While Pittsburgh is a model of post-industrial rebirth, it’s painfully clear that not all are sharing in the success. Many neighborhoods and municipalities remain mired in decades of abandonment and neglect.
The fact that so many of those places are predominantly African-American, and represented by a small number of black elected officials, spurred those officials into action. The Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition (PBEOC) was founded last year with a vision for “a healthy, thriving, sustainable African American community.” It includes County Councilman DeWitt Walton, State Representatives Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley, and Pittsburgh City Councilmen Rev. Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle.
They focused on six problems: affordable housing, family outcomes, business and organization, education and employment.
“We made a commitment to talk directly to our communities,” said Wheatley, of the more than 400 people who showed up to talk at six community meetings. “We have finished that part of our journey.”
The result was the Pittsburgh Peace and Justice Initiative Report, a 61-page booklet released on February 2, with a press conference in front of City Council Chambers. It combines everything from the latest demographic research on their districts, to residents’ visions for their communities, to the challenges they face, to metrics for measuring progress (or lack of it).
“Those on the ground have the secrets of success to rebuild our communities,” said Gainey.
The statistics are stark. Infant mortality in African-American communities is nearly twice the rate of white Pittsburgh, as is the number of those without health coverage.
Problems both simple and complex are interconnected, and thus hard to untwine. For instance, so many health problems are related to a lack of healthy food. But simply obtaining healthy food is a problem for many Pittsburghers, especially when the bus only comes by a few times a day, or not at all.
The PBEOC’s report comes with a list of policy recommendations they plan to pursue. These include establishing a sustainable funding stream for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and a Homeowner Rehabilitation Program to help homeowners with all-important (and vital for health and safety) repairs to roofs, plumbing and electricity.
“It’s not because of us that this will happen,” said Wheatley. “It’s because all of us as a community will come together.”