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Business Grant Competition Winners Announced

Posted by Elwin Green on February 23, 2017 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Below is the text of a press release from Urban Innovation21; I will provide more context with additional reporting later. For now, I will note that Luminaria Productions, which publishes "Homewood Nation" and has its eye on film production, is one of the winners.

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: Urban Innovation21 is a Homewood Nation sponsor.

Since 2012, Urban Innovation21 has recognized the strong entrepreneurial spirit in the Hill District and Homewood communities by hosting a Small Business Grant Competition. To date, $500,000 in grants have been awarded to 68 businesses in those communities. In addition to grants, Urban Innovation21 has provided these companies with a wide array of business support to help them grow their businesses. The non-profit works with many community-based entrepreneurs each year to create a cluster of successful businesses owned by residents of underserved communities.


Urban Innovation21’s president and CEO, William Generett Jr., believes that connecting the region’s success to economically struggling communities will ultimately provide wealth opportunities for minorities, women and resident-owned businesses. “This important grant competition propels business creation and growth in neighborhoods who will benefit greatly from the boost.”


Six Hill District’s businesses won: Living Juicy, ANS Billing, and Errands Made Easy existed previously while TDC Contracting, Communion LLC, and TDS Productions entered as start-up companies.


Nine businesses represented Homewood: Roland Ford Productions, The Professional Barber Institute, Knotzland, Strong’s Cleaners, and Big Lulu’s Trucking were pre-existing and Drafting Dreams, Natural Choice, Jazmeen Style, and Luminaria Productions (film producers and studios) were start-ups. Past grant winners are listed on Urban Innovation21’s web site.


Thomas M. Freyvogel, an attorney at the law firm Reed Smith and one of the judging committee members, stated “the field of competitors seems to improve every year. I was very impressed with the group of competing companies, who reflect a diverse talent pool of ambitious entrepreneurs in Homewood and the Hill District. The grant competition and Urban Innovation21’s program in general gives these entrepreneurs a well-deserved opportunity for both monetary support and professional guidance while either launching their new business or expanding their current one. 


The grant competition was made possible with support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and UPMC Health Plan. Awards ranges from $5,000 to $10,000.


An informal reception will take place on Tuesday, February 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Energy Innovation Center, 1435 Bedford Avenue. Grant winners and members of judging committee are invited to attend.

ALERT: City To Distribute Water

Posted by Elwin Green on February 1, 2017 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (56)


Homewood's fire station is one of 11 locations that the City will use to distribute potable water to residents affected by a flush and boil advisory issued by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority yesterday.

Fire Station 17, located at 7601 Hamilton Avenue, will be equipped with a 2,500 gallon water buffalo, and is expected to have water available at noon today. Containers will not be provided, so residents should bring their own sanitized, portable containers to carry their water.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Public Schools are closed today, so that the district can obtain bottled water, prepare food and cover water fountains. Schools are slated to reopen tomorrow.

PWSA  issued the advisory yesterday after a test by the state Department of Environmental Protection revealed that the chlorine levels in the Highland Park reservoir were low enough to allow the presence of gardia, a microscopic parasite that can cause cramps, nausea and diarrhea.

Besides the Homewood fire station, the following public safety facilities are serving and water distribution centers:

Pittsburgh Engine Co. No. 7, 4603 Stanton Ave.

Fire Station 6, 3958 Penn Ave.

Fire Station 8, 149 N. Euclid Ave.

Fire Station 10, 2501 Allequippa St.

Fire Station 12, 4156 Winterburn Ave.

Fire Station 14, 259 McKee Place

Fire Station 15, 7024 Lemington Ave.

Fire Station 17, 7601 Hamilton Ave.

Fire Station 18, 5858 Northumberland St.

Fire Station 19, 159 Homestead St.

Fire Training Academy, 1402 Washington Blvd.

City personnel will also be coordinating this morning the delivering bottled water to schools, community centers, senior centers and by home delivery to residents in need on a priority basis. City of Pittsburgh residents that are unable to access water distribution centers should contact the 311 Response Center for assistance. All calls to 311 are answered by a live operator from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. In the City of Pittsburgh, dial 3-1-1. Outside of Pittsburgh, call 412-255-2621.


