Black Pittsburgh Matters

by Rev Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle

The coronavirus and incidents of police violence are two national crises sweeping our nation, disproportionately affecting Black people. COVID-19 is having a profoundly disastrous impact on Black people, their businesses and their employment opportunities. In addition, recent episodes of police violence resulting in the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain have spurred a national movement demanding the defunding and/or disbanding of police departments and massive investments in programs that prevent poverty, crime and hopelessness. Additionally, many more Americans are acknowledging that racism is the root cause of the inequities suffered by Black people in the United States.

The very history of the United States is slavery and racism, and the most insidious fruit of that racism comes in the form of economic disparity. Because of systemic oppression, Black people and the communities in which they live have suffered redlining, denial of opportunities, substandard housing and poor educational outcomes, which ultimately lead to disproportionately unhealthy lives.

In Pittsburgh, one of the major consequences of institutional racism and discriminatory practices is that the majority of its Black residents live in segregated communities of concentrated, intergenerational poverty.

This is, in part, due to an intentional withholding of economic and social capital poured into majority White communities. The challenges inherent in this model left Black communities with: worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities; thus making it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations, making poverty a virtually permanent state.

Various reports have shown the effect of institutional racism in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. For example, according to the City of Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission’s “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race,” Pittsburgh’s Black residents could move to almost any other U.S. city of comparable size and have a better quality of life. This is no accident. These negative factors affecting Black communities and their residents also negatively impacts the entire metropolitan area’s ability to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

Recently, the City of Pittsburgh has taken two historic actions: One, the government declared racism as a public health crisis in Pittsburgh; and two, that Black Pittsburgh Matters. Black Pittsburgh Matters means that in Pittsburgh, Black lives, Black communities, and Black wealth matters. In Pittsburgh the health, safety and well-being of Black people should be protected, Black communities should be invested in and rebuilt and Black employment, entrepreneurship and homeownership must be encouraged and funded.

Fortunately, we have tangible examples of what this transformation can look like in Pittsburgh. The redevelopment of the Larimer community with Cornerstone Village and Larimer Pointe and the redevelopment of the Hill District with Skyline Terrace gives us a glimpse of a future Pittsburgh. These successful projects have created successful mixed-income communities, transforming the lives of its residents from concentrated poverty with low outcomes, while protecting and uplifting the existing homeowners in those areas.

These residents are achieving educational success, financial independence, and housing security. They are also in close proximity to essential community amenities. Now, new homes are being purchased and renovated without government subsidy, new schools have been planted in those communities, and a variety of university and nonprofit investment is interested in participating in these communities upliftment when they were not just a few years ago.

So, if we are serious in about racial reconciliation in Pittsburgh, we must, first and foremost, systematically and intentionally invest in Black people and the communities where they live. We must rebuild Black communities for Black people, by Black people, with our partners and allies. In order to accomplish this, Black Pittsburgh Matters suggests five investment principles for Black Pittsburgh. Those priorities are investing in:
1.Community-based violence intervention and reintegration of public safety programs;
2.Economic development in Black communities;
3.Community based and faith-based organizations;
4. Education, supportive and social services; and Black employment and entrepreneurship.

We challenge Pittsburgh’s leaders and their organizations including government, corporate, educational and nonprofit institutions to join with us as strategic partners. By working together, united in purpose, we can transform our city, strengthening it for all of its residents. Pittsburgh can only be a “City For All” when it becomes a city where Black Pittsburgh Matters.


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