Hill District Consensus Group celebrates 20 years

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At a gala reception Sept. 22, the Hill District Consensus Group celebrated 20 years of advocating for the community in the Hill District.

Beginning as a strategic planning group in 1991, four organizations and three community residents felt they needed to form a coalition in the Hill that would show a united force; one that would protect their community from those who would enter without regard to what the ‘community’ desired.

Honorees
HONOREES—Dwayne Cooper Jr., Dame Mary L. Walker and Richard Adams Jr. with the awards. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

The Elsie Hillman Auditorium was the venue and County Councilman William Russell Robinson was the emcee for the evening. The auditorium was filled to capacity and floral decorations of lavender and white, shimmering in candle light, was the perfect backdrop for a nostalgic video montage honoring the three community resident founders.

They were 93-year-old Dame Mary A. Walker, who is currently living in Ebenezer Towers, along with the late, Richard Adams Sr., and Dwayne Cooper Sr. who received their awards posthumously. All the families of the awardees expressed that they were extremely moved by the video renditions of the story of their lives. Walker, who was brought to the stage to receive her award, was unable to contain her tears as she stated how honored she was and thankful for being here, and for the continued progress the HDCG has made over the years.

Charles Mosley a consensus group member and the president of the Crawford Street Homeowners Association along with his wife, expressed their personal commitment to the group, and applauded the work that he sees them doing first hand.

He says, “I plan to support fully what they do, this is our community, and we must have an organization like the Consensus Group to make sure we are represented at any table where plans are being made for the Hill District.”

Along with a buffet of sumptuous heavy hors d’oeuvres by Patrix Gourment Catering, the musical combo, “It Takes Two,” which consisted of Calvin Stemley (also of House of Soul) on soprano sax, and the keyboard artistry of Kevin Howard, kept things lively for the evening.

The Ujamaa Collective, donated three signed prints done by local artist, George Gist for use as a raffle and the Cambria Suites, Pittsburgh’s newest hotel in direct proximity of the Consensus Group offices in the Hill House, contributed as an additional raffle item, a two night stay at their Centre Avenue site.

The HDCG’s current Executive Director, Carl Redwood, Jr. has been the convener of this organization since its inception, however, over the last four or five years, with foundation funding and support, the Consensus group has been able to advance its mission with the hiring of paid staff, and naming Redwood the executive director, and Bonnie Laing-Young the co-director.

An overall history of the HDCG was given by Young-Laing, highlighting its early days, and some of the accomplishments, including the role the HDCG played in helping to garner a Community Benefits Agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In a special presentation done by former Hill House CEO, Evan Frazier, who is now, vice president of Community Relations at Highmark, the last honor of the evening was given to Carl Redwood Jr. for his years of dedicated service to the Hill and to the Consensus Group.

Both the Highmark Corp. and Duquesne University were lead funders for the event; along with Fifth Third Bank, Hunting Bank, the Office of Councilman Daniel Lavelle, Hill House Association, Trek Development, and Pittsburgh United.

Several years ago, Chris Moore of WQED TV, channel 13 was the producer of a brilliant documentary, “Wylie Avenue Days” which was an encapsulation of the Hill District Community in its vibrant ‘heyday’ all the way to the buckling of its knees that occurred with the destruction and removal of the 8,000 families and businesses that once made up the lower hill. Additionally, last spring, as the host of “Horizons,” he featured another show spotlighting the Hill District and many of the positive changes that have been made since that time. Because of the attention Moore has given this community over the years, the team felt it would be most appropriate to invite him and his wife, Joyce Meggerson-Moore, the managing director of the New Horizons Theater, to be Honorary Chairs for this occasion.

At the conclusion of the evening, Moore presented an upbeat conversation on “The State of the Hill District Today.” His presentation pointed out the striking contrast between the destruction that occurred 40 years ago, so that the Civic Arena could be built, and the construction and development that is happening right now, the coming grocery store, the Thelma Lovette YMCA, and much more. Moore pointed out the importance of the community engagement and involvement in the plans for the Hill. He also spoke to the important work of the consensus group mobilizing the community in a way that was nonexistent during those fateful days in the early ’50s.

For more information on the work of the Hill District Consensus Group go to the web site at hdcg.org or if you are a Hill District resident and would like to become a member, call the office at 412-697-4692.

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