If knowledge was money the 250 participants that attended the activities during the Talk Magazine Pennsylvania African-American Network Convention would be rich.

“There is a lot of information being shared here,” expressed co-organizer Roxanne Sewell. “It is your responsibility to take it back to your communities, organizations and churches to empower the people.” She stressed that the intent of this year’s convention was to endow people by providing information on how to improve lifestyles through access to training and employment opportunities.

THE CREW—The Talk Magazine staff sit a moment before festivities of the weekend begin. Luther Sewell, Lamonte Wilson and Roxanne Sewell. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

For the past decade, Luther and Roxanne Sewell have organized and hosted the Network Convention with the goal to convene experts that include politicians to address issues that impede the success and future of Pennsylvanians. The venue provides an outlet for ways to develop a growth of ideas and solutions to enhance minority communities across the state. This year’s focus was employment and training opportunities in the healthcare, financial and energy industries.

The kickoff reception included comments from neophyte and well experienced elected officials with most painting a challenging but positive future. Remarks were made by the first African-American mayor of Aliquippa Dwan Walker, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Sen. Jay Costa and Congressman Mike Doyle.

Other participants were Allegheny County Councilman William Robinson, Gina Jones of Penn State Fayette, and Melanie Harrington of Vibrant Pittsburgh.

On a unified front, Fitzgerald, Costa and Doyle outlined development within Allegheny County and western Pennsylvania that is slated to improve the quality of life for area residents. From new housing units, new steel mills, medical facilities to the Marcellus Shale project. They also pointed out that they are aware that there are still a lot of challenges and work that has to take place within the region.

“I feel energy throughout the communities and the region,” said Fitzgerald. “But we have to keep people in office that are fighting for us.” Agreeing, Costa confessed, “We have to keep fighting and working hard in Harrisburg. It is about jobs and educating people for the jobs. ”

Costa mentioned that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that things are changing in the state. “We are creating programs that are taking hold. He mentioned the PA Works Now plan organized to front-load public infrastructure investments and retool initiatives to stimulate the economy and create jobs now. He explained that the PA Works Now investment strategy is projected to create more than 80,000 new jobs that would provide an immediate economic stimulus. The initiative is expected to make use of state resources, leverage private resources and make critical long term capital investments that creating new opportunities for future growth and development in the Commonwealth.

With the goal to get President Barak Obama elected for a second term, Patrick Gaspard, DNC executive director and former White House Political director reminded the audience that we have a long way to go and lots of organizing to do to accomplish the mission to get the president reelected. “We cannot take anything for granted,” he said. “We have to be careful of Mitt Romney’s promises and know the facts.”

Gaspard outlined that during the presidents’ tenure that much has been accomplished. He mentioned the requirement for insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and for children to have health insurance coverage, closing the “doughnut hole” in Medicare prescription drug plans, the bail out of the auto industry, removing combat brigades from Iraq, the capturing of Osama Bin Laden and Moammar Kadafi, expanded Pell grants for low-income students, the bailout of the auto industry and the economic stimulus package.

“Though the president has accomplished a lot, we are not where we want to be in this country. There is a ways to go,” pointed out Gaspard. He said for the next 200 and some days his job is to work extremely hard to get the president reelected.

In recognition of the work the NAACP has accomplished throughout the state, J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia Chapter and State President was presented an award. In his remarks he pointed out that one of the major jobs ahead of us is to assure that people are registered and prepared to vote.

The two-day event also included a day of speakers and workshops. The Saturday breakfast speaker was Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. During his presentation he said that due to the Marcellus Shale project that Washington County is the leading county for opportunities in Southwestern Pennsylvania with 45 major economic development projects. Based in five states, he said the natural gas well of Marcellus Shale is the second largest in the world. He mentioned that the retail market is expanding, houses are being built and companies like Range Resources and Consol Energy are building offices in the area.

Workshops included Employment in Health Care, Employment in Financial Institutions and Employment in the Energy Industry. The moderator for the health care session was Mario C. Brown, MPH, CHESS, Director of Health Sciences Diversity Programs at the University of Pittsburgh. Panelist were Kathy Mayle, director, Center for Health Care Diversity at Duquesne University School of Nursing; Shannon Williams, program director for Inclusion Initiatives and Community Workforce Development and Victoria Chester Rose, Manager, University Relations and Employer Branding at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Howard B. Slaughter Jr., president and CEO of Christian Management Enterprises, LLC, served as moderator of the financial workshop. Panelists were Vernon Botts, officer, Recruiter Talent Acquisition at PNC Financial Services Group and Mike O’Rorke, vice president, Human Resources at Dollar Bank.

Honorable Bracken Burns, retired County Commissioner of Washington County was moderator for the energy session. Panelists were Linda Bell of the Washington County Job Training Agency, Michael Cunningham, career coach, TAACCT Grant at Community College of Allegheny County; Mack Godfrey, Manager Account Representative at Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania/Maryland; Dr. Joe Ianetti, director of the Western Area Career and Technology Center in Washington and Kotula.

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