Community Organizing

Talking with Glenn

March 9, 2017
By Bette McDevitt

When the political climate becomes unbearable, and that is often, I think of The People’s Inauguration, at Freedom Corner, Friday, January 20, 2017. I call to mind the joyful music, the singing, the drumming, and the young woman who spoke about the future. “Pay him no mind,” she said, referring to him who would be president. I recall Miss Edna, older even than me, dressed in bright red, leaning on her cane. I recall that I met Glenn Grayson, Jr., that day, the gracious and inclusive master of ceremonies. That made the day.

When I heard his name, I knew his history. He is one of three children of Marsha Grayson, an attorney, and Glenn Grayson, Sr., pastor of the Hill District’s Wesley Center AME Zion Church, former president of Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, an advocate for youth and an opponent of gun violence. In a bitter twist of fate, young Glenn’s brother Jeron Xavier Grayson, a freshman at Howard University, was killed by an angry young man, excluded from a party, who, acting out of anger, randomly shot through the gathering in October 2010.

And here was Glenn Grayson, Jr., talking about hope, justice and community.

I wanted to know the rest of the story- how do you pick up and move on – so I met Glenn at the offices of One Pennsylvania, formerly One Pittsburgh, on the North Side, on a recent afternoon. He had 30 minutes to talk before he was due to pick up his 11 month old son at daycare. We wasted no time.

Glenn has been an organizer for One Pennsylvania for five years. He graduated from Winston Salem State University, a historic black college. His first job was at Mellon Bank, dealing with data, on a night shift. “I was always interested in community issues, and I found I couldn’t go to any meetings, working the night shift, so I was able to get this position as an organizer with One Pennsylvania. We have one office in Pittsburgh, and one in Philadelphia, and hope to expand.

“People in rural areas lost their jobs for the same reason people in cities lost their jobs. What we do is follow the money, confront the power and make the change. We try to give voice to the people about their concerns in the community,” he said, describing the work he first did, which involved a lot of door knocking in various neighborhoods. “People were concerned with weeds next door, lack of jobs, and violence. We pointed out that the weeds in the vacant lot are connected to the other issues.”


Miss Edna Council, referred to in the story, at the People’s Inauguration on January 20th. Photo by Bette McDevitt

At this time, Glenn is focused on early childhood education for all children within the city, and transforming the neighborhood schools into community schools that serve the neighborhood in many ways, offering, among other things, medical services. These concerns make the school board elections very important. As a 501-c-4, One Pennsylvania can endorse candidates. However their members are focused on issue campaigns and only endorse candidates when there is a clear distinction based on the issues that they care deeply about.

An upcoming concern they share with the Merton Center is the water quality in Pittsburgh. “We see the city looking at the possibility of a private-public merger, and the problem would be in the distribution of water. That has to stay in the public arena. If privatized, it becomes profit over people.” The recent water boiling order made Glenn aware of affordability. “In that week, I spent about $75 on bottled water. Water bills need to be affordable.” He spoke of accrued debt that PWSA (Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority) has from past financial problems of past administrations.

“We’re interested in national issues, like immigration, and others that we share with our union brothers and sisters. The wage level is important for everyone. The problem is we have these CEO’s, who want to keep the money in their pockets. We have a lot of college grads who can’t afford to pay back their loans on a $7.25 hourly wage, let alone buy a home. Automation is a big problem, in eliminating jobs, but we can grow without dismantling the workforce of the country.”

We spoke little about the tragedy that took place within his family. It seemed intrusive to ask, but he did tell me that on the day before he died, Jeron had been in a terrible automobile accident. Glenn had gone to the scene and his brother, grateful to have survived, told him, “I have my own testimony.” That was their last conversation.

Glenn’s views on social media were refreshing. “I’m a high tech guy, don’t get me wrong, but we have to stop arguing on Facebook. We have to actually talk to one another, face to face, so we can understand one another’s struggles. We have to stop fighting about our differences, and focus on what we all need to survive. Technology takes away from the human aspect. We are so caught up with our phone that we forget to have a conversation. When we come together, that’s when you see change.”


Bette McDevitt is a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective and of the Thomas Merton Center.


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