VANESSA GERMAN (Photo by J.L. Martello)
In some cities, business ventures are launched in backroom deals at exclusive clubs where powerbrokers make decisions without community input. But in Pittsburgh, business relationships are developed at the Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise’s Annual Inclusive Voices community exchange where corporate executives, nonprofit professionals and activists come together to improve their city.
On April 12, PACE held their 5th Annual Inclusive Voices at the Omni William Penn, where prominent Pittsburgh leaders led table conversations. The event is designed to advance PACE’s mission to strengthen nonprofit organizations that can assist African-Americans and economically disadvantaged communities.
“I was actually there at the inception of PACE. It was a sad time in our society, but there was a great urgency and a great hope that we could bring about change,” said the event’s master of ceremonies Robert Nelkin, president and chief professional officer of United Way of Allegheny County. “As a community we have a vision for change.”
Though the conversationalists were not directed by any singular theme, the conversations at many tables seemed to mirror Nelkin’s words. The conversations focused on shaping the future of Pittsburgh.
“Right now Pittsburgh is known as the ‘Most Livable City.’ That’s the narrative that’s really powerful now,” said Germaine Williams, a table conversationalist and senior program officer for arts and culture at the Pittsburgh Foundation. “If we could look out ten years what should the narrative be?”
With an important mayoral election coming up for the city, conversations also shifted to the political future of Pittsburgh. At retired city councilman Sala Udin’s table he asked guests to put themselves in the future mayor’s shoes. How would they handle issues like the police department?
At other tables, the conversation turned to the problem of Black-on-Black gun violence. While some argued for greater gun control, others looked at ways to improve the socioeconomic status of the African-American community.
“The people at the table are all deeply invested in developing the Black communities in Pittsburgh,” said table conversationalist Jesse Washington, a journalist with the Associated Press, before illustrating a point made by fellow table member Mark Lewis, executive director of the Poise Foundation. “We’re in the business of helping people. How do we change people or solve the problems?”
PACE was founded following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an effort to continue the struggle for social change. Over the years the organization has made $10 million in grants to over 300 community-based organizations.
“We are also celebrating this year our 45th anniversary,” Peggy Harris, chair of the PACE Board of Commissioners. “PACE was founded out of the civil rights movement so this is an important year for us.”
P.A.C.E. 5th Annual Inclusive Voices Event 2013 Video SlideShow