On Sept. 1, the African American Leadership Association, in partnership with the Black Political Empowerment Project, hosted the first in a three part series of sessions titled “Producing Political Power.”

At the session, held in Bethel AME Church in the Hill District, the audience heard from Black elected officials and representatives from several sectors of local government.


Serving on the panel were Ed Gainey, coordinator of economic development for the mayor’s office; Amanda Green Hawkins, district 13 county council representative; Jake Wheatley, 19 district house representative; Majestic Lane, senior executive assistant to State Senator Jim Ferlo; and K. Chase Patterson, field representative for Congressman Mike Doyle. While providing the audience with an overview of their offices and positions, the panelists agreed Black government officials, community leaders, non-profits and citizens need to come together to present a unified agenda to address African-American issues.

“We’ve got to do a better job of understanding the process and the real power these offices have. We don’t have a collective agenda. We have a whole bunch of people with a whole bunch of titles. The problem is not our community; it’s the people who perpetrate themselves as leaders of our community,” Patterson said. “What is the agenda that our community has constructed to hold our elected officials accountable? Imagine if the president of the NAACP, of the Urban League, of B-PEP sat down with the mayor and said we are united in our agenda. Imagine the power.”

Beyond determining the key issues of importance to African-Americans, the panelists said the Black community must keep government officials accountable for their commitments to address those issues after campaign season comes to a close.

“Typically we play politics just to play while others play it to advance their causes. We may campaign for a person but we never keep them accountable to get our issues addressed,” Wheatley said. “Anyone, Black or White, who comes to you and says they want to represent you, you should make sure you’re on the same page. I expect you to say, we have high unemployment and we need to change that.”

Speakers from the audience were less critical of the government officials before them and more disgruntled with their ward chairmen and committee people in the Allegheny County Demo­­cratic Committee. They said all too often these individuals do not have a strong presence in the community or represent their needs.

“I think it’s very important that African-Americans be involved politically,” Hawkins said. “There are some committee people who don’t get exposed to the candidates because the ward chairs don’t give everyone the same information. Let’s look at all the candidates and not just the ones hand-picked by the ward chairmen.”

The panelists agreed Black leaders in the ACDC should better represent their constituents, but urged the audience to play a more active role in seeking them out. Gainey, who is the Pittsburgh Democratic Committee chair of the ACDC, committed to making information more easily accessible through Websites such as B-PEP’s.

“We have more African-Americans in the city then at any time in history and we should be going out for these committee seats but most people don’t know about them,” Gainey said. “Most of the time these committee people are appointed because people don’t know when the elections are.”

Panelist Lane said African-Americans need to be more engaged in politics in general and suggested training children from an early age to one day enter the political realm. While those in the audience seemed committed to advancing Black causes, the session’s lower than expected turnout could have been influenced by the Steelers football game scheduled that evening.

“Sometimes we get in a circle of, the system doesn’t work for us, we don’t work for the system. While we’re saying we want to get home for the Steelers game, there’s other communities who don’t,” Lane said. “We have to be very specific about what we want.”

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