“AVA is aligned with our target market,” he says. “North Oakland is more diverse than any other area of Pittsburgh—26 percent of the population is from outside of the country. That’s right up my alley. It’s also the most densely populated area in Pittsburgh.”

“A main street approach is a better fit than national chains for Pittsburgh,” he says in reference to his advocacy of local businesses. “We (entrepreneurs) need more opportunities to access these larger developments. Otherwise, how can individuals seek their entrepreneurial dreams?”

East Carson Street is a great example, he adds. “It’s places like these that give a neighborhood and city its reputation and name. If we turn ourselves into a strip mall, why would anyone want to visit Pittsburgh? It’s an everybody wins approach.”

One idea is to divide the TIFS and tax credits among the entrepreneurs, he says.

“It will create more Googles, but with people that are from here. I would love to see an alternative to the Pittsburgh Promise. Those who aren’t college bound (and it wasn’t for me) can obtain financing to start their own businesses.”

Carla Leininger, Global Beats

Carla Leininger, Global Beats

Forging cultural connections through dance

Carla Leininger, a native of Brazil, moved to Pittsburgh 27 years ago. This year she celebrates her 15th year as deejay of her Brazilian Radio Hour show, which airs from 6-7 p.m. on WRCT, 88.3 FM. She has been recognized for her role as an emissary of cultural programming in Pittsburgh with a 2013 Brazilian International Press award.

Leininger launched Global Beats in 2004, a grassroots world music movement featuring salsa, reggae with bachata, afro-pop with Balkan beats and a fusion of other rhythms. It’s all about connecting internationals with their cultural heritage, she says. Global Beats was a monthly event at the AVA Lounge in East Liberty.

Calling herself a “deejay who would rather be dancing,” she has been doing private events of late and contemplating a new venue in Pittsburgh for world music. By day, she’s an “employment brand ambassador” and recruiting specialist currently for PPG, formerly for PNC Financial and Eaton Corp.

“It seems that we’ve been talking on this (livable city) topic for a long time,” she says. “One of the things we are lacking (in Pittsburgh) is a venue that allows 100 to 200 people to come together and dance. We have a lot of bars where people can sit and drink, but not a lot of places to dance. Dance brings people together naturally and breaks down barriers.

“I play what other clubs don’t play and that’s our differentiator,” says Leininger. “People like me, who want to make a difference, have a hard time finding financial backing. I devote many hours to bringing diversity to this city—it should be easier to find funding so that volunteers with limited hours but a lot of passion and initiative can achieve more.”

In 2013, Leininger received a grant from Vibrant Pittsburgh to host the first World Music Day at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. Her grant was rejected this year, which was a huge disappointment for her.

Pittsburgh has a high-quality of professional internationals compared to other cities where internationals tend to live together in pockets of the city, she says. “That’s one advantage we have,” she says. “Recently it feels that a  renaissance is underway with the new mayor and I’m very excited about that. The city put a screen in Market Square so everyone could watch the USA World Cup soccer game. In very small ways, I feel the fruits of my labor are paying off.”

Majestic Lane. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Majestic Lane. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Creating healthy third spaces

Majestic Lane is taking a slightly different approach as a social entrepreneur and “juice evangelist,” spreading the message of health and wellness in underserved communities through Juice UP 412, a smoothie and juice bar and wellness blitz. The first juice stand, which opened in the Strip District last year, was made possible through a partnership with Bar Marco.

Lane, who formerly worked for Sen. Ferlo’s office in community development, recently began working for A+ schools as director of community and engagement strategy. An Awesome Pittsburgh grant assisted the “juice up guys” in putting a stand within The Livermore in East Liberty, to open soon.

Juice UP also takes demonstrations and classes to the streets and into schools and community based organizations in underserved neighborhoods across the city, imparting healthy recipes that youth can share with their families. The idea is to “provide nutritious, delicious juices to inspire people to invest in their personal health and wellness.”