Niche, the leading platform connecting students and families with schools and colleges, has released its 2022 Best Schools rankings, and Shady Side Academy maintained its No. 1 ranking on its list of the Best Private K-12 Schools in the Pittsburgh Area.
Pittsburgh Opera is proud to announce its 2023-24 Resident Artists:
Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program is one of the country's leading training programs for young singers. More than 500 applicants from around the world vie for just a handful of openings. After completing advanced education such as graduate degrees, Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artists further their careers under the guidance of the opera world's leaders and innovators, including master classes with opera legends. They study languages, diction, movement, and acting, while developing their vocal skills, expanding their repertoire, and performing on stage in Pittsburgh Opera productions.
Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program has fostered the careers of many singers that now perform on the world stage. Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artists have gone on to headline at the world's most prestigious opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera. Notable alumni include:
Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program is made possible, in part, by the generosity of individual sponsors. The 2023-24 Resident Artists, and the Pittsburgh Opera Music Staff, are sponsored by:
*Premier Sponsors underwrite the full stipend of an artist’s residency
Pittsburgh Opera is profoundly grateful for these sponsors, who are helping to develop the next generation of opera stars. For information on how you can become a Resident Artist sponsor, please contact Rachel Kisic, Assistant Director of Development for Individual Giving at 412-281-0912 x226 or via email.
Baritone Brandon Bell, is selected as one of the Resident Artists
The August 5, 2023 outdoor performance of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone took place most fittingly at the August Wilson House located at 1727 Bedford Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA. Seventh grade Hill District native Saniya J.E. Lavelle, daughter of Robert and Rachel Lavelle, played the tension-riddled role of Herald Loomis’ daughter, Zonia Loomis.
During the play, Herald Loomis is in search of his wife, after he had been captured and held a slave for 7 years by Joe Turner. As reported in Michael Buzzelli’s August 7, 2023 review of the performance, “Lavelle’s Zonia was a darling. The young girl has a plethora of emotions to run through in the show and Lavelle excels at it, particularly in her scenes with Cameron Edwards as Reuben Mercer, the boy next door.” Seated directly in front of Saniya, no more than 4 feet away during the performance, I thought the same when she engaged in a dialogue with the very talented Cameron Edwards who played Reuben Mercer. Indeed, as her great uncle, observing Saniya was a quintessential moment of pride. After the opening night performance, I had several opportunities to talk with Saniya regarding her dramatic experience as well as Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. What follows emanated from those discussions.
During the reception, after the opening night of the play, I asked Saniya to describe what it was like to be in the play and she responded, “Amazing!” Then she added, “I got a chance to have a great new experience that I really enjoyed, including meeting new people. I received a chance to be creative in a wonderful play, to do something for others to see and enjoy. I had so much fun doing it, helping to create a magnificent piece of work.”
Given that Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is very a complex literary work, one full of issues such as finding one’s self-worth; the dynamics of some Black adult heterosexual relationships; slavery; racism; aspects of the occult and more, I asked Saniya what it meant to her to be in a play that addressed so many adult past and contemporary issues. She responded with, “Participating in the play really opened my eyes to more world issues, not just the things I’m seeing on television. It expanded my knowledge of the past, the past of African Americans and slavery.”
I quickly moved to the misguided “woke politics” and mentioned the fact that some people were banning certain books today and, before I could finish, Saniya said, “Yes, like people in Florida.” After referencing efforts to ban the teaching of Black History and the banning of books in general, I asked Saniya what she would say if some people wanted to ban Joe Turner’s Come and Gone from public school libraries. Fully animated, Saniya stated, “Don’t do it! It is a very important piece of work about out past, America’s past that needs to be shared. There is a saying that indicates if we don’t learn about our past mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. Also, this play is something that was created by a very important person, a person who created a great piece of art that never should be forgotten. It should be widely shared and appreciated, not banned.”
After briefly discussing the need to encourage other young students, I asked what advice she might share. Saniya was adamant with, “They must follow their dreams, no matter what, no matter who says not to follow your dream, or that your dream is stupid/wrong. Do it anyway because you can be who you want to be. If you try to be who others want you to be, then you could lose yourself in the process and lose opportunities that might have come along if you stayed true to yourself. Also, I learned that if you try to fit in, to be popular, then that could lead you down a path that could get you eliminated from life, to be like a person who ended up losing family members, being in gangs, and hurting a little brother who looked up to him but got killed, or some other unholy ending. Everyone should support each other, stand up for what’s right and be who/what God created in us.”
