IMANI GALA—Students and staff from Imani Christian Academy with new principal Terri Ayers (far left). (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)


It’s been a rough year for Imani Christian Academy, a private religious school that saw its founders from Petra International Ministries ousted as part of a regime change in 2012. Since that time the school has been sued by former teachers who were allegedly fired for their close relationship with Petra. And this Fall, it was also forced to discontinue its football team after one WPIAL season.

But at the 11th Annual Imani Gala, guests heard positive stories from the academy’s students, those who rely on the institution’s continued vitality.

“Imani Christian Academy is my home. It’s a place where I really fit in. I was spiritually lost before I found Imani. They are the true definition of love,” said Onyah Sheely, a tenth grade student. “When you hit the doorstep of Imani you are instantly hit with smiles, hugs, and kisses. Without their help I wouldn’t be able to stand where I am today.”

The fundraising gala held at the East Club Lounge at Heinz Field on Sept. 7 also celebrated the school’s 20th Anniversary. Imani was founded by Petra in 1993 in a single-family house with 30 students in an effort to create a safe learning environment for at-risk children.

“I have seen Imani grow so much since we came from the Petra International Ministries building to where we are today,” said Aliya Sewell, an eighth grade student who attended Imani in the former East Hills Shopping Center before it moved to its current location in the old East Hills school building. “Thankfully we are no longer students at risk because of the work of all of you.”

Imani students have several changes in store for them in the 2013-2014 school year. Longtime principal Marilyn Barnett recently retired and has been replaced with Terri Ayers, who has worked in the Wilkinsburg School District and previously served as assistant principal at Imani.

“I’ve enjoyed my time at Imani,” Barnett said to the audience of Imani donors after being honored at the gala for her years of service. “With your collective effort, you’ve made my time at Imani enjoyable and more importantly, you’ve helped the students.”

Several families have left Imani for Renaissance Christian Academy, a school recently opened by former Imani founders with Petra. The loss of Imani’s football team is apparently a result of players switching to Renaissance to play under Imani’s former coach Harvey Smith.

However, despite these changes, Imani has a track record of academic success. Since its founding, more than 200 students have graduated from the school and 67 percent of these students have gone on to attend a college or university.

“My father decided to send me to Imani so I could better my academics and deepen my relationship with Christ,” said Idris Carlo, eighth grade student. “My father was so right.”

More than 400 attended this year’s gala, raising an estimated $650,000 for the school. The event’s honorary co-chairs were John and Becky Surma, Morgan and Kathy O’Brien and Billy and Kara Guerin. Sponsors included Jones Day, Peoples Natural Gas, and U.S. Steel.

“I’m on track to graduate in 2014 because of God and a lot of you who have supported my school,” said Aaron Scott, a twelfth grade student.



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