Elected Officials Aim To Work With Community For Change

By Diane I. Daniels

Photo by Diane I. Daniels
Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition members: State Legislator Jake Wheatley, City Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess, City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, State Legislator Ed Gainey and County Councilman DeWitt Walton.

The results are in and the report is completed. Now what? Recently close to 100 people were on hand during the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition Peace and Justice Initiative Policy Report Release Event awaiting results and ready to learn next steps.

According to State Representative Jake Wheatley and the four other PBEOC members; State Representative Ed Gainey, City Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess, City Councilman Daniel Lavelle and County Councilman DeWitt Walton now that the phase one report is complete next steps is continued community involvement. “Your input is desired and is a necessary part of the process,” explained Wheatley. In order to move the agenda forward, the PBEOC is requesting that residents get involved by participating on one or more of the six identified committees. Areas include public safety, affordable housing, family outcomes, business and organization, education and employment. “It is time to be intentional about our work. We have fallen in an attitude of acceptance,” said Gainey. “We have to be on fire for change.”     

Under the direction of the PBEOC the P and JI which convened residents from across the city to create a community-informed policy agenda was founded to “increase public safety, improve quality of life, and ensure the delivery of fair and impartial public safety services” among constituents in the City of Pittsburgh. The initiative’s aim is to create or facilitate: An ongoing and systematic African American community engagement process; a resident-informed Peace and Justice Policy Agenda to include: an overview of the current state of Black Pittsburgh, an overview of the initial community engagement process and findings, and specific policy recommendations. The implementation of the Peace and Justice Policy Agenda utilizing all interested stakeholders and available resources; and a stronger partnership between City, County and State Governments and Pittsburgh’s African-American communities to improve public safety and overall quality of life in those communities.

Wheatley pointed out that the PBEOC was a long time in the making but due to an up serge in violence in the region and across the county, particularly deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement that the five of them realized it was time to reconnect and commit to come up with a collective open agenda. He emphasized that the document is a first step in a long journey.

Results from the community meetings that hosted 448 people which were held on the North Side, Sheraden, the Hill District, South Side, Homewood and a roundtable discussion at Carlow University for women were composed in the phase one report by the HCV-Office of Research and Evaluation, an office of the Homewood Children’s Village. HCV under the leadership of Fred Brown is a non-profit organization that simultaneously improves the lives of Homewood’s children and reweaves the fabric of the community in which they live. The report is available online at www.pbeoc.org

Each PBEOC participant has responsibility for one of the topics which entail Public Safety; City Councilman Lavelle, Affordable Housing; City Councilman Burges, Family Outcomes; State Rep. Wheatley, Business and Organization; State Rep. Ed Gainey, Education along with Employment; County Councilman Walton.

It was pointed out that during the information gatherings, of the six points public safety and education discussion tables had the most interest. Residents in public safety wanted more of “the right” police in high crime areas, better communication between police and community, more Black officers, better relationships between young, Black males and police and youth activities and supervision.

Education concerns were a higher-quality early childhood education, partnership between schools, teachers and parents, relevant curricula to better meet students’ needs, tutors, mentors, volunteers, and support services, access to quality services that already exist and bridging of the gaps in technology, music and arts programs.

Issues addressed during the recent meeting held at the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church was the significance of having a political strategy and the importance of voter education. “Everyone has to be registered to vote and everyone has to vote,” said participant Sala Udin adding that politics is currently the way to get things done. Shanon Williams added that often when people vote they don’t know who to vote pointing out the need for voter education.

Mentioning that residents of the east end voted in high numbers during the November election, Gainey said that new engagement is occurring. “We have to encourage change and tell the story that we do vote not that we don’t vote”

The concluding statement of the report made by City Councilman Burges states that the PBEOC is organized to provide leadership to design and develop a resident-driven approach to solving the twin problems of concentrated disadvantage and improving police-community relations.  ​The Coalition has created and begun to implement an African-American community empowerment model and created the Peace and Justice Initiative. We appreciate all the residents, businesses, special interest groups, community, and faith-based organizations who participated in the P and JI community meetings.  This Peace and Justice Initiative Phase 1 Report is a summary of our work so far and a roadmap for our future endeavors. Beyond this document, the Coalition is committed to an ongoing community engagement process with all members and stakeholders of Pittsburgh’s African-American community.  Our ultimate goal is that our City’s African American residents will be empowered to share responsibility for their environment and neighborhoods, build local networks, and participate in civic life with a greater understanding of the role of local government.

The PBEOC is urging the community to get involved to make a difference.

Diane I. Daniels, the owner of DID & Associates is an award-winning journalist striving to tell the stories and share the accomplishments of African-Americans throughout the region. Through her multi-phase public relations business, utilizing the motto to “promote, publicize and popularize” she offers promotional services, business development consulting and motivational speakers.

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