To all of the foregoing responses from Saniya who is in the process of excelling in drama, academics, swimming and writing, I simply poetically remind her and others,
“Hey Black Child
Do you know who you are
Who you really are
Do you know you can be
What you want to be
If you try to be
What you can be…
Hey Black Child
Be what you can be
Learn what you must learn
Do what you can do
And tomorrow your nation
Will be what you what it to be”
By Useni Eugene Perkins
Finally, as a teaser for people to go see the play, before it ends on September 10, 2023, note that during the play, Bynum tells the distressed Herald, “Say when you look at a fellow, if you taught yourself to look for it, you can see his song written on him.” As Bynum advised Herald, I suggest that everyone “find your song and sing it.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
August 8, 2023
Jasmine Kwasa, a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University’s Neuroscience Institute(opens in new window), has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program(opens in new window) award to expand access to quality epilepsy monitoring in Kenya. The Fulbright Scholar Program provides funding for U.S. residents to teach, conduct research and carry out professional projects around the world.
Kwasa works in the labs of Pulkit Grover(opens in new window), Angel Jordan Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Neuroscience Institute and Barbara Shinn-Cunningham(opens in new window), director of the Neuroscience Institute and George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Auditory Neuroscience. Kwasa is also the chief technology officer of Precision Neuroscopics, a startup that sells inclusive neural technology products.
Kwasa’s research is currently focused on testing and designing products like Sevo clips(opens in new window) — devices used to help electroencephalography (EEG) machines work on people with coarse, curly, dense and afro-textured hair. She'll take that testing further at the Brain and Mind Institute(opens in new window) at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya.
"We know that our devices can be used with EEG to effectively monitor seizures, strokes, brain injuries and sleep disorders, but we need to do more testing. Here in the U.S. many people who consider themselves as racially Black actually have mixed ancestry because of slavery, so their hair type is variable. In Kenya, though there is a lot of mixing across tribes, most people are solely African, and testing on those phenotypes is very different because the hair has much tighter curls, on average. We want to make sure that we're including those hair types specifically," Kwasa said.
At Aga Khan, Kwasa will also help to set up an EEG research lab, bringing cutting-edge EEG analysis to epilepsy care.
"We’ll be expanding access to pivotal brain science in East Africa,” Kwasa said. “They're really thinking a lot about brain health and trying to be pioneers in that field, talking to people about their work and getting rid of the stigma around it."
Grover said this project represents something he and Kwasa have dreamed about for a long time.
"Dr. Kwasa's Fulbright award will kick off collaborations with five additional hospitals and universities in Africa," he said. "It’s a thrilling start."
Kwasa always wanted her work to reflect her culture and be based in social justice.
"I'm really interested in expanding beyond the American cultural context of marginalized groups and thinking about marginalized groups around the world," she said. "The Fulbright award is special, both in terms of scientific expansion in a global health approach, and for me personally, because I’m half Kenyan. It's my family, it's my people, it's the people who look like me."
Shinn-Cunningham, Kwasa’s long-time mentor and colleague, said she embodies the best of CMU.
"Dr. Kwasa uses her exceptional scientific and engineering skills to address inequities and make the world a better place. I think I've learned more from her than she has from me, and I cannot wait to see what comes out of this exciting project," she said.
Alaina E. Roberts, associate professor of history in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, appears in all four episodes of a new docuseries on the American West.
"The Real Wild West," which explores a more diverse, more accurate history of the American West, including the stories of Black cowboys, Chinese immigrants, female homesteaders and more. Watch a clip of Roberts talking about her own family history of the West.
That family history also informs Roberts’ book, “I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land,” which was an honorable mention for the 2023 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize.
The series is available on CuriosityStream, Amazon Prime, Roku and AppleTV.
Layo Bright received the 2023 Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass. This annual award given by Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) recognizes artists who think outside of the box, practice curiosity, and take risks to create unique, imaginative works in glass. It is in honor of PGC's late cofounder Ron Desmett who was an artist who eschewed conventions and promoted idea over technique. Bright is interested in incorporating African design techniques and symbolism into her glass sculptures, which merge her background as a Nigerian woman with the techniques of glass sculpting.
Bright is a multimedia sculptor living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She will receive a $2,500 cash award and time in PGC’s studios to create a new body of glass works that explore narratives and material cultures of the African diaspora and Black feminism. Bright plans to create figurative hollow vessel sculptures with blow molds, and face-size glass masks of family members and her close community members inspired by traditional African masks. Each piece will utilize different glass-making techniques such as casting, slumping, and fusing. The sculptures will vary in size and shape and will include intricate details such as flora and relief symbols.
