A NEW DAY—Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey speaks with Homewood residents as he walked the streets of the neighborhood on March 22. A community meeting was held later that evening at Community Empowerment Association. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Mayor leads community walk through the neighborhood
Ed Gainey doesn’t have a convention center named after him, like former Pittsburgh mayor David L. Lawrence.
Gainey doesn’t have his own statue standing proudly in front of City Hall, like former Pittsburgh mayor Richard Caliguiri.
But no mayor in the history of Pittsburgh has enjoyed the support and backing of the city’s important African American contingent more than Gainey, and he’s just three months into the job.
When Mayor Gainey announced he’d be walking the streets of Homewood on Tuesday, March 22, who knew it would turn into a near-Beatles-esque occasion, residents opening their doors to greet Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, others yelling in admiration from their cars for the mayor, with Gainey returning the love.
Aside from the rock-star status, there was a purpose to this party. Mayor Gainey, who represented Homewood in Harrisburg during his previous years as a state representative, wanted to show the residents how invested he is in helping Homewood in all ways possible now that he leads Pittsburgh.
“I understand that there are a lot of good people in Homewood, and I understand that people really care about Homewood,” Mayor Gainey told the New Pittsburgh Courier exclusively as he walked on Kelly Street, March 22. “But sometimes you need leaders to come out and say, ‘I’m with you, how do we work together to save lives.’ And this is what I’ve done my whole career. That’s never going to stop. That’s not politics for me, that’s life for me.”
Previous Pittsburgh mayors have made stops in Homewood before. But this event was different. Mayor Gainey’s closest members in his cabinet joined him for the Homewood walk, including chief of staff Jake Wheatley (a former state representative), which began just after 11:30 a.m. About 60 other community members, including activists, pastors and Homewood advocates also came on the walk, which started at Shiloh Community Baptist Church on Frankstown Ave. It was a diverse audience, too.
Mayor Gainey first stopped at the home of a woman whose nephew was killed in a shooting on Inwood Street in early March. Mayor Gainey wanted absolute privacy with the woman. No photo ops, no interviews. Just him and her.
George Johnson shakes hands with Mayor Ed GaIney along Frankstown Avenue. (Photos By Rob Taylor Jr.)
Moments later, he spoke with another woman across the street, and before he left Inwood Street, a man asked the mayor about the vacant homes and lots, to which he told the crowd that the City of Pittsburgh doesn’t own a lot of the vacant property that residents complain about. But he said his team is working on a solution.
As Mayor Gainey led the charge back on Frankstown Ave., he literally ran into a group of excited kids at the YWCA child care center. The mayor greeted each child, and hinted to the crowd that investment in Homewood is critical for those like the kids that had surrounded him.
As the walk continued on Frankstown toward North Lang Ave., it soon became clear to the crowd what most of them already knew—Homewood isn’t anywhere as bad as it’s perceived on the news.
The mayor introduced the crowd to people responsible for positive activities happening in Homewood, like Gigi Johnson, owner of Lounge 7101, along with the owners of DJ’s Bar (7141 Frankstown) and the Galaxy Lounge (7246 Kelly St.). Mayor Gainey took the crowd inside the Galaxy, greeting a number of older citizens inside who were enjoying lunch and ESPN on the big screen.
“We got good people in this neighborhood that do a lot of great things,” Mayor Gainey told the Courier.
Mayor Gainey introduced the crowd to Tacumba Turner, who for three years has helped cultivate the Oasis Farm & Fishery. It’s an outreach initiative of the nearby Bible Center Church which, Turner said, “uses food as our mechanism to teach wellness and horticulture.” The Oasis Farm and Fishery is located near the corner of Bennett and Sterrett streets, and on this March 22 afternoon, featured students from Environmental Charter School who were tending to the garden.
The mayor introduced the crowd to Rico Rucker, who was raised in Homewood and graduated from Westinghouse High School in 2004. Rucker is one of four finalists in the running to acquire the old Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum building from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He wants to restore it back to a skating rink and/or bowling alley, to “give the kids something to do to stay off the streets,” Rucker told the Courier. “When I was a kid, the Coliseum was thriving; we used to take field trips from Crescent School…My goal is to give it (the Coliseum) back to the community in a way that’s for us, by us.”
ALTER HOWARD WITH ONE LOVE MINISTRY
Mayor Gainey also gave a speaking platform to Alter Howard, a Pittsburgh “MADDAD” and ministry leader of One Love Unity, which spreads messages of love on the corner of Frankstown and N. Homewood avenues each Saturday. Howard said his team prays with and assists those who have been impacted by drug use.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Howard told the Courier exclusively. He said the first few months being on the corner of Frankstown and Homewood was “rough,” but when people saw how consistent, how serious he was in his quest to help people overcome addiction, his ministry was accepted. “We need to come together down here and be consistent,” was Howard’s message to the city, the police, community agencies and churches. “If we unify, there’s no stopping us.”
For those who think Homewood is a war zone, think again, said Ayodeji Young, a longtime community activist and violence prevention specialist. “There is no random violence in Homewood. There’s not people randomly shooting people walking down the street,” he said while on Frankstown Avenue across from Willie Tee’s Barber Shop, a neighborhood staple. “The residents feel safe and they feel good about the community. It’s different moments where they don’t (feel safe) just like any community around the city, around the world. (Violence) happens in spurts where there are predominantly underprivileged communities and where people are lacking resources.”
Young said he gets taken aback when he hears from outsiders who ask if anything is being done to curb the shootings, the crime that happens in Homewood. “We literally do something about it every day,” he said. “Every homicide that happens, there is a major police presence, investigations, outreach teams, candlelight vigils, community marches, youth organizations donating to people—it’s a total wraparound whenever you see a homicide in our community.”
Young said the violence in Homewood primarily stems from people who have had issues with one another (or groups of people) which could rise to violence, “like they do in other cities in predominantly poor areas.” Also, Young said, “people who are not from the (Homewood) community come to where they know the drugs are, and try to buy drugs, and then crime follows that purchase, because it’s all criminality.”
Mayor Gainey’s neighborhood walk helped shine a spotlight on a community meeting that would be held later that evening at Community Empowerment Association, on Kelly St. The meeting would give community residents another opportunity to express their concerns and desires for Homewood. Mayor Gainey, during his Homewood walk, continuously stressed that he would provide significant resources to Homewood and its residents, but that it would take everyone, not just him alone, to turn around Homewood’s fortunes and reputation.
“Every neighborhood in this city is positive,” Mayor Gainey told the Courier exclusively, “The problem is we (Homewood) got issues like everybody else. But then again, if we didn’t have a problem, we wouldn’t have a promise. The reason I know we can get to where we can get to is because we have a promise of a better tomorrow.”