moving in to a retail space at 531 N. Homewood Ave, in Homewood Station, the senior low-rise on located near the Busway.

 

East Liberty-based Indulge, owned by Monique Woodson, will provide the entree.

 

Dessert will come from Dana's Bakery. Dana's was already a Homewood institution when I moved here in 1984, so it's great to see them included.

 

HBBA board member Demi Kolke said the idea for the dinner arose while she and fellow board members Vernard Alexander, Marteen Garay, Henry Pyatt and Shimira Williams were debriefing after HBBA's first large event, a business expo held this summer.

 

They were eager to do another event, she said, and asked themselves, "What's a small, more achievable thing that we can do with the business community?"

 

Alexander brought up the idea of highlighting food businesses, and the group decided on the progressive dinner concept.

 

"We got the planning done that very first night," Kolke said.

 

For Harry Geyer, proprietor of The Wheel Mill, the decision to participate in the event was a no-brainer.

 

"We were approached by Demi," he said, "She asked if we would be interested in being a location, and I said, 'Yes, of course.'"

 

Part of what made that decision easy was how little it required - "just providing a location."

 

In return for that, the event "gives us a chance to get people to walk thorugh the park." Which might, just might, produce more business.


From where I sit, the Homewood Progressive Dinner looks like genius. Here's why.


Growing Homewood will require, not just a certain amount of real estate development (which is the first thing that many people think of), but a certain amount of marketing the neighborhood.


There's nothing new about that. If you drive three or four miles north from Downtown on Route 65, you will come across a sign that is something of a local landmark.

 

The Bellevue Sign, for lack of a better name, is perched on the right at the intersection of Route 65 and Riverview Ave, which leads up into the borough. A bold rectangle proclaims the name, "BELLEVUE" (just like that, in all caps), and beneath it, three ovals declare three things to do in Bellevue: Live. Worship. Shop.


(Photo by Thomas C. Buell)

 

The sign is one of my favorite examples of marketing a community to the wider world. I've seen other signs, posted by developers, proclaiming that a development under construction would be a great place to live, work and play. I think I like the Bellevue sign better because Bellevue was surely already well-established when it went up (it looks 50s-ish), and because it's now been around awhile. It seems more like an honest description than merely a marketing pitch.

 

I've often thought about the Bellevue Sign, and others, when thinking about Homewood. If someone wanted to market Homewood by using verbs to describe things to do in Homewood, what verbs could they use?

 

"Homewood is a great place to..." Work? Live? Play? Worship? Shop?

 

The abundance of churches might make Homewood a great place to worship, for someone who's looking for that. But how many people are looking for a place to worship, versus being locked in to where they are?

 

We don't yet have enough retail to make Homewood a great place to shop, or enough businesses generally to make it a great place to work.

 

"Homewood is a great place to live" will remain a hard sell until Homewood is known as safe, and its schools are known as excellent.

 

That leaves "Homewood is a great place to play." If "play" is understood to encompass the entire range of entertainment and recreation, then that is where I think Homewood can become most marketable most easily.

 

How? By becoming known as a location for entertaining events. Like a progressive dinner. Or the Harambee-Ujima Festival held in July, which included an arts and culture tour. Or the Wednesday afternoon concerts presented by The Harold Young Jazz Workshop Inc. on the steps of the Homewood Carnegie Library during the summer. Or the Sembene Arts and Film Festival, which screens films and hosts discussions, also at the library.


These events have already shown that people who might not live in Homewood, or work here, or worship here, will come here to play; that they will come here for arts and entertainment. What has not happened is an overall campaign to market, not just the individual events, but the neighborhood itself as the location for the events.


Such a campaign could make a big difference simply in terms of bringing more visitors to Homewood who have money to spend while they're here. Some of us in Homewood are worried about certain people moving into the neighborhood. But am I alone in wanting everyone to visit here long enough to spend money?

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

 

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A print version of this piece appears in the Oct. 6 - 12 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy at Salik's Hardware, 603 N. Homewood Ave., then SUBSCRIBE  for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

Urban Innovation21 Grant Competition Returns

Posted by Elwin Green on September 9, 2016 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)


Neil Dorsey received a $10,000 grant for Dorsey's Records in 2013; his family has owned and operated the business for more than 60 years.

