When the Pittsburgh Public School District first announced plans to close Oliver High School in August 2011, many Oliver alumni raced to the aid of the academically failing school. Among them was Shannon Williams, a University of Pittsburgh graduate who graduated from Oliver in 2006.
After holding a series of events to stop or delay the closure of her beloved alma mater, Williams saw a greater problem emerging.
“It was basically during our last little battle with the school board. After talking with people across the city about the various school problems, it seemed like we all had the same kind of issues, even beyond education. We’re not strong enough in our own sides of town, but the things affecting your side of town affect the whole city,” Williams said.
While Oliver will be merged with Perry High School in the fall, this experience served as the impetus for Williams to found the North Side Initiative to Preserve Community Excellence. Established only a few months ago, the organization’s mission is to establish and promote connectivity, mobility and independence for local citizens, organizations and businesses
“So we basically started out being an information hub. We want to combat the equity disparity in the city and the way to do that is through information. We want to give a little more power to the citizens of Pittsburgh. We’re experiencing a lot of development in Pittsburgh, but it seems like it’s taking some power and resources away from the people in certain communities in Pittsburgh,” Williams said. “We provide an opportunity for anyone in the city to post on our website. It’s a place for people to get access to get involved.”
With the sharing of information at the heart of NIPCE’s strategy, the organization’s goal is to ensure Pittsburgh residents are aware of changes occurring in their community and that they have an active say in how those changes impact their neighborhoods. NIPCE is also focused on supporting locally owned businesses in the hopes their success will positively impact the neighborhoods they serve.
“There’s a lot of organization and a lot of small business that people don’t know about. There’s a lot of great start ups and a lot of great people trying to start a lot of great things, but no one knows about it,” Williams said. “The thing we want to see is if these corporations are coming to the city and they say they’re going to be bringing in money, we want to make sure that money actually goes back into Pittsburgh. We have big dreams.”
Among those big dreams is Williams’ idea to have corporations pay a membership fee for advertising on NIPCE’s website. This money would then be put into a community grant for neighborhood improvement efforts.
NIPCE will also be working to raise awareness of local community groups and their issues in the same way they hope to drive patronage to locally owned businesses. The idea is for the organization to serve as North Side’s central hub for information and promotion of the neighborhood’s interests, while connecting with other areas of the city to present a unified front.
“We’re going to be the ones showing up for community meetings and trying to get the word out about what our affiliates are doing. We’re also going to have our own events to bring more of a community aspect back to our community. It’s kind of hard to rob someone you know and it seems like no one knows their neighbor anymore,” Williams said. “It seems like there are a lot of organizations that do what we do, but they don’t do all of it and they don’t work together. We’re really here as a support system.”
NIPCE is in the process of applying for 501c3 non-profit status. Their current affiliates include Perry Hilltop Council, Lorri Asher, Purely Passionate Artwork, PerspectVe, LLC, A.T.M. Multi-Purpose Community Center, Stand Up Inc., OnePromise Investment Group, and Antore Enterprise Inc.
For more information visit www.nipce.com.