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Stepping Up Homewood's Media Game

Posted by Elwin Green on April 23, 2019 at 7:35 AM Comments comments (6)


HOMEWOOD NATION'S NEXT ITERATION WILL NOT LOOK LIKE THIS. AT ALL. I PROMISE.


A meeting being held at the Homewood Carnegie Library next week will offer residents the chance to voice their concerns to journalists about how the neighborhood is covered by local media.


It will also offer those residents the opportunity to help change the coverage, by learning to "commit acts of journalism" themselves.


Here are the basics:

DATE: April 30

TIME: 6 - 7:30 pm

PLACE: Homewood Carnegie Library

7101 Hamilton Ave

DINNER PROVIDED, SO PLEASE RSVP. (scroll to the bottom of the linked page)


The meeting will be the first expression of a new partnership between Homewood Nation and Point Park University's Center for Media Innovation, headed by former Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Andrew Conte - a partnership that could be described as accidental.


At least, I didn't plan it.


Quick backstory: As the president of Race Street 2050, I sit on the Homewood Community Development Collaborative. One of my colleagues is Monique McIntosh, Co-Interim Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Greater Pittsburgh. In January, she sent an email to HCDC chair Rev. Sam Ware and me, telling us about a Point Park University project that she hoped the Collaborative would see fit to partner on.


Point Park, it turns out, has helped to create the Bridge Pittsburgh Media Partnership, a group of more than three dozen Western Pennsylvania news outlets that are learning to - magic word again - collaborate. Ms. McIntosh's email quoted their pitch:


"...we want to host a conversation with residents of Homewood and surrounding communities about how they feel about the way the media covers their community. This would be an interactive event, with journalists and residents sitting together and talking about how they feel. The goals are to: 1. Have residents and reporters get to know ech other; 2. Encourage residents to inform reporters on how they feel their community is covered on television, on radio and in the newspapers; and, 3. Help select a topic for future coverage. We will be asking: What's an important issue that does not receive enough attention from the media?"


Overcoming initial reservations, I agreed that HCDC should hear Conte out. He spoke at a Collaborative meeting. I expressed my reservations. He assuaged them, and expressed both admiration for me for doing Homewood Nation and the desire to fully support it. Later, he and I had a one-on-one meeting, and here we are. Partners.


When we met, we agreed that to reduce the risk of the One-Meeting-Then-Nothing-Happens syndrome by planning for at least two meetings. The second will be on May 28, at the same time and location. Again, refreshments will be served.


We see this as the beginning of something that could become pretty darn big, and that would be the fulfilment of a long-time desire of mine: to free Homewood from any dependence on outside media to tell its stories, by training residents to commit acts of journalism.


The phrase "commit acts of journalism" means that these residents would not become full-time professional journalists, nor would they attempt the types of journalism that require full-time effort.


But there is a basic type of journalism that almost any literate person can do - for instance, attending a meeting and producing a summary of the key points discussed. And Homewood has lots of meetings. And graduates of - let's call it the Homewood Journalism Institute for now - will be well qualified to cover them.


In fact, meeting with Andy (yeah, he's Andy now), emboldened me to revisit, and share, my early dream for Homewood Nation - providing 100 percent coverage of the neighborhood. Still impossible, but still very much worth trying.


We've allowed ourselves, Andy and I, to imagine having a newsroom somewhere in Homewood, with real office hours, where a resident can come in and say, "I want to do a story about x," and know that when I say "Go for it!" the structure is there to get the finished story out into the community.


But, first things first - and the first thing now is getting residents to next week's meeting. So, if you have concerns about media coverage (and my goodness, who DOESN'T?), see you next Tuesday!


(Nods off, dreams of sitting behind a big desk, puffing a cigar while telling Peter Parker that he's being replaced by this new kid, Morals - Moralis - whatever.)

For The Sake of Antwon...

Posted by Elwin Green on March 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (2)

The "not guilty" verdict in the trial of Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh police officer who shot unarmed teen Antwon Rose II in the back as Rose fled the scene of an arrest, has sparked protests and other expressions of rage and disgust.


I submit that in order for street protests to be truly effective, they must be combined with other efforts to build economic and political power, in that order (political power always follows and flows from economic power).


So let's talk about political power. In some parts of the country, Black people in America have only been able to vote since 1965. In some parts of the country, Black people are having their right to vote curtailed even now (fox example, in states where the franchise is denied to ex-felons, who are disproportionately black).