 

Urban Innovation21's  business grant competition is returning to Homewood for a fourth year.

 

The Inclusive Innovation Community-Based Business Grant Competition launched yesterday evening with an orientation session for business owners held at the organization's office in the Hill District's Energy Innovation Center. A second orientation will be held tomorrow at the Homewood-Brushton Branch of Community College of Allegheny County from 10 a.m. - noon. Free tickets for that session are available on Eventbrite.

 

Attending an orientation session is recommended but not required, said Marteen Garay, UI21's director of entrepreneurship programming. What is required to participate in the competition is to register, which business owners can do at Urban Innovation21's website.


In previous years, Urban Innovation21, a public-private partnership, has conducted grant competitions for businesses in the Hill District and in Homewood at separate times. This year, the competitions for both neighborhoods are being conducted simultaneously. Business owners from both neighborhoods will be encouraged to attend Saturday morning workshops at Homewood-Brushton CCAC, and small group and one-on-one sessions at the Energy Innovation Center.

 

The agency plans to award $50,000 to Hill District entrepreneurs and business owners, and $100,000 to those in Homewood. In each neighborhood, the awards will be divided among new and existing businesses.

 

Previous winners in Homewood include Dorsey's Records, The Wheel Mill LP, and the Pittsburgh Barber College.

Bill Clinton To Visit Homewood.

Posted by Elwin Green on September 7, 2016 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (3)

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Homewood Friday to drum up support for his wife Hilary's presidential run.


My initial rush of excitement about this died pretty quickly, when I thought about the traffic problems likely to be created by his visit - especially to the extent that it coincides with activities celebrating the life of House of Manna pastor Eugene "Freedom" Blackwell, who passed last week.


The homegoing service for Pastor Blackwell is at 11 a.m. Bill Clinton is scheduled to be at the New Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum from 11:45 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. House of Manna and the Coliseum are just a block away from each other, so I expect a big mess, traffic-wise.


Beyond that, I find myself asking, "How can Homewood benefit from Bill Clinton's visit?"


I don't see any immmediate benefit. The only thing I can imagine is that this visit is part of a long game by Homewood's state representative, Ed Gainey, whom Coliseum owner John Brewer credits for pulling it off. And by Mayor Bill Peduto, whose multiple visits to the Obama White House could lead to a relationship with Ms. Clinton, should she become president, that could bring something to Pittsburgh and to Homewood.


That possibility is enough to arouse my interest, but not my excitement. This is what would give me an emotional rush, and make me want to back Ms. Clinton: if Bill Clinton repented for his role in intensifying the War on Drugs, and if Hillary Clinton pledged to do everything in her power to undo its damage if elected.


Otherwise, I invite you to help me see what I might be missing - How might Homewood benefit from Bill Clinton's visit - or for that matter, from a second Clinton presidency?

Remembering Freedom

Posted by Elwin Green on September 7, 2016 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)


On Friday, Sept. 9, the House of Manna Faith Community will conduct the homegoing service (aka, funeral) for their founding pastor, the Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell, who passed away on Aug. 29 at the age of 43.


The 11 a.m. service will be preceded by a "Freedom Procession," starting at 9:30 at Westinghouse High School.


I visited House of Manna Sunday for their first Sunday service without Freedom. Pastor Jonathan E. (J.E.) Gamble brought the message, based on Philippians 4:2-4, a passage in which the apostle Paul encourages his hearers to walk in humility. He related that to the church’s situation, in which people who don’t walk in humility could get caught up in jockeying for position, especially for the vaunted role of lead pastor.


After the service, I spoke with the three of the elders who now share the pastoral role: Gamble of Homewood; Juan Williams of the North Side and John Swanson of Gibsonia. I asked each for the one word that he felt best described the Rev. Blackwell.


“Freedom,” Gamble said. “I think his name fit him, both literally and figuratively.”


“He sought to see your freedom in Christ,” he added.


“Even from a non-spiritual perspective, just the freedom to be a black man in America, and the freedoms that are being attacked — these things we remember when we think about the word ‘freedom’,” he said.


“And spiritually, of course, the scriptures that go along with ‘freedom,’ and how the Lord makes you free, and and he who is in the Son is free indeed.”