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1,000 Eyes - A Public Safety Proposal

Posted by Elwin Green on January 15, 2017 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (159)

In the first week of 2017, one man was killed and two injured in two shootings in Homewood.

Gregory McLeod, 28, was killed around 5 a.m. the morning of Tuesday, January 3. Three days later, on Friday, Jan. 6, this time around 9:30 a.m., two men were injured. Both were hospitalized; one reportedly in critical condition.

Both shootings were reported to emergency responders as occurring in the 7700 block of Frankstown Avenue, which runs between Brushton Avenue and Hale Street.

There are only seven structures on that block, four of them vacant, as are three of the four corners at the intersection of Frankstown and Brushton. But one of the structures in the 7700 block of Frankstown is Earl's, a popular bar; the building on Brushton Avenue nearest the intersection is home to a convenience store that stays busy; but the vacant lots themselves are often attractive to those looking to commit crimes.

It is possible that at 5 a.m. Tuesday, no one saw anything, but it is almost certain that at 9:30 p.m. Friday, someone did. But if the prevailing pattern continues, the people who saw something will say nothing to police.

I propose that we break that pattern.

Breaking it requires understanding its dynamics. When people who are not involved in wrongdoing see it and say nothing, it is typically because they fear retribution.

One way to combat that fear is by allowing people to share information anonymously. We can use both the silent complaint form and 311 to do that. There is a measure of safety in anonymity.

I propose a campaign that would increase that measure of safety by adding the safety of numbers.


By having so many people ready to provide information that when someone does, no one can tell who did.

Here's how I see it working (I invite you to suggest improvements):

The campaign begins with a gathering in a large space, with every news outlet in town on the scene.

Everyone who enters receives a silent complaint form. During the meeting, someone teaches us all how to use them, and how to use 311 to make anonymous tips.

And before we leave, the entire room stands and recites a pledge that includes: "When I see something, I will say something. What I know, law enforcement will know."

The pledge would also include language about holding law enforcement accountable, by also saying something when we see police misconduct.

The primary message will be that we, as residents, are stepping outside our fear into a realm of exercising greater responsibility -- or to put it another way, that we are claiming our power, and refuse to feel powerless again.

The secondary message for wrongdoers will be: There are more of us than there are of you. Many more.

That is why the campaign must involve a large number of people. A group of 15 or 20, no matter how passionate, can't deliver that message.

To really put wrongdoers on notice, I'd say we would need at least 500 participants taking the pledge at the kickoff event. The reason for inviting every media outlet to cover the event is to make it known that a lot of us are taking the pledge.

(At the same time, we would require the media's cooperation in protecting participants by not showing the faces or giving the names of specific individuals, other than speakers.)

Then what? How can we keep those 500 people engaged, encouraged, and confident that what we are all doing together will work?

The main way to stimulate engagement would be by flooding the neighborhood with silent complaint forms, so that when you pay for your haircut at the barber shop, you get a silent complaint form; when you buy something at a convenience store, you get a silent complaint form; when you apply for social services, you get a silent complaint form; when you go to church, you get a silent complaint form. And when you attend any kind of meeting in Homewood, you get a silent complaint form.

Notice that I'm saying, "you get." In all of these contexts, you don't pick up a form; someone hands it to you. This would require the participation of merchants, heads of nonprofit organizations and church pastors, for starters.

That may not be possible; but let's pretend that it is, and continue.

What else could help to keep the campaign going? Two things, for sure -- a name, and regular reporting.

If the target number for pledges is 500 people, we could call the campaign, "A Thousand Eyes."

Reporting could come in the form of a monthly report on the number and types of silent complaints submitted, to communicate the fact that the residents of Homewood are exercising a new level of power by telling what they know. This report would come to us as residents, but would also go out to media.

How long would "A Thousand Eyes" last? Until the data from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police convince us that we've turned the corner on making Homewood safe.

However long that takes, I think it would be a good idea to celebrate a benchmark in crime reduction, giving residents an opportunity to say, "We did it!" -- as long as everyone understands that to mean, "Now that we have made Homewood safe, we can focus on keeping it safe."

