Recruiting and managing volunteers, researching and implementing best practices, and forming critical community relationships, AmeriCorps VISTAs with PCRG and three nonprofit partners build lasting capacity to alleviate poverty in Greater Pittsburgh. Throughout the year, PCRG VISTAs and other AmeriCorps members participate in service days, reasserting the principles that inspired them to dedicate a year of their life to this worthy endeavor. Perhaps none of these occasions are as prominent and meaningful as Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
This MLK Day, PCRG VISTAs heeded Dr. King’s call for a more just and equitable society, working alongside PittServes student volunteers and StrongBond Welding to clean up Millvale Community Library and the Millvale Moose, the site of New Sun Rising. By maintaining the spaces that host these two organizations, both PCRG VISTA partners, they helped fortify a pillar of support for residents of Millvale and the surrounding communities. A hearty thank you is order to Sheena Carroll, the Resource Development VISTA at Millvale Community Library, for helping organize this special event.
‘Reason as Racism,’ an op-ed run by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been ably critiqued at the local and national levels. However, PCRG and its members should take special notice of this kind of thinking, still alive and well in Western Pennsylvania, which puts the pain of being called racist before the pain of being subjected to it.
The central falsehood of this piece, and from which myriad others stem, is that racism is what one is and not what one does. Racist words and deeds can and do come from people that are not grotesque Bull Connor types, but are in fact every day, often well-meaning, people. It’s telling that the article chose to cite Connor, a man born in 1897, as the face of Apex Racism. The implication, as it so often is, is that the Civil Rights movement legally got what it wanted, and any major racist acts, say, Dylann Roof’s massacre at the Emanuel AME Church (to stick with their example), are an aberration – a detestable rarity that all normal people can recognize.
Those of us who work in community and economic development, and more importantly, those of us that face racism personally, know that there is something more potent and faceless than any one person: structural racism – thousands of small policy choices made over several generations that enmesh us and lift up some while making life harder for others. Mass incarceration, police brutality, environmental degradation, medical malpractice and neglect, unchecked abandonment and blight, housing discrimination: these are big ideas, driven by people making choices. If you have a policy that results in Black people being arrested for marijuana possession at four times the rate of White people, it doesn’t matter the law itself doesn’t explicitly target of people of color – the impact is measurable.
And sometimes, the law is explicit. PCRG would not exist if it were not for the practice of redlining, a once de jure, now de facto, practice of prohibiting federal mortgage lending in undesirable (read: too Black, too ethnic, too poor) neighborhoods. Could the men who drew these maps of Pittsburgh know that their actions were just part of a chain of actions that set whole communities down separate paths, with chasms that haven’t closed in almost a century? Would they think of themselves as racists? Maybe not.
Pittsburgh should listen – as it should have when Black citizens were intentionally left out of the post-World War II housing boom, or when the Lower Hill was demolished for an arena, or when Manchester was cut in half to build a highway to the suburbs – to what people of color and immigrants are saying about how policy affects their lives. For the predominantly White power holders in Pittsburgh, humbling oneself in the face of another’s truth could go a long way.
Each year, AmeriCorps VISTA offers over 8,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to address the root causes of poverty through a year of service. For over 50 years, VISTA members have been performing indirect service by developing new programs, raising funds, recruiting volunteers, managing projects, building capacity, and assisting families in breaking the cycle of poverty. PCRG is one of over 1,100 AmeriCorps VISTA sites across the country that offers these opportunities. As a host site, PCRG has VISTAs that serve in Allegheny and Washington counties, working to build capacity for non-profit organizations. And now, PCRG is looking to expand our VISTA family with one more community-minded participant in the VISTA Tenant Engagement and Community Economic Development Project (TECDev).
Through partnership with Equal Justice Works, PCRG is seeking a community advocate looking to assist and create opportunities for residents of Project-Based Section 8 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) properties. The TECDev VISTA will work with PCRG to assist, inform, educate, and engage tenants of RAD properties regarding their rights, responsibilities and options. The VISTA will receive direct supervision from a VISTA Leader and a VISTA supervisor (both in PCRG’s office).
Please reach out to PCRG directly with any questions or head to the MyAmeriCorps.gov website to apply!
2018 is in full swing, and so is planning for the Annual Community Development Summit. Over the last few years, we have explored like Building Complete Communities, Reaching Across Boundaries, and The Power of Place, putting the focus on projects that can be implemented to improve our neighborhoods. This year, we’re taking a different approach: we’ll be celebrating the accomplishments of our members and partners across community development while looking ahead to the future.
In 2018, PCRG is celebrating our thirtieth year of working on behalf of our membership across the Greater Pittsburgh region. We’ve continually acted on our members’ demands for changes to policy so that both public and private actors work for communities, rather than against them. Over the past few years, many communities in Pittsburgh have experienced rapid change, while many more have been left out of the conversation entirely. The 2018 Summit will bring together community development from across the Great Lakes and mid-Atlantic regions to have important conversations about our collective future.
Over the next month, our Summit Steering Committee will select sessions that fit our theme. We will be seeking nominations for our annual Community Development Awards, highlighting both organizations and individuals who have served their communities. We are still accepting sponsors and advertisers. Registration and scholarship applications will open in early March.
For more information on this newsletter, please contact Adrie Fells, AmeriCorps Outreach VISTA, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 391-6732 ext. 211.