"I am interested in the properties of glass, and how this material can be used to convey themes of resilience, transparency, reflection, fragility, and transformation. One of the key features of glass that I hope to explore further and emphasize in my practice is the idea of transparency. Glass is a material that is often associated with transparency and clarity, and I believe that these qualities can be used to convey a sense of openness and opportunities for light to play an active role in the transformation of the sculptures. By creating sculptures that are multi-layered and complex, I hope to convey a sense of depth and nuance, inviting viewers to consider the many layers of meaning that can be found in each piece."
Layo Bright’s sculptural practice explores migration, inheritance, legacy, and identity through hybrid portraits, textiles, and mixed media works that highlight natural forms and ancestral memory. Employing a range of materials such as glass, clay, wood, and textiles, these forms mirror fragile yet complex relationships with the personal, natural, and built environment.
Bright (b.1991, Lagos, Nigeria) received her LL. B (Hons.) from Babcock University, was called to the Nigerian Bar Association and received her MFA in Fine Art (Hons.) from the Parsons School of Design. Bright has exhibited work both internationally and nationally. Solo and group exhibitions include Rockhaven, moniquemeloche, Chicago, IL; The Alchemists, Johnson Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GA; Undercurrents, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, NY; Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, IN; Bode Projects, Berlin, Germany; Phillips, New York, NY; among others. She has participated in notable art fairs including Art Basel Hong Kong 2023, EXPO Chicago 2023, Art Basel Miami Beach 2022, Future Fair 2021, etc.
Previous residencies include Tyler School of Glass, Philadelphia, PA; NXTHVN Fellowship in New Haven, CT; Triangle, Brooklyn, NY; Flux Factory, Queens, NY; The Studios at Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA; Tritryagain Studio Residency, Brooklyn, NY; International Studio Center Sculpture Residency at Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton Township, NJ. She is the recipient of honors and awards including the UrbanGlass Winter Scholarship Award (2021/2020), the International Sculpture Center’s 2018 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award (2018), and the Beyoncé Formation Finalist Scholarship (2017). Bright lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Pittsburgh Glass Center awards a minimum of $5,000 annually to an artist (or scholar) in one of four categories:
PGC co-founder and wife of Ron Desmett Kathleen Mulcahy and a committee of other artists, curators and community leaders select the awardees. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2024. Applications are accepted online.
Layo Bright is a sculptor who explores migration, legacy and identity through hybrid portraits,
Catching up with Cassandra Cooper, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for First National Bank, the largest subsidiary of F.N.B. Corporation. We salute Ms. Cooper a Diversity Champion and her efforts to advance DEI initiatives.
PUM: It is Women's History Month. Tell us in your role as Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at FNB, and particularly for you as a Black woman in this position, what is the significance of this holiday that celebrates women all over the world.
It is very meaningful for me to be able to celebrate Women’s History Month, not only as a Black woman, but as the Diversity & Inclusion Manager at FNB. Being part of a company that is committed to inclusion for all and providing the opportunities for women to grow, develop and thrive in their careers is exciting. I believe I’m an example of that commitment, so it’s great that I can contribute to the organization’s continued success and play a role in fostering a culture that enables everyone in our Company and community, regardless of background, to have an equal opportunity to succeed.
PUM: Tell us more about your journey to work in the field of diversity and inclusion. How did your educational background and professional experience help to prepare you for this position?
Shortly after graduating from Duquesne University with both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I became an adjunct professor there and was asked to update a class called Valuing a Multicultural Workforce. Researching and creating the content for that course afforded me the opportunity to provide insights to my students — and even myself — about the importance of establishing diversity and inclusion in an organization and how that infrastructure creates a lasting sense of belonging for stakeholders. I have been fortunate to continue sharing that lesson with organizations of all sizes, locally and nationally.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join FNB last year, and I have been very impressed by leadership’s dedication to promoting inclusion and equality within our Company and through our product offerings and community commitment. Of course, my prior experience informs my current role, where I work with our leadership team, Diversity Council and lines of business to assist with the development and execution of our internal and customer- and community-facing diversity and inclusion strategies. I also collaborate with departments throughout the Company to emphasize diversity as a key consideration in the development of products, services, initiatives and programs.
PUM: What programs and services does FNB have in place to help in promoting equality and empowering women? How are you developing initiatives and creating opportunities that support inclusion at FNB?
