Jasiri X remembers a time in Pittsburgh when Black men were portrayed in local media almost solely in stories about crime or sports, and never about quality of life issues.
So he co-founded 1Hood Media in 2006 to change the narrative from negative to normal, and in December the group of artists and activists officially unveiled their newest endeavor, BlackPittsburgh.com, which got a soft launch on Juneteenth.
The website, designed by Motormouth Multimedia, captures the natural rebirth of 1Hood Media after two years of the pandemic, and it will tell the stories that Black Pittsburgh needs to know.
“In 2010 we were inspired by a Heinz Endowments report on how Black men were covered in the media,” says Jasiri X, 1Hood’s CEO. As the coalition’s work grew and received notice, he says, “All of a sudden we were becoming the news, in a sense, and we were introducing experts to our community. We said, ‘We have this content; why not create a space where we can house all of that and also tell other stories from a Black perspective?’ … If there doesn’t seem to be that interest in the mainstream media, we can tell our story.”
1Hood, funded primarily by grants and personal donations, has an office at 460 Melwood Ave. in North Oakland, a staff of about six people, and is looking to hire more. In September, the organization received a grant from basketball great Michael Jordan — it’s one of 18 grassroots organizations that will share $1 million from the Jordan Brand’s new Black Community Commitment Grant Program for its work in social justice, education, voting rights and getting information about Covid out to the Black community.
“When we submitted [an application for] the grant it was talking about the work we had been doing with Covid-19 and town halls,” says Jasiri. “That was definitely a blessing, to be recognized by a brand that’s so iconic in our community. … It was the first time that Michael Jordan supported community groups and to be among the groups that received funding, it was an honor.”
Though 2020 was a tough year, and 2021 was a year of reflection and planning, 1Hood members still did work in the community: advocacy during the 2020 elections and helping Black Pittsburgh deal with the virus. Now they’re regrouping as the city emerges from the pandemic’s restrictions and welcomes its first Black mayor, Ed Gainey, for whom Jasiri X campaigned and served on his transition team. Gainey’s first day in office is Monday, January 3.
“I think we’re in a good place now,” Jasiri says as 2022 approaches. “We had big plans but then Covid hit. We were doing town halls and then the protests [over George Floyd’s death] came and we were out in the streets, helping other organizations, then the election came and we were out there. In 2021, we had a little more opportunity to plan and say, ‘This is how we want to show up.’”
In 2020, 1Hood launched 1Hood Power, to empower people to utilize the political process to build power. BlackPittsburgh.com will also help position the group as it moves into 2022.
“BlackPittsburgh.com is a big piece of that,” says Jasiri. “It’s connected to our work in telling our own stories and highlighting events that we want to focus on — also highlighting Black excellence and artists and organizations that are doing great things in our community. We’ve gotten a lot of support already in terms of the website and right now we’re saying, ‘Come look at it.’”
The website will ask journalists and historians to contribute stories on issues in the news, politics, health and the arts. Podcasts such as This Week in White Supremacy and What Black Pittsburgh Needs to Know will have a home there.
1Hood’s work became more visible with the social justice protests and dissemination of information about Covid, and donations have picked up, though Jasiri won’t disclose details about the group’s budget and funding.
“Before I always felt like we had to prove ourselves, over and over again, and it would be frustrating. 2020 was the first time people said, ‘Let’s support Black-led organizations.’ Starbucks gave us a grant. The donations have allowed us to be more flexible, to not just have to rely solely on grant funding. We’re looking to hire more folks, and we’re growing,” says Jasiri.
“When we began this work, we were teaching young Black men how to analyze media and create media for ourselves. BlackPittsburgh.com is our moment to come around, to tell our own stories and other stories that will help to elevate some of the things our community’s dealing with. I’m happy to be in a position where we can help amplify the great work that’s being done by all these organizations and people in Pittsburgh who sometimes don’t have their stories told.”
With Gainey’s election, Jasiri is “cautiously optimistic” about the state of Black Pittsburgh.
“I think we’re seeing some change. We’re going to start 2022 off with the inauguration of the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh, somebody I personally supported and campaigned for. … Maybe as important, five progressive judges will be sworn in to Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, three of whom are Black women. We have the first Black woman magistrate, on the North Side, and a Black man who became a magistrate, and two new school board members,” he says.
“So, I feel like we’re seeing progress. We got tired of being told Pittsburgh was going to become more pliable but not seeing those words turn into action, so we took things into our own hands. We’ll have a mayor who experienced poverty and some things Black Pittsburghers experience every day.”
Despite his years in politics, Jasiri says, Gainey still “likes being in the community” and although he doesn’t agree with everything his constituents say or want, “his presence makes us think he cares. I’m hoping that care turns into policies.”