Like the previous sessions the intent was to hear from people about their concerns on issues related to affordable housing, employment, development of Black businesses, as well as other quality of life problems that affect distressed communities in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition is a group comprised of Councilpersons R. Daniel Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess, State Representatives Jake Wheatley and Gainey, and County Councilman Dewitt Walton. It is a collaboration to advocate for peace and justice in the City of Pittsburgh.
The first five roundtables were held in the neighborhoods of the North Side, the West End, the Hill District, the South Side and the East End in September. Approximately 500 Pittsburgh residents are reported to have participated in the six sessions.
Other statistics pointed out and addressed at the October 4 meeting focused on the six topics of discussion. In the business and organization area the report indicated that African Americans in Pittsburgh are not starting businesses despite the spike in business ownership among Blacks in other similar size cities. Nationwide, 79 percent of new women-owned firms launched since 2007, were started by women of color but in 2002, Pittsburgh had the 6th smallest number of Black-owned firms among the top 40 metro regions in the country.
In attendance to voice her opinion, LaToya Johnson-Rainey the owner of A Hair Boutique in Shady Side was excited about the opportunity to share her business experiences as well as to learn what entrepreneurs are doing to excel in their businesses in other parts of the city.
“We need more outlets like this,” she said. Later in the discussion the same sentiment was expressed during the business and organizations report. Articulating that there is a lack of knowledge of resources, a solution was for information to be housed in the offices of the sponsoring politicians.
Topic facilitators for the women’s roundtables were Darcel Madkins; Cofounder of African American Leadership Association, Lois Mufuka Martin; Chief Volunteer Engagement Officer for the United Way, Cynthia Mendoza; founder of Brown Mamas, Demeshia Seals; a General Community Representative, Nicole Webster; Corporate Liaison for Accenture and Marissa Williams; Executive Director of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition outline that the next steps will include processing the survey data, key findings and recommendations into summary form by mid-October. Tentatively Nov.1 a city-wide community meeting is scheduled at the Hill House Kaufmann Center for findings to be revealed to the community and by mid-November a draft outline of the Peace and Justice Initiative Policy document will be available for internal review with the anticipation that the completed document will be available by mid- December.
“This has to be an ongoing process because there are ongoing issues within our communities that need to be addressed,” Gainey said. He and Wheatley agree that the attendees and participants in the roundtables are ready for a change. Their aim is to put a plan together that everyone can be helped by, something to mobilize the community.
Wheatley acknowledged that since 2012 efforts have been underway to gather Blacks to discuss collective issues. “After years and years of trying to organize, we are committed to working together, to providing the leadership that it takes and committed to making change. It requires being honest and cohesiveness,” he said.
Gainey mentioned that this is the first time all the area Black elected officials have organized and are working together in such a way to bring change. He said the Mayor has challenged them to bring something to the table for him to work with. “Now we have to be on the same page to grow this city. We have to stay focused. It’s going to take Blacks, women and the LGBT community to create a change.”
The roundtables have been organized by the staff of the elected officials which includes Samantha Akers from Rep.Wheatley’s Office, Sierra Parm from County Councilman Walton’s Office, Lori Criswell from Rep. Gainey’s Office and Marita Bradley from Councilman Rev. Burgess’s Office. Cassandra M. Williams, Community Relations Manager for the Office of Councilman Lavelle is the point of contact for the total Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition.
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