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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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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 (0)

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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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?

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



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!


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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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