Educating, activating and mobilizing are what Community Empowerment Association has been doing successfully over the past 20 years.
On June 7, in the auditorium of their recently acquired 35,000 square feet facility, formerly Holy Rosary School, they held a gala celebrating 20 years of serving the Homewood community.
Founded in 1994, pretty much in the living room of founder and CEO T. Rashad Byrdsong, the grassroots organization has been on a 20 year mission to empower the African-American community. Driven by their core belief—that families develop best in a community with a sense of order, positive social interaction and opportunities supported by positive adults—the organization has successfully expanded from a $5,000 agency to currently generating more than $15 million. It has always aimed to make a difference through culturally relevant programming.
They have established programs for youth and adults, provided employment opportunities, formed important partnerships that have resulted in construction work opportunities for men, and consistently been a voice for the voiceless in community matters for residents of Homewood.
The opening ceremony included an invocation by Father David Taylor, parish priest at Holy Rosary Church; the presentation of two proclamations, one from State Representatives Ed Gainey, of the 24th Legislative District, and the other from the Speaker of the PA House of Representatives Samuel H. Smith; and a drumming presentation from students of the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble, with Kadiatou Conte-Forte, as the artistic director.
Gainey was also the master of ceremonies for the evening.
Former Deputy Director of Children Youth and Family, Marcia Sturdivant, who is currently the president and CEO of NEED, gave the opening remarks.
“CEA has made remarkable inroads in the community because of conducting culturally based services,” she said. “This is an organization that should be supported because they are a real weapon against disparity, poverty and crime.”
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was also on hand for remarks and said CEA has been a “treasure in the City of Pittsburgh.”
Additionally in his opening remarks, Byrdsong provided an historical overview of the organization in which he gave rave kudos and acknowledgement to the many years of commitment to the two individuals who have made overwhelming contribution and commitment to the success of CEA, Amargie Davis and Daytona Gordon; as well as efforts of his entire staff. At the conclusion of the opening remarks, the packed house enjoyed a scrumptious buffet dinner of chicken, fish, pasta, tossed salad, green beans and a variety of punch and desert.
The event, chaired by Gainey and Sturdivant, featured more than a few essential highlights; a 30-minute video presentation providing a visual of the organization from its genesis to the present time; and community awards to those who have been consistent supporters, partners and friends of CEA.
These awards went to Sturdivant; Gainey; Keith B. Key, CEO of KBK Enterprises; Tisha Germany, assistant V.P. and city executive of KBK Enterprises; Carmen Anderson of the Heinz Endowment; Duane Ashley, former director of operations of the City of Pittsburgh; Castor D. Binion, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh; Carl Cooper, Austin Davis and Melvin El of the Office of Rep. Gainey; Evan Frazier, senior vice president of Community Affairs for Highmark Health; Denise Brown, librarian at the Homewood Library; John Lovelace, Keith McBroom; and Chuck Powell of the URA; Franklin Robinson; and Robert Mystic president and CEO of Mystic Construction.
A young artist, Jamiliah Lahijuddin, created an onsite art piece during the course of the evening. It was auctioned off and purchased by Dr. David Anderson for $350. He and his wife, Carmen, then graciously turned around and donated it back to CEA to be re-auctioned off. It was auctioned a second time and was then sold for $250 to Deborah Walker, newly appointed manager of the Office of Municipal Investigations in Mayor Bill Peduto’s Office. Walker said she was going to grace her city office with it. The Andersons said they re-donated the piece in order to emphasize the importance of each one doing what they can to make sure that funds continue to flow into this important organization in this community.
The accolades for the impact of CEA came from all areas including former past parents. Nina Miller, featured in the video, has a 25 year-old son who has been a program participant since the age of nine. After moving to Homewood from Highland Park, Miller found herself struggling for a place for her son to be after school. She did an investigation of possibilities and someone referred her to the CEA.
“What I found there was warmth, structure, discipline, support, help for my son with homework, and peace of mind for me,” Miller said. “As a single mom, male influence was not available in our home, but CEA filled all those gaps, for me and my son.”
Brandon Miller would stay involved with the various programs at CEA all throughout his formative years. His mother said, “We still consider this place home, and we can go back whenever and however we need to, even today.”
Renee Gooden’s journey with CEA began just before its inception when she lost her son to gun violence in 1993. She shares that she had to have something to wrap her grief around. She got involved with other parents, and soon met Byrdsong .
Gooden was one of the people meeting in his living room to discuss interventions necessary to curb some of the violence that was devastating so many families.
“It was too late for my son, but I was on a mission to do my part to save others—some of my students, and my son’s friends,” she said. These early efforts resulted in the establishment of the Gang Peace Council.
“Meeting Rashad and being there at the beginning of CEA, I believe was how God was going to bless me in the wake of my loss—God was just working it out!”
As part of the commemoration to CEA for its 20 years of service, the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives adopted a resolution of State Representative Ed Gainey, recognizing June 7, 2014 as CEA Day in Pennsylvania. In the proposal he states; in part, “June 7 is the 20th anniversary for the Community Empowerment Association or CEA, a vital and critical resource for the communities and neighborhoods throughout the city of Pittsburgh.”
(For more information on the programs and services of CEA, to volunteer, or donate go to www.ceapittsburgh.org.)
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