Finally, if we move forward with "A Thousand Eyes", we must make it clear that it is about US. Everyone behind the campaign must understand, and communicate, that not only can residents do this, but that we are the ONLY ones who can. Other people can help, but only we can do.

That's it, folks; that's my proposal. If it sounds familiar, that's because I suggested it before. I still think it deserves discussion, but you tell me - does it deserve to move forward? Can you offer improvements? Visit Homewood Nation's Facebook page, and let us know what you think! 


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A print version of this piece appears in the Jan. 12 - 18 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!

Everyday Cafe: A Place To Be

Posted by Elwin Green on December 20, 2016 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (56)

A print version of this piece appears in the Dec. 22 - 28 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy Wednesday at Salik's Hardware, 605 N. Homewood Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

My first visit to the Everyday Cafe, Homewood's new coffeehouse, was on Nov. 21, three days after its opening.

It immediately became one of my favorite places on Earth. I've been back multiple times, mostly for one-on-one meetings with friends old and new.

This is how my morning there went on Friday, Dec. 16:

At about 7:15, Ricky Burgess, Jr., the 9th District councilman's son, and I arrived (he had picked me up at home) for a get-together. We've had a couple of brief conversations and are meeting mainly to get better acquainted, but also to give him his first Everyday Cafe experience.

The cafe is billed as Pittsburgh's first cashless coffeehouse. Burgess orders a hot chocolate, and slides his card into the small processing device on the counter. (I order a lavender spearmint tea.) While the card reader does its magic, Burgess notices a sign that describes the different types of coffee drinks offered -- latte, cappuccino, etc. -- and tells Donna Taylor, our barista, that that's a really good idea, because not everybody knows how they differ.

Later, as we sit and talk, Donna asks him how he likes his hot chocolate. He raves.

"Tasty! Really, really good!"

He's beaming as he takes in the atmosphere of a clean, well-lighted place.

“It feels good to be here … it feels really good."

As we talk, Quincy Jones' recording of "Killer Joe" plays softly over the speaker system. Jazz, played at a volume that lets you hear it without it being a distraction, is an important part of the Everyday Cafe experience.

After Burgess leaves, I stick around to wait for a 9:30 appointment. A staffer from the Homewood Children's Village, whom I've met briefly before but never spent time with, comes in. Because I want to get to know the Village's people better, I chat with him a bit, and we schedule a meeting.

Not long after, a young couple who are members of Bible Center Church show up. I had spoken with the husband a few months ago, and we had meant to get together; now, we catch up as he orders his coffee.

In a little more than a month, the Cafe has already become, for me, a great place for serendipitous meetings. I'll be having breakfast or lunch with one friend, and another friend will walk in. If the two friends know each other, they then have a chance to connect. If they don't, they have a chance to be introduced.

At one point, at least three meetings are happening simultaneously -- the HCV staffer, the Bible Center people, and at the table behind me, another HCV staffer, Ben Walker, is chatting with Westinghouse Academy 6-12 football coach Monte Robinson.

*    *    *

Bible Center owns the cafe, which is largely the brainchild of their pastor, Rev. Dr. John D. Wallace Jr.

Wallace, who is also a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, was inspired by research on the importance of "third places" -- places other than home or work where people go to "just be." (in particular, he cites the book "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community," by Ray Oldenburg.)

The original concept for a cafe on Homewood Avenue called for the renovation of a building at 524 N. Homewood Ave. that was originally a post office, then a church. Its location, yards from the Homewood Avenue busway stop, where thousands of people board and leave buses every day, seemed perfect. Despite an award-winning design by Carnegie Mellon University architecture professor John Folan, and buy-in from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, it was deemed too expensive, and gave way to Homewood Station, the senior housing building with retail spaces on the first floor. Only the facade of the original building remains.

Operation Better Block, Inc., charged with finding tenants for the retail spaces, went through several potential coffeeshop owners before Wallace brought the idea of owning and operating a coffeeshop to his congregation two years ago, to create a “third space” for Homewood. They bought into it, and the church partnered with OBB and attracted investment from Bridgeway Capital to make it happen.

