Bill Peduto was in Spain one day, and in Pittsburgh the next.
He wasn’t going to miss a woman he calls his mentor being honored in front of nearly 600 people at the New Pittsburgh Courier’s 2019 “Women of Excellence” luncheon.
Valerie McDonald Roberts, who became the first African American woman elected to Pittsburgh City Council in its history, among other “firsts,” was recognized as the Legacy Honoree at the Dec. 12 event at the Wyndham Grand Hotel, Downtown. Fifty additional Black women were honored as “Women of Excellence,” with their professional and personal contributions to the region lauded.
Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, stood in front of the crowd and discussed how he had found a mentor in McDonald Roberts when he was getting his feet wet in Pittsburgh politics. McDonald Roberts, after serving as a Pittsburgh Public Schools board member, progressed to Pittsburgh City Council in the mid-‘90s.
“I found a mentor, and I found someone who showed me how to do it right,” Mayor Peduto said. “Someone who is able to have grace under pressure. Somebody who is able to find ways where the people are divided and polarized on both sides, to find common sense and help to bring people together. Somebody who was ferocious when it came to those that had been left behind, and those that never got a fair share.”
McDonald Roberts, however, as she took the podium, said she never wanted to be “ferocious.”
Up until the late 1980s, she was not a Pittsburgh household name. She was working in the private sector, as a chemist, microscopist, medical technologist and math and chemistry instructor.
Doesn’t exactly sound like public service.
But she found herself dissatisfied with her daughter’s reading curriculum and decided to “go on the inside,” as she said, to make changes, by becoming a school board member. She served five years total on the board, including one as president, before being elected to Pittsburgh City Council in 1994.
“I did not want to pursue being the first of anything,” McDonald Roberts said onstage. “I did not want to undertake fights, I did not necessarily want to be in the public eye. I did not want to grace the newspapers…that was not the background that I had. But that is the course that God set for me.”
McDonald Roberts added: “I am only a tool, that is it. He (God) told me, ‘I want you to be a tool, I want you to be a servant.’”
The morning began with a private reception for the honorees, of which they mingled, some catching up on old times, others meeting for the first time.
Honorees Sharon McIntosh and Sonita Bell certainly didn’t meet for the first time at the event—they are mother and daughter. McIntosh is the youth summit coordinator for the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence; prior to that role, she was a science and social studies teacher. Bell is the owner of her own boutique and has her own fragrance line, Jewell by Sonita’s Designs.
Around noon, the ballroom doors were opened, and people took their seats in anticipation of the event’s beginning. Reverend Dr. Darryl Canady, pastor of Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church and husband of honoree Rev. Taleeta L. Canady, gave the invocation prior to the food being served.
Thereafter, celebrity host and KDKA-TV (Channel 2) television personality Michelyn Hood brought to the stage Mayor Peduto, Courier parent company Real Times Media CEO Hiram Jackson, Courier Editor and Publisher Rod Doss and Courier Advertising Coordinator Ashley Johnson.
Around 1:15 p.m. came the moment most in the crowd was waiting for—the presentation of the awards to the honorees.
One by one, the honorees’ names were called. They came to the stage, were greeted by Doss, and were handed their Women of Excellence award.
When the last honoree was announced, the crowd watched a video presentation by Courier photographer/videographer Brian Cook Sr. on McDonald Roberts. When the video concluded, McDonald Roberts took the stage to a standing ovation.
And when she finished her speech, she exited the stage and towards her seat—to another standing ovation.
HONOREES JacqUeline Jones-Mitchell and Dr. Randi Congleton were among the African American women recognized for their professional and personal contributions to the Pittsburgh region at the Courier’s “Women of Excellence” luncheon, Dec. 12. (Photo by J.L. Martello) (Feature Photo)
by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer