Activists and concerned community members gathered July 19 to dispel beliefs that Pittsburgh is "America's Most Livable City," and to urge people to act on improving the city's troubled African-American communities.
Nearly a dozen speakers spent two hours talking about the problems facing many struggling city neighborhoods, and the overall message was clear: Talk is cheap, action is everything.
"We have the people, we have the ideas," Minister Jasiri X told an audience of more than 40 people at The Kingsley Association in East Liberty. "But we need to begin to act. We're in a state of emergency."
Jasiri X's call for action comes after a June 2007 study by the University of Pittsburgh, which outlines the city's drastic disparities in quality of life between whites and blacks.
"Places Rated Almanac" rated Pittsburgh as "America's Most Livable City" earlier this year, but black activists think the University of Pittsburgh study, which paints a city that is far from livable for many of its black residents, is a much more accurate assessment of the region.
According to the study, "Pittsburgh's Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities," African-American poverty rates in the city are 2.5 times that of whites, and the median income of African-American households is $10,000 less than white households.
"There are two Pittsburghs," Jasiri X told the standing-room-only audience. "One for the wealthy white. And another for the poor, disenfranchised black people. Let's make Pittsburgh a livable city for everybody."
Jasiri X hopes the Pittsburgh Regional Gathering, to be held Aug. 3-5 and organized by One HOOD, Voices Against Violence and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Metro-Urban Institute, among many others, will provide local communities the chance to do just that.
The three-day event will start at 7 p.m., Fri., Aug. 3 with a kickoff concert by hip-hop artist Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers at the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty. The show is open to the public; $10 donations are encouraged.
There will also be a conference on Saturday with panels discussing economics, politics and education, as well as the roles of the church and the media.
And on Sunday, neighbors of all religions are asked to hold their services outside in an effort to help instill faith in the youth and "encourage righteous and moral conduct," according to Jasiri X.
"We want to bring people together to make stuff happen," Jasiri X said. "We have to put what little resources we have together and help solve our problems. If we don't act we'll be doing the same thing five years from now."
One HOOD activist Paradise Gray said the weekend events in early August won't merely be question-and-answer sessions. "Unlike normal panels, we're going to come out of each panel with an action item. When you leave the panel [that weekend], you will have tasks to do. The community and participants will decide what to do and how to do it."
"I get tired of going to meetings," added the Rev. Cornell Jones. "We need warriors to step up. I don't want my son to grow up and look at that study and say, 'Did you step back or did you man up?'"
One of the night's most moving speeches came from Jay Donaldson, father of 18-year-old Jehru, who was recently shot and killed on the North Side while waiting to take his girlfriend's nephews to a Pirates game.
Donaldson is organizing "Protect Our Youth, Serve Our Elders" (POYSE), scheduled for Sun., July 29 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Brighton Place on the North Side, the location where his son was shot. POYSE will bring together artists and speakers to begin educating the youth about their past and teaching them how to deal with drug use, police and peer pressure, according to Donaldson.
"Action is POYSE," he said, wearing his slain son's Pirates ball cap. "We want to make sure other people learn from this deadly deed."