The church connection is not evident -- there are no Christian symbols or artifacts. But "for the church to be the driver of it, I think, is also an important message," Wallace says.

Instead of ministry being limited to two hours on Sundays, "we're now 56 hours a week of ministry. This is our witness in the world."

And part of that witness lies in the diversity of people who come there -- black, white, Asian, old, young -- a diversity that Wallace says is "at least a partial reflection of the kingdom of God."

*    *    *  

I order a sausage, egg and cheese muffin and an orange juice -- my default Everyday Cafe breakfast.

After Walker finishes his meeting with Robinson, he joins me. We have a bit of business to transact, and are overdue to meet, so this is serendipitous. We conduct our business, and he heads off.

My 9:30 appointment doesn't show. But that's okay, because Andre Young walks in, orders a coffee, spies me, and comes over to chat. As it turns out, Young, a businessman who ran against Councilman Burgess in the last election, comes here often.

Some people have complained about the cafe being cashless. Young tells a story.

He and his wife were relaxing on a recent evening when she asked how often he's going to the Cafe. He asks how she knows, and she says she saw it on the credit card statement.

He told her, "They gotta start taking cash, 'cause I don't want you tracking me that much!"

And with that, he laughs the matter off.

Young knows a thing or two about coffeehouses -- he owns one at the airport.

"They have good product," he says. "We need to be concerned about the quality of the product."

And he doesn't just mean the coffee. He says he had a turkey panini for lunch one day: "Fantastic."

Besides breakfast muffins and lunch paninis (turkey and ham), the menu includes a variety of sandwiches, salads, yogurt, and desserts, among other things. As I meet with more people there -- or just visit to spend some time on my own, I expect to work my way through most of their edibles.

Young and I have a long conversation before I ask him for a ride back home, the kind of wide-ranging conversation that the Cafe hints at in its slogan: "Where great coffee and passionate people meet every day." (Wallace, the social scientist, says that when he sees people together there, "I really want to know, what are they talking about?")

For me, the second half of that slogan is blazingly true -- when I show up at the Everyday Cafe, I meet passionate people, whether by appointment or by chance, and have conversations that stir my own passions.

I can't say anything about the other half.

I don't drink coffee.


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Developers Offer Updates On Housing Projects

Posted by Elwin Green on December 11, 2016 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (630)

As developers move into Homewood, housing has taken center stage and on Tuesday, Nov. 29, about 100 people attended the Homewood Concerned Citizens Coalition meeting at Homewood Carnegie

Library to learn about a slew of real estate developments.

The meeting was moderated by HCCC Executive Director Cherylie Fuller with representatives of the agencies or companies involved in building more than 100 new homes.

The projects include Susquehanna Homes, a scattered-site development of 36 rental units by Oxford Development and S&A Homes; Kelly Green, a for-sale development to be built at Kelly Street and Dallas Avenue by the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp., a subsidiary of the Urban Redevelopment Authority; Kelly Hamilton, a 58-unit mixed-income rental development by KBK Enterprises and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh; and an additional 40 units of for-sale housing to be built by Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania, in partnership with East Liberty Development Inc.

With all the building of new housing going on, an audience member asked how new low-income housing might affect property values in the area.

Fuller turned the question over to Charlene Haislip, president-elect of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, who said, "It is my opinion that the property values surrounding it get diminished."

Her answer was met with a murmur of disapproval, leading her to try to "nuance" it.

In a thriving neighborhood such as Shadyside, she said, building some low-income housing might not affect property values much. But in a neighborhood that is not yet thriving, "that's not the way to put an anchor into the neighborhood to make the neighborhood thrive."

"It would be much better to try to develop your neighborhood commercial district," she said. "Get some of that thing going and then have development happen more naturally.”

Tim Cummings, housing director at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, was on hand to provide updates on a couple of projects and started with Susquehanna Homes, which will include 36 scattered-site units of rental housing to be completed by late next year.

The city is partnering with developers Oxford Development and S&A Homes on the project. All of the homes will meet the government's definition of affordable housing, to be rented to tenants whose income is no more than 60 percent of the "Area Median Income," the income level at which half the population earns more and half the population earns less.

