They call themselves the “Black Sheep” (or BLK SHP), a group of America’s leading thinkers and master storytellers, who just left Austin, Texas to trek across America’s “True North” to hear the stories of former industrial heartlands and resilient rustbelt communities.
Their bus – which is actually a Willie Nelson cast-off – will pull into the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh on May 4 to hear Pittsburgh’s story with three panels that are open to the public. It’s one of 20 stops on their “Rediscovering America’s True North” tour.
The inspiration for the tour came when project director and author Alexa Clay encountered residents of Wilmington, Ohio who were able to grow their economy after the loss of 10,000 local jobs.
“We wanted to hear more about how people are reimagining their communities,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to share best practices, reflect on some of the tensions people are feeling and amplify the voices of local innovators.”
Clay is heading up an eclectic group of 12 to 15 policy makers, entrepreneurs and artists – thinkers like Peter Sims, author of Little Bets and founder of BLK SHP; Ronnie Cho, vice president of public affairs for MTV; Matthew Bishop, globalization editor for The Economist; Harold O’Neal, pianist and composer and Lance Weiler, director of experimental learning at Columbia University.
They will meet with Pittsburgh leaders to share stories of success and renewal with hopes of charting a path that will push America forward in terms of the economy, government, education, the natural environment and culture and civic society, explains Dan Law, vice president of business development at Thrill Mill.
GTECH, Radiant Hall and Thrill Mill are hosting the Pittsburgh visit which is sponsored by Urban Innovation21 and NEXTpittsburgh.
“A ‘black sheep’ is a person who looks for ways to hack at growth in unconventional methods, asking hard questions, advancing the conversation,” says Law. “The story we are going to share has a lot to do with the folks who are going to be speaking. We are offering them a platform, each on different viewpoints.”
For example, Nathan Martin, CEO of Deeplocal, will participate on a panel about culture while William Generett, Jr. of Urban Innovation21 and Kenya Boswell andMatt Zieger, founding partners of UpPrize, will speak to the local economy. Co-founder of the LUMA Institute Pete Maher and executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise Saleem Ghubril will address education. Members of The BLK SHP group, such as Alexa Clay, will also be featured on one of the three panels–dubbed Misfits in Education, Misfits in New Economy and Misfits in Culture & Civic Society–scheduled from the morning of May 4.
“The BLK SHP stop in Pittsburgh means that we can tap into a rich perspective gained by a diverse cohort of thinkers, creators, and dot connectors amidst their nationally learning tour,” says Andrew Butcher of GTECH. “More importantly, this is an opportunity for us to reflect locally on the tremendous talent, leadership, innovation, and gumption that is congealing in Pittsburgh and informing a national dialogue.”
After the panels and discussion, the BLK SHP group will board their bus to visit Lawrenceville’s Butler Street and they will experience the creative spaces, incubators, accelerators and collaborative workspaces in East Liberty, says Law.
Finally, the group will have dinner in Oakland, in the midst of “two world-class research universities” where there is a wealth of idea sharing and other projects among researchers, students and businesses, he adds.
Throughout the tour that runs until the end of May the group will carefully document their discoveries and produce a film that will be shown in different towns they visited and at “influencer events” in New York and Washington, D.C. says Clay.
The public is invited to attend the panel discussions at the Energy Innovation Center on May 4 from 8 to 11 a.m. Register here.