Old Timers’ gathering in limbo

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Members of the North Side Old Timers, an anti-violence group of longtime North Side residents, are still waiting for the fate of their yearly Unity Gathering to be decided by Pittsburgh City Council.

At the end of January, a group of White North Side residents signed a petition calling for a public hearing to discuss issues concerning events being held in West Park. The nearby property owners said events in the park created noise, litter and other problems.

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TURN OUT—Approximately 10,000 people attended last year’s Unity Gathering in West Park.

“Apparently those people are using our event as a poster child for their complaints. We think we’re going to be ok, but everything has not been resolved,” said William Thompkins, an Old Timers member and community outreach director of the Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit community development organization. “The bottom line is it’s a public venue and we see no reason why it can’t be shared by everyone. We have just as much right to that public venue.”

Although the group of White residents did not single out the Old Timers, they said many of the events being held in West Park are too large for the venue. They asked that council temporarily halt approval of permits for events with more than 50 people.

“They were saying the venue was too loud and dogs weren’t allowed to be walked in the park that day,” said Mildred Tyler. “It really just kind of boiled down to them saying ‘we are on the North Side now and this is our park,’ but really we are taxpayers, too.”

District 6 City Councilman Daniel Lavelle declined the request to halt permit approvals and said he would convene a meeting between the White residents and the Old Timers. To date, no meeting has been held.

The highlight of the Unity Gathering is the March Against Violence that emphasizes the Old Timers’ focus on eradicating violence from their neighborhoods. The event promotes unity between North Side’s many neighborhoods and is especially centered on positively influencing children. It draws hundreds of people each year from throughout the city, with its focus on unity in the community.

“Our primary focus is to address this violence and to show kids they can come together peacefully. We’ve not had any issues. We’ve never had to call the police. We know that the supporters outweigh the naysayers.”

Last year’s Unity Gathering drew approximately 10,000 people to the park. The weekend of events included gospel performances, food vendors, a petting zoo and other activities for children.

“We hope to have the event for many years to come. People travel from around the country to come to our event,” Thompkins said. “We want to continue to provide a wholesome rewarding experience and atmosphere for all. It’s an event for anyone who wants to come celebrate all the positive things (in the community).”

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