Ma'at Construction, the for-profit subsidiary of Community Empowerment Association, is on board to help general contractor Mistick Construction meet the project's minority hiring requirements.

Cummings also provided an update on Kelly Green, with refreshing honesty.

"Right now we don't have the budget where we want it to be," he said, and said that the URA is likely to re-bid the project to find a different developer.

Asked what the creation of new for-sale housing would do to property taxes in the area, Cummings replied, "I don't really have a crystal ball to tell what would happen to the taxes on that street."

"That's a very complicated issue that we kind of struggle with with Councilman Burgess and with Representative Gainey," he continued. "I don't think the answer is not to develop. I think the answer is to come up with other solutions to benefit longtime residents that are on fixed incomes that don't have the income to pay the tax increases."

Cummings finished with an announcement regarding the former Homewood Montessori School at 7000 Hamilton Ave.: “The URA is the proud owner of the Homewood school.”

He said that the agency does not have plans for the site.

"We're really looking for direction from the community."

Keith B. Keys, principal of KBK Enterprises, gave the most detailed presentation of the evening, regarding Kelly Hamilton. Bounded by Lang Avenue, Murtland Street, Hamilton Avenue and Kelly Street, Kelly Hamilton will be a mixed-income community, with some units subsidized and others rented at market rates.

Rents for the 58 units will range from $744 to $845 a month with subsidy, and $1,200 to $1,300 for market rate units. Construction is expected to take 12 to 15 months.

The Rev. Sam Ware, executive director of Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania, spoke about partnering with East Liberty Development Inc. to build 40 units of housing. The Housing Authority is putting $1.5 million into the project, but the location for the homes hasn't been decided, so he is "looking at an extension of Housing Authority deadlines" to keep the project viable.

The exact sizes and styles of the homes has not been decided, Ware was careful to say, "We don't want it to look like some of the old housing stock that has the stigma attached to it as projects."

Fuller followed with a mini-presentation of her own, announcing that construction has begun on a new 9,100-square-foot Family Dollar store, which scheduled to open in March, at the intersection of Bennett and Tokay streets.

The simplest and most straightforward presentation was by Judith K. Ginyard of JKG Real Estate Services LLC and did not involve housing. Rather, she presented drawings of a parking lot being planned by Homewood resident Deborah Bey between Finance and Tioga streets.

Ms. Bey owns all of the parcels involved but one, which is owned by the URA. No timeline was given for the completion of the lot.


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 Dec. 8 - 14 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy at Giant Eagle, 9001 Frankstown Rd., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

One Hospitalized, Multiple Vehicles Damaged On Race Street

Posted by Elwin Green on November 27, 2016 at 3:25 AM Comments comments (29)

The quiet of a late Saturday night on Race Street was interrupted between 1:30 - 2 a.m. when a Cadillac Escalade going at high speed flipped over and smashed into another vehicle.


When I heard a loud metallic noise, I thought that the workers who empty the dumpster in Baptist Temple's parking lot had come earlier than their regular time of 4 a.m. or so.


Then I went outside to retrieve something from my car, and saw this:



and this:


The official police report has not yet been issued, but the story being pieced together says that the driver of the Escalade (and perhaps the driver of another vehicle) was fleeing a shooting on Bennett Street, in which no one was apparently hit. The accident here resulted in one person being hospitalized in serious condition.


Besides the two vehicles directly involved in the crash, this car was forced onto the sidewalk and shoved into the rear of a van parked in front of it :


It wasn't until after I had observed all of that damage that I noticed shards of clear plastic in the street in front of my house, and then saw that my car's bumper and taillight were damaged:

I thank God that only one person was reported injured, but it burns me that in the middle of the night, at least four people have suffered tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to their vehicles because of someone else's nonsense and/or issues that happened at least three blocks away.


Don't Blame Homewood

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

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 (2)

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 pittmswcbpr@gmail.com; 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.


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.



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."


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.


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 (18)

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Unfortunately, voting isn't usually this much fun.

To my neighbors, Isaiah and Dorian:


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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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 (46)

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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