In Homewood, which is overwhelmingly Black, people don't vote.


Here is the framework, and some of the numbers, behind that sweeping generalization.


THE FRAMEWORK: Pittsburgh and Allegheny County together are such a Democratic stronghold that the winners in the Democratic primary in any given year will win the general election in nearly all cases.


THE NUMBERS: Homewood is the 13th Ward, made of up nine districts. In the 2007, 2011, and 2015 primary elections, the highest voter turnout among registered Democrats in those nine districts was 28.42 percent.


Again, that was the HIGHEST - in District 3, in 2007.


The lowest 13th Ward turnout in those three elections happened in District 7 in 2011 - 13.71 percent.


(All numbers here are from the Allegheny County Board of Elections website)


Nobody is turning fire hoses on us or siccing attack dogs on us to prevent us from voting. Nobody is hanging us from trees or shooting us to keep us from voting.


WHY ARE WE NOT VOTING?


I'll wait.


Meanwhile, I'll throw this in - In Pittsburgh/Allegheny County, it's not just Black folk who don't vote. NOT VOTING IS THE NORM.


In 2007, there were 541,509 registed Democrats countywide. Out of that number there were 151,594 ballots cast, or 25.51 percent. In 2011, with 544,396 voters, 128,477 ballots were cast (23.60 percent). In 2015, with 507,287 voters, 113,836 ballots were cast (22.44 percent).


In fact, in each of those elections, at least three districts in Homewood had a better turnout than the County as a whole.


But all of the numbers are shameful, and say that all of Allegheny County is politically broken.


Let's face it: a big part of the reason that things happen the way they do here is because we do not elect people to represent us and then hold them accountable. Most of us, most of the time, do not vote. Why should any elected official listen to anyone who doesn't vote, ever?


The Rosfeld verdict creates a moment that could produce change so swiftly that it will appear magical. All of us upset by that verdict can change things IN ONE DAY (May 21, to be exact), if we do two things - vote, and encourage others to vote.


We must learn, not only to vote, but to move down the ballot, to learn about positions we may not even know are elected positions. We ELECT judges. We ELECT district attorneys. Not voting keeps them in office.


(If you are on Facebook, you gotta read Keith Reed's excellent post of March 20.)


Here is an easy example: Stephen A. Zappala has been the county District Attorney since January, 1998. In 2007, 2011, AND 2015, no one even challenged him in the primaries. In 2015, out of 507,287 Democratic voters, a mere 92,040 voted for him. That means that 414,623 DIDN'T, but it was still enough to keep him in office.


This year, he has a challenger. Later, I'll do posts on him and a bunch of other candidates. For now, this is my point- on May 21, we WILL send a message to those in power: The message will either say, "Don't f*** with us," or it will say, "Keep doing what you're doing."


If we vote, we can send the first message. If we don't vote, we WILL send the second - and it will be louder than any protests.

Open House Shows Off Apartment Renovations

Posted by Elwin Green on October 22, 2018 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW, WHILE I’M WRITING.


A Homewood apartment building that once lost its Section 8 subsidy is holding an open house today to show off the renovations performed by its new owner.


The six-unit building at 7301 Hamilton Avenue was part of Bethesda Homewood, a real estate portfolio of more than 100 units that failed inspections by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for three years in a row before HUD pulled the portfolio’s Section 8 subsidy last fall.

 

In February of this year, the properties were acquired by Omicelo, a Strip-District based real estate investment firm, and renamed Esperanza Homewood (“esperanza” is Spanish for “hope”). The Hamilton Avenue building is the first property in the portfolio to have its renovations completed.


Referring to the quality of the renovations, Omicelo founder Joshua Pollard said that while the units will remain affordable, “These look like market-rate units. That’s sort of the point for us.”

 

Pollard is an area native (“I grew up on the border of Rankin and Braddock.”) who returned to Pittsburgh in 2014 after graduating from the University of Rochester with a double major in economics and statistics and doing a stint at Goldman Sachs, where he became a vice-president before turning 30.

 

As a real estate investor, Pollard’s vision goes beyond return on investment measured in dollars. In conjunction with Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services and the nonprofit Community Human Services, Omicelo has created the Family Navigators Initiative. Each family who moves into the newly-renovated Esperanza units will be assigned a “family navigator” who will help tenants to navigate four areas of life - physical health, behavioral health, workforce development, and experiential education, “to help someone find the kind of education that makes them happy and could lead to higher incomes.”

