The North Side has been one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the Black community when it comes to violent acts and disparity. Like many Black communities there is a high number of shootings, crime, drugs and unemployment, just to name a few issues.
While the North Side continues to face many problems, there are also many organizations individually working to combat these issues within the community. But it is when people work together that problems are solved, that’s why Jay Donaldson, founder and CEO of the PROMISE Group said he has began an initiative to get the organizations of the North Side to work together along with the Peace Alliance Network, to address those issues that are key to turning their communities around.
“I’m tired of the violence…the smallest thing can start gun violence. It is going to take soldiers and people who are dedicated to (fix these problems),” Donaldson said. “And no one group can do it alone. I think that the CEA (Community Empowerment Association) and (the groups of the Peace Alliance Network) have come up with a good idea.” Like many, Donaldson also lost a son to violence.
Last November PAN, consisting of the CEA and other community organizations around the city, came together and began meeting to discuss and plan a set of actions to address gun violence and underlying issues that effect the Black communities around Pittsburgh. A few of the other neighborhoods represented in the PAN initiative are Beltzhoover, Homewood, the Hill District, East Liberty, Rankin, Homestead and Braddock.
After attending several meetings, Donaldson said that there needed to be more of a North Side representation besides himself, so on Feb. 1 he sent out a letter to several council members, state representatives, organization leaders and community figures asking them to get involved. While he is reaching out, he has only received a response from very few.
“There are a lot of groups in the North Side and I haven’t heard from many people. Only a few of the neighborhood groups,” he said. “A lot of the White (community) organizations are working together. It’s only the minority ones that seem to have a problem…The PROMISE Group is trying to be a mediator and really get the minority groups to come together and get on board with what (PAN) is doing.”
Will Thompkins, director of Community Outreach for the Pittsburgh Project, a non-profit development organization based in the North Side, agrees there is not enough organizations working together in the North Side. “Not enough people, organizations and churches working together. People need to step up in a proactive way, not just when things happen. People need to come to the table more consistently and there needs to be something done on an ongoing basis.” He said he was not aware of Donaldson’s letter or plea for more representation, but said “I would be willing to help. If it (the initiative) is around enhancing the quality of life for these young people, and adults, I’m going to work.”
Along with the lack of working together, Donaldson says that there is a trend of people showing up to community meetings the first time, but when it comes to the second and third meetings the attendance dwindles and there are less and less people. “When it’s time to put the plan into action, no one shows.”
Rashad Byrdsong, founder and CEO of CEA and leader of the initiative, said that the work he and the members of PAN are doing is to create a movement to look at what constitutes a healthy community and to identify the issues that are plaguing the Black communities and what it would take to resolve those issues, especially when it comes to gun violence.
“We’ve started looking at violence as a disease from the public health point of view. We are looking at where the disease is at and who is the host,” Byrdsong said. “We want to develop a broad base coalition.”
The other issues that the organization plans to focus on are the high levels of dropout rates and incarceration, poverty and the lack of employment. Byrdsong said that while the organization is in the beginning stages, once everything has been discussed a proposal will be designed and presented to city, county and state councils so that, as Byrdsong says, going in 2012, the people (politicians) coming into the various communities make sure that they discuss the issues and address what they plan to do fix them.
He also said that right now the group has young people conducting surveys about issues that are affecting youth and are having parents who have lost children to gun violence put together narratives.
Byrdsong said he welcomes more participation from North Side organizations. “We have been going into different communities that we’ve been invited to,” he said. “There is nothing new about working in the North Side. We want to develop a broad base coalition. It’s a matter of sitting down and talking with the leaders. We can reach a wider range if we work collectively.”
He added that a lot of people are doing great things individually, but that we, as a community, are missing a united approach. There is power in numbers and that historically when the African-American community has been mobilized together; great, positive things have taken place.
Although Donaldson said he has not heard from many of the North Side community groups, he will not give up. “Since I have not heard back from anyone, now it’s time to go to the groups directly. I’m taking it upon myself to represent the North Side and hopefully the North Side will show when we take this plan to council.”