FNB is committed to offering customers innovative products and services that benefit our communities and give our clients tools to achieve their financial goals. For example, our eStore® both educates individuals about which of our offerings may be best for their situation and creates easy access for all to apply for and open new accounts, including loans and credit solutions.
Coupled with our products and services, we also focus on the importance of financial literacy to empower individuals and families. By educating and supporting diverse communities through a range of programs and resources, we help to close the wealth gap and eliminate economic disparities. Throughout our footprint, we also prioritize investments and community partnerships that foster job growth, affordable housing and overall social and economic development.
Close to home, our new headquarters, FNB Financial Center, is set to revamp Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District and kickstart a long-awaited redevelopment. Many are familiar with the story of how the predominantly Black neighborhood was upended decades ago, but the economic benefits of this project have the potential to usher in a new era of revitalization and economic expansion. Along with millions in local investments, the project also requires at least 30% minority-owned and 15% women-owned business participation in contracting. These requirements ensure that individuals representing all members of the community will bring this transformative project to life and be able to take part in its economic benefits.
PUM: A 2019 study by the Gender Equity Commission ranked Pittsburgh as one of the worst in the country for Black women, citing unemployment rates, high poverty rates, birth defect rates and death rates, including death by suicide, among other parameters. What are your thoughts about how we can improve conditions for Black women in this region?
The Pittsburgh Inequality Across Race and Gender Report factored heavily in my work in the past, where I focused on educating audiences about our region’s health disparities and how we can work to overcome them. Today, my focus is on addressing the economic disparities that exist, but there is definitely a correlation between economic wellbeing and health. Therefore, when we promote and achieve economic equality, we have a stronger overall community more able to meet its potential.
Currently, our city does not compare well with others of its size when it comes to outcomes for Black women, so it is clear that organizations from every industry must be concerned about how to support this population and create an environment that nurtures success — just as they should for all women and all people. Ultimately, when today’s Black women can see that they are valued members of their organizations and communities, it will positively impact the generations to come.
Cassandra Cooper, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for First National Bank
The mission of Gwen's Girls is to empower girls and young women to have productive lives through holistic, gender-specific programs, education, and experiences. Why Girls? It is reported that
42% girls in the United States now live in low-income families, and 1 in 5 below the poverty line (State of Girls 2013). Growing up in a low-income home increases a girl’s likelihood to encounter physical, emotional and behavioral hurdles. They are a higher risk for various social challenges including:
abandonment and family dysfunction
sexist, racist or homophobic messages
abuse and exploitation
negative peer influences
Few services exist to help these girls. Without support, it seems like these girls’ futures are predetermined – and they are part of a cycle that is doomed to repeat.
PUM catches up with Dr. Kathi Elliott, CEO of Gwen’s Girls to learn more about the various solutions Gwen’s Girls is offering, including holistic, gender-specific programs, education, and experiences for Allegheny County’s at-risk children and young adults. More importantly, the organization offers a safe space where girls and young women can form relationships, build self-esteem and gain resiliency.
PUM: Tell us more about Gwen's Girls, it's mission and how it is enhancing the lives of Black girls from the Pittsburgh region?
Dr. Kathi Elliott: For over 20 years, Gwen’s Girls has provided educational opportunities, emotional support and enrichment experiences that have improved the quality of life for at-risk girls in the Pittsburgh region. Our prevention and intervention programs have helped over 6,000 girls and young women transform their lives and achieve economic self-sufficiency. They also enable girls to realize their individual strengths and potential and – as a result – become contributing members of society.
PUM: Recently your organization was presented with proclamations from county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey honoring Black Girls Equity Month and the contributions of Gwen’s Girls to raise awareness and address the systemic racial biases that contribute to the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Tell us more about how your organization is addressing the systemic racial biases in this region for Black girls.
Dr. Kathi Elliott: Gwen’s Girls, in partnership with the Black Girls Equity Alliance (BGEA) and the Gwendolyn J. Elliott Institute (GJEI), have been at the forefront of advancing systemic change around issues that affect Black youth – particularly Black girls. Gwen’s Girls has the expertise, mechanisms for convening stakeholders, and networks in place to reduce local racial and ethnic disparities in Allegheny County’s juvenile justice system. In Pittsburgh, where Black girls are 10 times more likely than their white peers to be referred to the juvenile justice system, Gwen’s Girls has created programming and community outreach that supports the unique needs of Black girls while providing the expertise to affect policy and create systems-wide change.