Of the Queen, her queendom, and Homewood estates

Posted by Elwin Green on August 22, 2018 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Hey y'all -


It's been so long that it's going to take me a minute to get back into practice, to reconnect with the flow. So this is just a practice piece, and I'll keep it short.


Homewood and the rest of the planet suffered a loss last week with the passing of Aretha Franklin, at the age of 76. Just three years ago, she showed that she was still - well, a goddess, basically - when she brought down the house during the Kennedy Center's honoring of Carol King. 


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I don't know what anyone else in Homewood did last Thursday. I spent at least a couple of hours YouTubing Aretha videos. In doing so, I learned about her remarkable and unexpected performance at the 1998 Grammys, when she stepped in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and OWNED one of the world's most well-known operatic arias.


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Now comes the disappointing news that she died without a will or trust. Now the disposition of a reported $80 million will become the focus of a grieving family and the topic of public discussion for who knows how long. This, after the same thing happened with Prince. And with James Brown.


Creating paperwork to guide the disposition of one's estate can feel like playing air guitar - an imaginary act that has no impact. But in fact, it is one of the most impactful things a person can do. Likewise, failing to do so is one of the most impactful things a person can do. The impact can go beyond a family to affect an entire community - one big reason that Homewood looks the way it does is because for decades, homeowners have died without wills. Last week, dozens of pieces of real estate in Homewood were offered at the County Treasurer's sale. My guess is that the majority of them were owned by dead people, or by negligent heirs. 


Shall we top this off with a taste of irony? Okay - August is National Make-A-Will Month.


So I'm going to close with this: if you want to do the right thing by everyone and get a will done, without spending hundreds (or thousands) of $$$, shoot me a text at (412) 508-4088. I can help you make that problem go away.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned!

Business Expo In Second Year

Posted by Elwin Green on November 17, 2017 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The Homewood-Brushton Business Association's second annual Business Expo will be held tomorrow (Saturday), Nov. 18, at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.


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The full-day event is divided into two major parts. A set of workshops for business owners will run from 8 am to noon. The workshops were scheduled with pre-registration, but business owners can still register onsite for $25.


Then, from noon to 4 pm, the expo will be open to the public.


HBBA president Vernard Alexander said that former board member Marteen Garay was "pretty much the catalyst that got the ball rolling" for the first expo, which was held last year. Fleshing out the idea happened through a partnership with Penn State University and Urban Innovation21.


There were 25 vendors and another 15 businesses that participated as sponsors, Alexander said. This year, there are again 25 vendors, but fewer sponsors, about 10.


Still, Alexander sees this year's expo as an improvement on the first in at least a couple of ways.


First, four of this year's sponsors will offer youth activities, to make this year's event more family-friendly.


"While the parents were shopping, so to speak, we wanted to make sure that we had activities for kids, to keep them engaged."


Second, this year's location, the YMCA, is more centralized than the site of last year's expo, Bridgeway Capital's 7800 Susquehanna building.


"There's going to be a lot of foot traffic (in the YMCA) already," Alexander said.

Black Journalists Honor Homewood Men

Posted by Elwin Green on November 17, 2017 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

A photo exhibit being unveiled next month will honor men in Homewood for their service and leadership.


“American Heroes: The Homewood Project” is a photo series offering portraits and bios of 20 men, ranging from their 20s to their 70s, who live and/or work in Homewood.


The project was produced by members of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.


The men being honored were selected through a nomination process in which PBMF reached out to the community to ask whom they considered to be heroes.


I am one of them. The other 19 include Rashad Byrdsong, founder and CEO of Community Empowerment Association, Neil Dorsey, owner of Dorsey's Records, and James A. Brown, the director of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA's Lighthouse program.


The resulting exhibit will be unveiled in a reception at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA on December 3, from 3:30 - 6 pm. The event is free and the public is invited - to get tickets, visit the project's Eventbrite page.


"American Heroes" is part of NABJ's Black Male Media Project, #InspireBlackMen, a nationwide effort to inspire, support and develop training and mentorship opportunities for black men working in journalism and media and those who aspire to do so.

A New Neighbor Introduces Herself

Posted by Elwin Green on October 18, 2017 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: Daren A. Ellerbee is the director of the University of Pittsburgh's Community Engagement Center, scheduled to open in Homewood next spring.



