At the all-male forum sponsored by the African American Leadership Association and Minority Networking Exchange Sept. 18, the gentlemen represented a collage of Black culture in Pittsburgh. The event “Streets ’n Suits; Moving Pass Perceptions!” brought together men from corporate environments and those working in the streets of the community.

NETWORKING MASTER—Vernard Alexander introduces himself at the meeting before leading a workshop.

“What we wanted to do was have an open dialogue between the men to let them be expressive on the table about any issues that were on their mind,” said Vernard Alexander, founder and CEO of MNE. “There are a group of men in the city who are concerned with the totality of all the issues going on in the neighborhood and these people don’t necessarily look the same. They are from different walks of life.”

The mission of the forum, held in the Allegheny County Human Services Building was to bring together men who might differ in their professional lives, but who share similarities in their dedication to improving their neighborhoods. This year approximately 30 attended, down more than half from the nearly 80 who attended last year.

“What we agreed on was to meet more often, not to be one of those groups that meet every so often and not come up with anything,” Alexander said. “I’m not sure where we’re going to go from here. In the long-term, I’m not sure if a forum like this will work on a quarterly basis; it might have to be every month.”

The event’s workshops include “Keeping it hood…or not,” led by Pastor Mike Smith and “Network and Net Worth, Make the Connection,” with Alexander and Ken Huston.

“Someone brought up a point that they don’t see this issue of violence in the community ever getting better in their lifetime. He was a minister so yes that was interesting,” Alexander said. “We also talked about looking for the little wins in our community.”

The event’s sponsors are already planning another meeting for December when they will determine how frequently the forums should be held and whether they can garner enough involvement from men in the city. They also plan to have at least three speakers at each event to lead the discussions.

“This is a blessing and I wish there was more people here,” said Devin Patterson, a mental health professional with NHS human services. “This is great dialogue and this is something that is needed in the community and I just wish there was more people here”

“I feel like it’s great,” said Damion Wilson, a manager at the Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Adagio Health. “Even though I invited people I wish I would have invited more people to come because it’s a fantastic event and a good opportunity for us to get together and talk and network and hopefully we can have some good concrete action steps going forward.” Topics ranged from respecting youth and their opinions to defeating Black-on-Black violence. However, a lot of time was spent allowing the men to get to know one another.

“I feel it is positive and we are trying to help the community,” said Jeqa Powe, a senior at Carlynton High School in Crafton. “I’m trying to get some of the ideas from some successful Black men so I can pretty much transfer them over to wherever I go so I can help those whom ever need some help.”

“I think this is great,” said Ishmael Johnson, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator. “I think this is a marvelous and great activity to get us involved in restoring some pride and getting the youth back together on the right track.”

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