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Created on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 09:37 Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 09:37 Published on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 09:37 Written by Christian Morrow - Courier Staff Writer Hits: 1249
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.”
“We’re a coordinating body, we are promote training opportunities with a number of groups; the Urban League, Youthplaces, B-Pep to spur skills training, specifically in the energy sector,” Johnson said. “At CCAC, we’re placing people at UPMC, in manufacturing and in energy. Unfortunately, a lot of the workforce training here is geared toward job preparation, resume writing and the like, not actual training.”
Part of the elevation and education piece, is promoting training in the region’s large and growing employment sectors such as medical, hi-tech and energy.
Vibrant Pittsburgh’s corporate partners include FedEx Ground, UPMC, Kennemetal, EQT, PNC BYN Mellon, Highmark, and Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. And Harrington is currently mapping out with them the conferences and recruiting events to attend in the coming year.
“We’ve set up conferences in areas with high Black populations. Last year we went to Indianapolis for the National Black MBA Association conference, and here of course, we were at the National Society of Black Engineers convention. But it’s not just about events. It’s a mission,” Harrington said. “We’re going to be a powerful organization, but we can’t fix years of problems right away. This is a long-term vision, and it’s going to be different.”
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