I come from a family of phenomenal women.


My grandmother was a nurse at Aliquippa hospital and ran a food bank out of her home. My mother is a recently retired social worker and has volunteered for organizations too numerous to list. Growing up I was often reminded verbally and by example that “we are called to take care of each other.” I grew up knowing what I was expected to do and the woman I was expected to become.


I am the director of Pitt’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood. My mother reminds me that I have been groomed for this opportunity my entire life. It is her words that continue to play out in my head as I approach a month in this new role. I do not take her expectations, and the expectations of the residents living in and around Homewood lightly.


The first of its kind in the Pittsburgh region, the CEC (short for community engagement center) is a place-based strategy that helps Pitt be a better partner to the community. It creates a “front door” for Pitt in the neighborhood and is a place where community and university people come together to work on projects and programs. The CEC is different from the organizations already in Homewood and isn’t meant to replicate or replace programming already happening. It’s a place where Pitt can align student projects with community efforts, faculty research with community concerns, and teach Pitt faculty, staff, and students about the history and life of the neighborhood so they can effectively participate in efforts throughout the community.


Even though the CEC is new, Pitt’s involvement in Homewood is not, and one of the reasons Pitt wanted to develop its CEC in Homewood was to build on the strong relationships created between the School of Social Work and the Homewood Children’s Village, School of Engineering and the Manufacturing Assistance Center at 7800 Susquehanna Street, and years of community-guided student projects, such as the English Composition class that worked with Mr. Green on this very blog.


I am charged with being Pitt’s main point-of-contact in Homewood, bridging the community’s interests and agendas with the University’s mission of teaching and research. Upon accepting the position, I was proud to learn the level of university wide buy-in from all 14 schools at Pitt who have signed-on to support the Center including my beloved College of Arts & Sciences. (I forgot to mention that I am also a Pitt alum who studied Communication and Rhetoric & Africana Studies, class of 2004.)


While the nature of projects and programs of the CEC continue to be refined as we receive community input, we have an opportunity to leverage legal workshops from our School of Law, a diversity of health services (such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and pre-sport checkups) that complement the services available at Alma Illery Medical Center, and business development and acceleration through our Institute of Entrepreneurial Excellence, just to name a few. My job is to bridge the community and university, and to help identify opportunities for collaboration between the two.


It’s important to me that as many people as possible are knowledgeable about the CEC, and that they know the center is accessible to them. Though the CEC will not open until spring 2018, we are arranging a temporary office for me in the neighborhood. Until then, I can often be found at the Everyday Café or the Carnegie Library. You will also see me during many community meetings. Stop by and say hello. I truly want to hear from you!


You can also find out more online by visiting our website or following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


The success of this Center is contingent upon community support and trust. I look forward to building both. Why? Because not only will the community hold me accountable, but my mother most certainly will. I do not want to be on the bad side of either.


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To reach Ms. Ellerbee, drop her a line at d.ellerbee@pitt.edu, or give her a call at 412-852-7551.

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Planning Commission Meeting Could Be Critical

Posted by Elwin Green on September 27, 2017 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (2)

A meeting of the City's Planning Commision this afternoon could be a critical turning point for a mixed-income housing development being planned for Homewood.

 

The proposed 58-unit development, dubbed Kelly-Hamilton, has been winding its way through the pre-construction process for more than a year. But sustained opposition to the development may cause the developer, Keith B. Key Enterprises (usually referred to as "KBK") to miss deadlines to apply for Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority tax credits that would be critical to the project's financing.


The opposition has mostly come from the Homewood Concerned Citizens Council, a group of Homewood residents headed by Cherylie Fuller. Fuller lives on Hamilton Avenue, close to where the new homes would be built.

 

Fuller and HCCC made the news when they protested at the May 4 groundbreaking for the project. The Post-Gazette's story about the event includes this:

 

“Talk to us,” said Cherylie Fuller. “Sit down with us. We don’t want what they’re ramming down our throat.”

 

The most recent expression of opposition came at the Planning Commission's Sept. 12 meeting (the Commission meets every two weeks), where it is reported that Fuller and Judith Ginyard spoke against the project.

 

What's especially interesting is that the Commission has a 1 pm briefing, which is off the record, and a 2 pm meeting during which the public may comment. According to my source, Fuller and Ginyard spoke during the briefing.


