I was lured to Pittsburgh to join a fellowship in public affairs. I stayed to attend a top grad program at a prestigious university. I left, because graduation.
I realize this seems crass when the reason why I left can be summed up in a couple of tweets. Between those tweets are rich memories. The reality for me, and many other transplants, is that Pittsburgh has an expiration date. Pittsburgh was where I had some of my best memories. It’s where I fell in love with the arts, discovered pierogies, developed great friendships, met my future wife, and became a born again Steelers fan.
I came to Pittsburgh not knowing shit about Pittsburgh. As a Fellow, one of our first assignments was a community study of the Hill District. At this point, I had barely spent 48 hours in Pittsburgh. We interviewed politicians, residents, business owners, and developers over the course of a two weeks. It was here that I learned about the Crawford Grill, August Wilson, and how a historically Black neighborhood was ripped apart when the city needed space to build an arena, because hockey. At the end of our two-week-long study, each Fellow presented their findings during a community meeting at the Hill House. It was there that I stood up and said to audience of mostly white onlookers that the problem with the Hill District, is not the Hill District, but the city’s general lack of compassion and love for Black people. Here I was, the only Black man in a cohort of sixteen Fellows, parachuting into a new city with sealed boxes still sitting on my apartment floor, telling white people that the city didn’t care about Black people.
I still feel this way.Because the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s “People to know around Pittsburgh in the New Year” only featured one Black person, a college basketball player. Because people like Terrance Hayes and Darrell Kinsel aren’t celebrated and cherished the way they would be in other cities. Because La’Tasha Mayes should have won that race. Because if Cynthia James ever decides to come back, I’d hope she’d be president of a foundation. Because Justin received noise complaints at the Shadow Lounge. Because what the fuck is a “East Side”? Because why isn’t Bill Strickland the mayor? Because why don’t more people know about Bill Strickland? Because when I showed up to move into my loft, the landlord looked shocked that I was able to afford it. Because the Post-Gazette wants me to believe that slavery was not that bad. Because Jordan Miles. Because my response is, “For who?”, when I read about Pittsburgh’s latest “Most Livable” city accolade.
Because this “because” list is getting old.
And because despite Pittsburgh’s well-documented problems with race, I still have many more positive memories. As an entrepreneur and founder of SponsorChange, I was able to receive seed funding and partner with key organizations in order to launch my venture in a short period of time. As a student at Carnegie Mellon, I was able to receive additional funding for my venture. I was also able to quickly get involved in many community initiatives and even served on a few non-profit boards. I credit this level of access to community opportunities to the Coro Fellowship Program — it was here that I was able to develop many personal and professional relationships.
I want friends who are doing dope shit to get recognition they deserve. I want Pittsburgh to let them be great.
I love DC, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Pittsburgh. I want more investments in Black-owned businesses there. I want more Black people in leadership roles throughout Pittsburgh. I want my friends who are doing dope shit to get the recognition and opportunity that they deserve. I want Pittsburgh to let them be great. I want Pittsburgh to be great.