May 10, 2016

By: JT Campbell

On March 8, 2016, a new group came together in support of the Community Benefit Ordinance (CBO). It is petitioning Pittsburgh City Council to give the CBO precedence as a legislative measure. The initiative was drafted by Rashad Byrdsong, Executive Director of the Community Empowerment Association in the Holy Rosary School in Homewood. This is the initial move of the Economic Regional Advisory Council (ERAC).  ERAC is a city-wide coalition of organizations and residents dedicated to the creation of new economic opportunities and winning the fight to overcome the disparity plaguing African Americans and other black communities surrounding Pittsburgh.

In a media briefing, Elder Byrdsong explained how the Community Benefits Ordinance intends to include first source hiring, workforce development and training for residents, MWDB (Minority. Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) participation on all jobs, small business incubation, and participation in a Growth Fund.

“Violence in our communities is a symptom of a larger social and economic set of conditions; all tied to the disparity rates of African Americans in this City. Contrary to some opinions, murder and social isolation do not come naturally to or are inherent in one group of people. Black, Brown or otherwise, violent behavior is perpetuated by environmental conditions and social circumstances people find themselves in. Filled with disparities in education, and lack of economic opportunities, paired with substance abuse and underemployment, violence springs from the hopelessness of people that have been marginalized, dehumanized, and prevented from the rights of full citizenship. Many of them are distressed with the fear that things will definitely get worse, not better.”

 As part of the process outlined, the ordinance will require Community Impact Studies and Reports as documentation from community developers for the City Planning Department, the URA, and all government authorities when approval of development plans is sought.  The Community Impact Reports would set the guidelines for community benefit agreements and substantiate modes of actualization towards partnership, as all the facts of the development become accessible for the proposed project. A post agenda meeting followed at the University of Pittsburgh on March 31, where professionals spoke about the reluctance of developers to share information, which results in a scenario of community leaders excluded from the decision-making process and local officials competing with interests and demands of “projects that meet the needs of few and cost the majority a great deal”.

 Being locked out of a decision-making process is called exclusion. Often, the social and economic dynamics of exclusion and isolation are strategically used to narrow the possibilities and outcomes of communities in growth and development. We are at a point in history where all of us, regardless of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation, are existing in a society dogged with systemic barriers and structural discrimination. Certain demographics are experiencing the harshness of these shortcomings more than others; and specifically identified intersections of these demographics have been experiencing the traumatic effects for more generations than others. There is no time to have a comparable competition of how bad it is. It is bad. We must work on open access to data and information that, once received, allows us to influence the change we know is right for our communities to achieve the equity that needs to be provided to our communities on all levels for our elders and our youth.

 The folks at the Community Empowerment Association (CEA) and the Community College Allegheny County (CCAC)  Job Placement and Career Services offered a resource and job fair on April 30th.  Daily resume writing services and interview and presentation skills trainings led up to the event each day during the week of April 25th.

 A Call to Action is being organized to further the understanding of Community Benefits, Needs and Resources with an event on Saturday, May 21st from 1pm to 6 pm. The event is aimed at transforming communities from the roots by promoting health, well-being, wholeness of individuals and community life. The theme is rebuilding the black community one block at a time; the ERAC will kickoff the AdoptABlock campaign with music, food, clothing and a non-perishables drive with access to community resources leading up to a door-to-door campaign to survey  household needs. Please contact CEAPittsburgh at 412.371.3689 for additional details and information. Keep your eyes open as the Black Men Rising is organizing efforts to present the Day of Black Male Solidarity on June 18th – moving towards social, cultural, economic justice, and equality.

JT Campbell is a volunteer and member of the Thomas Merton center.