“I think that God changed his name from Eugene to Freedom for a reason, because it would be hard to champion ‘Eugene,’ ” he said — not quite laughing, but coming close.


Williams played football alongside the Rev. Blackwell at the University of Pittsburgh, leading to more than 20 years of friendship. His one word for his friend was “peaceful.”


“That was pretty much his mission, to bring peace back to this community, through the love of God,” he said. “You know, basically, that’s where we stand. We have to love each other before we could ever move forward or anything. So that was his thing, reconciliation, between African-American churches, white churches, whatever. Just to bring back the peace and the love. We all are Christians and we've got to have a common place to start — that's with love, love and peace.”


Swanson's word was “love.”


“I was a very close friend of Pastor Freedom. We were spiritual brothers, as close as close can get.”


He spoke about the people-centered approach to ministry that they shared, led, as he put it, by the Holy Spirit.


“What Pastor Freedom and I really loved to do was when we would speak with people, people on the street, in church, we always spend the time with the individual, and ask that person why they're hurting. And the Holy Spirit would tell us why they're hurting.


“And to answer their questions, and it would take … sometimes an hour, sitting on a curb, sitting on a car seat, sitting here in church, it doesn't matter where it is, in a restaurant — when that person sees that you love them and you care about them and you’re listening and that God truly loves them, they open up and they tell their problems. And once they release those problems to the Lord, you see a change coming over that person. And then you see that person (later), and you always tell the person, can you please, please pass this forward.”


Freedom. Peace. Love. Would that more people would be remembered for such things when they leave.


RWG, Freedom — rest with God.

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

 

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A print version of this piece appears in the Sept. 8-14 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!

Homewood Loses A Hero

Posted by Elwin Green on August 29, 2016 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Rev. Eugene "Freedom" Blackwell, founding pastor of House of Manna and former pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, passed away this morning, at the age of 43.

 

I don't know the details yet, but do know that he had endured - and until now, survived - bouts with cancer over the past few years.

 

Bethesda announced the news in a Facebook post:

 

TO: Bethesda Family & Friends
We share news of the passing of Rev. Eugene "Freedom" Blackwell, who served God with you here at Bethesda from 2004 to 2009.

Just as we prayed for him and the family during his journey and battle with sickness, please continue to pray for the family as they mourn his passing. It is my prayer that as the family remembers and celebrates his life that the blessed assurance of the Holy Spirit will surround them with a peace that transcends all understanding. May they have joy in the midst of sorrow as they remember that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, death does not have the victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Surely, there is a crowd of witnesses who can confirm that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. AMEN

 

I first met Rev. Blackwell at an event at which Dr. John Perkins was the featured speaker. Dr. Perkins is well known among evangelical Christians for an approach to ministry that focuses on local churches becoming change agents in underserved neighborhoods.

 

The approach hinges on what Perkins calls "the three Rs" - relocation, reconciliation and redistribution. "Relocation" refers to Christians relocating to inner-city communities; "Reconciliation" refers to them working with their new neighbors to bridge the racial divide; and "Redistribution" refers to redistributing resources - not just money, but things like relationships and access - for the benefit of their adopted neighborhoods.

 

In case you couldn't tell, this message was almost exclusively directed toward white suburban Christians; the successes of Dr. Perkins ministry largely boiled down to white people moving into the hood to do good. That's not a knock, it's an observation, and I only make it to make this observation - Rev. Blackwell was the first Black pastor that I've come across who deliberately and intentionally did the first R - he and his family relocated into Homewood so that they could do ministry here as residents. And for that, they gained my everlasting admiration.


I believe that Rev. Blackwell was the pastor of Bethesda when we met; he eventually left to establish House of Manna, a Presbyterian mission church that distinguished itself early on by holding worship services on Friday evenings (and serving dinner) and doing street minstry. He and his wife Dina ("Free") established a separate non-profit, Homewood Renaissance Association, which created a program to train young people in the construction trades.


In keeping with the original meaning of "gospel," their work was good news for Homewood, resulting in coverage by the Post-Gazette here, here and here.

 

There's more to say, and more that will be said. But that is my two cents' worth for now. Let those who pray, pray for his family, his congregation, and all those who knew him well.

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?


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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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