NAACP Pa. convention highlights multiple issues

This year, the NAACP state convention, held at the Monroeville Doubletree Hotel, celebrated its 76th year by featuring a number of workshops for both its regular membership and those in its youth and college divisions, to address issues critical to the state’s African-American communities.

Several sessions were chaired by local branch members such as Black Political Empowerment Project founder Tim Stevens and Imani Christian Academy headmaster Milton Raiford.

BUSINESS IN COMMON—Flanked by NAACP State Conference President J. Wyatt Mondesire and Convention Planning Co-chair Marcella Lee, Courier Editor and Publisher Rod Doss accepts the Businessman of the Year award. (Photo by Erin Perry)

Though some members arrived for the early bird reception Oct. 21, most arrived the following morning where state NAACP President Jerry Mondesire welcomed attendees and laid out the agenda for the remaining two days during the opening plenary session.

Additionally, representatives from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Dollar Bank facilitated two of the first day’s workshops, on health issues and personal finance, respectively.

The highlight of the Friday session was the Business Persons Luncheon, which, along with scheduled speakers, featured an impromptu appearance by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato, stumping for votes.

Afterwards, Planning Co-Chair Marcella Lee, noting that “without the New Pittsburgh Courier, we wouldn’t know what’s going on in the world,” introduced the winner of this year’s Business Person of the Year award—Rod Doss, Courier editor and publisher.

“It’s an honor to share this business award with you because we have business in common,” he said. “As we covered the fight for civil rights, our writers and editors highlighted those serving our community so others could see the triumphs our struggle had won.

“You’re cause is not done. And the Courier will continue to follow you, because it is our cause, too. Thank you.”

The luncheon’s keynote speaker was to have been businessman and philanthropist Chuck Sanders. Even though he had to cancel, attendees were treated to a highly enlightening address by attorney Cheryl McAbee, founder of River Development Corp.

She was the first African-American to graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in chemical engineering. After receiving her law degree from Duquesne University, she worked for both Consolidated Oil and DQE. Her small firm is the only Pittsburgh company to have been asked to join the Marcellus Coal Association.

McAbee told the audience about the tremendous opportunities the extraction of natural gas from the massive Marcellus Shale deposit presents to African-American businesses across the state. But there are also employment opportunities that Blacks with just a high school diploma haven’t seen since the demise of the steel industry.

She noted that several environmental groups and politicians are calling for a moratorium on Marcellus drilling at a time when 25 percent of Pittsburgh’s Black population lives in poverty. Jobs on drilling rigs—with names like Roustabout, Pipefitter and Mud Hog—pay $24 per hour to start.

“My grandfather died from injuries he received working as a coal miner—they didn’t call for a stop to mining, did they? My father had to stop working at the U.S. Steel plant in Clairton after he was badly burned. They didn’t shut down the mills, did they?” she said.

“So the next time someone asks you to support a moratorium on Marcellus Shale, you tell them it’s not our fight.”

Then, recalling Onorato’s campaign call for Marcellus-related job training, McAbee noted that unlike in Allegheny County, where Onorato is the executive, Westmoreland County Community College is already training and placing workers.

The luncheon culminated with state conference President Jerry Mondesire announcing he has worked out an arrangement with the Tides Foundation whereby local NAACP branches can apply for, and receive money from tax-exempt 501(c)(3) donations.

“This is great news for branches that need funding for various education programs, or even get-out-the-vote efforts,” he said. “This is a national system, and it’s the first time in our 101-year history we can do this.”

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