With his children grown and successful in their chosen careers, Melvin Pollard found himself in a position to give back to his community the way he used to in the late 1990s as chair of the Mon Valley Initiative. He took a job working nights so he could do just that.
But as president of the Hilltop Alliance, and the only African-American on the board, Pollard is actually reaching beyond his community to all the neighboring communities huddled above Pittsburgh’s South Side.
“It’s about unity,” he said. “Funders don’t want to deal with each little CDC in each neighborhood any more, they want to see broad cooperation. In the past, promises were made to these communities that weren’t kept. Hopefully now, things can be delivered and these communities can be revitalized.”
The Hilltop Alliance is comprised of two representatives from nine neighborhoods; Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Bon Air, Carrick, Knoxville, Mt. Oliver, and Mt. Oliver (city). The alliance is funded through the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development and the Birmingham Foundation. Pollard represents Mt. Oliver.
“One of the issues we’re trying to address is the growing number of mortgage foreclosures, and threatened foreclosures. Right now we’re working with Action Housing to help educate people about their options,” Pollard said. “And we are taking some other positive steps to move the community forward, including the Wireless Neighborhood program.
The Wireless project, in partnership with the YMCA, is setting up a community space and café on Brownsville Road. It will feature free wireless access, a resident computer technician and a café serving food prepared by students enrolled in the Carrick High School culinary program. The project will also feature a laptop rental program.
“The whole idea is about bridging the digital divide, and this will function just like a lending library,” he said. “People who need to can borrow a computer overnight. There will also be a rent-to-own program. Naturally we want to expand this free wireless zone, but right now we’re just trying to hit singles—we aren’t swinging for the fences yet.”
Pollard said there are other plans to revitalize business development through Main Street projects along Brownsville Road and Warrington Avenue, but he still has to generate more community involvement throughout these neighborhoods.
“We have an executive director, but we need to hire a community organizer to let people know what we’re trying to do,” he said. “And we have our work cut out for us encouraging the underprivileged on the Hilltop to buy in. It’s a work in progress trying to get these communities to see their future as a united hilltop.”
One other avenue Pollard has to generate interest and gain the attention of more residents is through a radio show he conducts twice a month on WGBN 1150 AM, called B-PEP Moments with Black Political Empowerment Project Community Liaison Ken Houston.
Among the things they do is a segment featuring news from the New Pittsburgh Courier, including the monthly recap of Black-on-Black homicides throughout the county.
“We’re about challenging Black leadership to be productive,” said Pollard. “Unemployment, homicides—people are getting awards when the numbers don’t change. Some, frankly, are invested in making sure they don’t. I refuse to allow them to come up on this hill and use these people for their own gain.”
Houston said the show, which airs at noon on the first and last Saturdays of the month, isn’t always specific to the Hilltop, and covers items of interest to seniors, youth, and everyone in and around the city.
Pollard and Houston are also working to generate interest in the Hilltop Alliances’ work with the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System, a project of the University of Pittsburgh that seeks to empower communities by collecting and disseminating information such as vacancies, crime, foreclosures, land use and racial demographics.
“There are a lot of positives to be gained by bringing these communities together,” he said.
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