(EDIT, 9-27-17: Please note my friend Ann Belser's comment befow, and my response."

 

Fuller's plea - or demand - to "sit down with us" is, on the face of it, perplexing.

 

According to Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block, KBK has attended at least four meetings of OBB's community clusters, as well as OBB monthly community meetings, and at least three HCCC meetings.

 

I don't know whether or not he's counting the November public meeting hosted by HCCC, at which Mr. Keys gave a detailed presentation on the project.

 

This raises the obvious question, "What does a developer have to do to gain community support?"

 

It also suggests a less obvious question, "Whose support does a developer need in order for them, or anyone, to say that they have community support?"

 

The project is supported by the Homewood Community Development Collaborative, an affiliation of Homewood-based non-profits that includes 

 

  • Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania
  • Community Empowerment Association
  • Homewood-Brushton Business Association
  • Homewood-Brushton YMCA
  • Homewood-Brushton YWCA
  • Homewood Children's Village
  • Operation Better Block
  • Race Street 2050 (formerly Save Race Street Committee)

 

Fuller's group, HCCC, was a founding member of the Collaborative, but withdrew in January.

 

Members of the Collaborative spoke in favor of the project at a meeting of the Urban Redevelopment Authority on January 12. And we (I am president of Race Street 2050) will be at the Commission meeting this afternoon.

 

It should be interesting.

 

There's a lot more to this story; stay tuned for Part 2.

A Day At The Cafe

Posted by Elwin Green on September 23, 2017 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

When the young man first rushed into the Everyday Cafe today with his hand to his face, I thought he had a nosebleed.


But there was too much blood. There was way too much blood. Going all over the floor and splashing across the front of the counter as he walked dazedly in a small circle.

 

"Call 911! I need an ambulance!" Not loud, but urgent. Desperate.


His face, not his nose, was bleeding from an open wound, his one visible eye wild with fear.

 

I had been sitting with employee Dorian Robinson, who rose to help. I got up, too, but he was closer, and the two women workers - one whom I know as Ms. Shar (spelling? Char?) and one whose name I don't know - were looking for a phone and I grabbed one of mine and called 911 while they sat the young man down and tried to talk him down from panic and tried not to panic, themselves.

 

And later we were grateful for being the only ones there, so that there was no mass panic, just the three of them tyring to help the young man and me answering the 911 operator's questions, some of which I had to ask the young man.

 

"How old are you?"


"16"


"Where were you when you were shot?"


"I don't know."

 

A string of questions for me to answer or to re-ask, and the women losing patience with the 911 operator and the 911 operator seeming to be about to lose patience with me because I was responding to both them and him.

 

While the young man bled and asked for help and asked them to hurry.

 

Too many questions. Way too many questions. I know that he was doing his job, but the sooner that he would have said, "The ambulance is on its way," the sooner I could have said that to the young man and to the women and imparted a sense of calm.


I was still on the phone with the 911 operator when the first police officers arrived. They asked questions and looked the young man over prepared him for the ambulance, which came soon after.

 

And the ambulance took the young man and the officers said, "He'll be okay."

 

The best news of the day - he'll be okay.

 

Physically, at least. Psychically? Hmm. Let's see - he's walking down the street and suddenly one side of his face is ripped open and there's all the pain that a bullet causes and he doesn't know who did it.

 

And he's 16.

 

When I was 16, I barely survived the slightest hint that my girlfriend did not love me as crazily as I loved her.

 

This is where I rant about how adolescence SHOULD be the last surge of childhood, not a time to dodge, or fail to dodge, a bullet. But we all already know that, so I won't.

 

I'll say that the young man should be okay, and that I pray that he truly is.

 

And the Everyday Cafe folks got busy cleaning up the blood and detectives came and asked questions and by the time I left, a few of the many officers (there was a fleet of cruisers by then) had a suspect in custody. The second best news of the day.

 

Marred slightly by the fact that he looked like he might be 16, too.


EDIT, 9/24: Police now say that the gunshot victim may have been victimizing someone else when he got shot.

Pitt Community Engagement Center Rollout

Posted by Elwin Green on July 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (2)

Those of you who have liked Homewood Nation's Facebook page may have seen this already. For those of you who haven't like our page  (a situation that you need to correct immediately!), sorry this is so last-minute. I'm working every day to get better. 

Anyway, here you go:




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