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Living against death: violence and hope in Homewood.

Posted by Elwin Green on April 11, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Yesterday was, to say the least, a bad day in Homewood.

As reported by both the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review, a man was fatally shot yesterday afternoon by a constable who had been called to assist with a domestic dispute. That happened on Oakwood Street, at Hamilton Avenue. 

Shortly before that, police had been called to Brushton Avenue, near Race Street, where three people were shot, none fatally, in an incident that forced a lockdown of the Student Achievement Center at Brushton and Idlewild.

To top things off, at about 1:30 this morning, Pittsburgh police had a shootout with a suspect on Apple St., as the Post-Gazette reports here and the Trib, here

I was asleep when that happened. When the afternoon nonsense jumped off, I was at my desk, working on my application for Urban Innovation21's grant competition for Homewood businesses. It's due tomorrow and I wanted to get it in yesterday.

I heard gunshots. I couldn't tell where they were, but they seemed farther away than Brushton. Part of me wanted to go out and learn the story. But I kept working on the grant application. A text from a friend informed me about the shootings at Race and Brushton. Other friends made quick mentions on Facebook. I tuned in to the evening news, but missed whatever stories they had about it. I called the Save Race Street Committee block captains for the 7400 and 7600 blocks, but didn't reach either of them. By the time that I had done all that and considered again going out myself, the storm was moving in.

Back to the grant application.

While I was doing that, Bram Reichbaum, over at The PIttsburgh Comet, posted a quick item that ends with these questions:

How do we handle this? Short-, medium- and long-term? What sort of "blitz," what sort of strategy, what sort of components?

At the very least, the shootings seem to reinforce the point made by Trib columnist Nafari Vanaski, in today's column, "Homewood needs police blitz more than South Side"  - a column that she had actually planned to write last week (some of you Homewood readers may remember me asking for volunteers willing to be interviewed).

Meanwhile, the Save Race Street Committee meets this evening. The very act of attending will require fighting back against the feeling that all of our work is for naught. Are we just wasting our time?

I'll encourage members to participate in the building of a KaBoom! playground on Kelly Street this Saturday. We'll talk about maintaining the raised flower bed we created last year and the garden at the corner of Race and Sterrett that was our first beautification project. And about beautifying a vacant lot in the 7100 block for our next project. And I'll let them know that the parklet we created last September should receive new trees next week.

Dogwood trees.

Dogwoods because, when the City's urban forester, Lisa Ceoffe, listed the types of trees that they could provide for the parklet, and mentioned dogwoods, I made an executive decision (contrary to my inclination, which is to seek consensus on everything). Dogwoods it would be. 

Because the dogwood tree, with its cruciform blossoms that flower in April, is a symbol of resurrection.

Perhaps the biggest component of the strategy that Bram asked about would be ending the "War on Drugs," which is increasingly acknowledged as a CONTRIBUTOR to drug trafficking, and the violence that goes with it. And perhaps the second biggest would be more effective gun control.

But while the federal government procrastinates on those issues, people in Homewood die. And sometimes it seems that hope dies. So, dogwoods. To remind ourselves of a life stronger than death. 

I'll finish now, and return to my grant application. Because a third component in a long-term strategy to combat street violence is job creation. In practical terms, it just may be that the best and biggest thing that I can do for Homewood is to grow Luminaria Productions, the company behind this website. To grow it enough to create dozens of jobs for Homewood residents - and thereby possibly save dozens of residents from death in the street.

That's what I know I can do. Neighbors, what else can WE do?

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Reply PDavis
11:30 AM on April 11, 2013 
What else can WE do? We can support the numerous positive projects and development efforts in this beautiful Homewood Nation. We can continue to meet and do outreach to engage our neighbors about attending meetings as their schedules permit and participating in these projects. We can support your efforts with job creation. We can keep our Race Street (and every other street for that matter) clean and safe and neat and nice. It may sound like a little girl's viewpoint, but it is with child like belief in a better tomorrow that I work as a committed adult today.
Reply Elwin Green
12:38 PM on April 11, 2013 
Well said, Ms. Davis. The faith of a child (Mark 10.15) may be only thing that keeps us sane.

For those don't care for Scripture, there's Fleetwood Mac: don't stop thinking about tomorrow.
Reply Denise Johnson
6:33 PM on April 11, 2013 
As the folks at Sandy Hook, CT, say, Love wins. That was especially true today at the Art House in Homewood. From 3:30-6:30, youngin's and the not so young got messy and created art. We're talking modeling clay, wood cutouts, paint in colors that might not be in the rainbow. There plenty of pizza and juice and freshly-made rice krispie squares...Yum. All of this on a corner on Hamilton a day after the exponential stupidity. See -- Love Wins!
Reply Elwin Green
9:33 PM on April 11, 2013 
I'm glad you made it Ms. Johnson! I was chained to my desk today... :(
Reply Kiva
1:27 PM on April 12, 2013 
What Vanessa is doing with the Art House is transformational. The house that its in had been problematic for years. So, more thinking out of the box about uses for some of the vacant property is one thing that can be done. Hiring residents of Homewood to work in the non profits that are supposed to help them would be transformational. People that actually lay their heads there, raise their children there and hear the gun shots there. OBB should be community run, period!!! I could say more but I wasn't strong enough to stay so I'll simply close.
Reply Elwin Green
5:52 PM on April 12, 2013 
Ms. Kiva, "transformational" is one of my favorite words. I believe that much transformation begins with the simple sharing of ideas - and the fact that you're in Atlanta for now does NOT disqualify you from doing that! What qualifies you is that you care, and that you have a good brain.

As for Homewood's nonprofits, I am closest to OBB. As a board member, I can say that we're revising the bylaws and that they will now specify that a greater proportion of board members be residents. I pushed for that, and I see more hiring of residents as the next step.

I'd like to check all of Homewood's nonprofits to see how many of their board members and staffers lay down their heads here at night.
Reply CDavvis
1:03 PM on April 13, 2013 
As a long term thought and effort, folks should start taking there votes for mayor and council seriously. Let's back only those city-wide candidates who specifically speak to and about resurrecting and investing in communities such as Homewood. The continuing downward trend in too many of our communities will never be stemmed without increased and directed investment in our neighborhoods. They can start that crusade by providing a blueprint regarding the creation of jobs for our residents - especially our young men.
Reply Elwin Green
10:30 PM on April 18, 2013 
I agree about taking seriously our votes for Mayor and City Council. People pay so much attention to presidential elections that they forget that a city government may have more direct impact on their lives than the federal government does.
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