Many have heard the rumblings, the comments. And when someone like Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl or County Executive Rich Fitzgerald touts a commitment to diversity and the next class of police academy graduates is all White—but includes women, the rumblings get louder; diversity does not mean Black.
“We’re getting pushed further into the background for another agenda,” said NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Constance Parker during a recent meeting with the New Pittsburgh Courier. “We opened the door, and now we’re being kicked out of it.”
Courier columnist Louis “Hop” Kendrick agreed.
“The same problems I fought when I was 17, I’m fighting when I’m 80,” he said. “Diversity means women, Asians, Hispanics, handicapped, even handicapped veterans. We’re in trouble.”
So, against this backdrop, with Black unemployment locally running at more than 14 percent, it didn’t exactly debunk such talk when Vibrant Pittsburgh, the nonprofit created to increase the region’s diversity, held a breakfast at the Duquesne Club, to further its promotion of the city as a destination for Hispanic professionals and entrepreneurs.
To its credit, when asked to respond, Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO Melanie Harrington and board members Sala Udin, Alex Johnson, Fred Thieman and Gabriella Gonzales met with the Courier editorial board to clarify that the organization is not leaving African-Americans out of its initiatives.
Thieman, president of the Buhl Foundation, explained that Vibrant Pittsburgh was initially created and federally funded to help address immigration and resettlement issues surrounding refugee Russian Jews and Somalis, for example.
“But we knew, given Pittsburgh’s history of not being the most welcoming to immigrants, that this would go nowhere if it was only about immigration,” he said. “The last thing the African-American community needs is people coming in and climbing the ladder ahead of them.”
So while Vibrant Pittsburgh is working to sell Pittsburgh as a living and working destination for an ethnically diverse population of professionals and entrepreneurs from across the country and internationally, it is also dedicated to promoting “elevating and educating” the African-Americans who are already here.
“If that weren’t the case, I would never have signed on to this,” said Udin, co-director of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. “The elevation and education piece is critical, and we are addressing that. Alex is heading our elevation committee.”
Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County said Vibrant Pittsburgh has not done the best job in communicating to the Courier and other Black media its function. It does not do “programming.”