PUM: Black girls face tremendous challenges when it comes to Education, health, wellness and
trauma-informed care, reproductive justice, comprehensive sex education, commercial sex exploitation, juvenile justice, and child welfare. Tell us more about how Gwen's Girls is helping to address these important issues through your various programs.
Dr. Kathi Elliott: We know that our girls have limitless potential, but so many face obstacles that threaten to stand in their way. Many of our girls live in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, crime and violence. Gwen’s Girls hopes to continue to put these girls on a level playing field by providing high quality, gender-responsive programs, education and experiences. Our programs at Gwen’s Girls are designed to help girls realize their individual strengths, transform their lives and become essential and valued members of society. We believe that, when given the opportunity, any girl can succeed.
In addition to our after-school and community-based programs and services, Gwen’s Girls has a number of specialized programs to support high-school aged youth:
The BGALA Program stands for Black Girls Advocacy Leadership Alliance. BGALA is a program for our Gwen’s Girls that are in high school, ages 14 to 18 years old. The program allows our girls to express themselves in a positive and judgement free environment. BGALA teaches the girls how to develop skills and use their voice and advocate against things such as adultification, colorism, and other social injustices facing black girls today. BGALA also empower the girls to love the skin they’re in, to be leaders in their schools, and their communities.
The S.T.A.R.S. Program stands for Striving to Achieve Resilience & Success. This is a 12–15-week mentoring program that is strength-based, community-based, & youth-driven. S.T.A.R.S. assist court involved, and at-risk youth identify goals by creating a “pathway plan” and making action steps towards self-improvement & empowerment. By pairing the youth with a mentor that guides the youth according to their individualized needs and provide advocacy supports to meet goals and connect them to community resources.
The See the Best In Me program is a prevention, intervention and regional capacity building strategy focused on populations most vulnerable to and/or victims/survivors of sex trafficking in urban and rural communities, with a focus on Allegheny County and surrounding urban and rural counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Three identified target populations include girls who are Black, involved in the child welfare system, and/or runaway/homeless.
Caring Connections- With the help of the United Way 2-1-1, Gwen’s Girls Caring Connections for YOUth support network has implemented a centralized call center that will provide assessment, intake, and a community-based referral process for youth 10-21 years of age to connect them to preventative and support services.
PUM: How is your organization living up to the legacy that your late founder Gwen Elliot, Pittsburgh Police Commander envisioned? For you overseeing the organization as the CEO what would your mom think about how Gwen's Girls is positively impacting Black girls lives?
Dr. Kathi Elliott: The inspiration for Gwen’s Girls came from my mother, Commander Gwen Elliott. She was truly a trailblazer, and her amazing achievements have inspired many others. I believe that my mother would be proud of the work we’re doing, and will continue to do, to make the world a better place for Black girls and young women.
PUM: Recently your organization hosted your 7th Annual Black Girls Equity Alliance (BGEA) She Matters: Centering Youth Voice for Systemic Change Summit, what significant goals and information came out of this event?
Dr. Kathi Elliott: By hosting our 7th Annual Summit, we believe we have raised positive awareness about our goal and mission to empower girls and young women to enjoy productive, successful and fulfilling lives. That was the driving force and purpose behind this summit, which is why the theme of the summit was She Matters: Centering Youth Voice for Systemic Change.
The Emerging Leaders from our BGALA program co-planned and co-facilitated the panel discussions and break-out sessions, as well as youth from other programs from across the country.
PUM: How can the public get involved with your organization?
Dr. Kathi Elliott: Anyone who is interested in volunteering or donating to Gwen’s Girls can visit our website at www.gwensgirls.org
Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) officially announces the appointment of Seairra Barrett as the next head coach of the CCBC women’s basketball team. She is eager to breathe new life into the program and make a positive impact on the community.
“We are very excited to have Seairra lead our women’s basketball program. Her experience and enthusiasm will help take our program to new heights,” said Tyler Care, director of student life and athletics administration.
Barrett comes to CCBC after a successful professional playing career in both Iceland and Finland. “I’m excited to be back home and I am looking forward to reinvigorating the women’s basketball program here at CCBC. I plan to recruit high character and high caliber players to play a fast and exciting brand of basketball,” Barrett said. “Our players will be visible in the community and will represent CCBC in the most positive way. I would like to thank Tyler Care and the rest of the search committee for entrusting me to lead this program.”
Barret is originally from Beaver County having played at Central Valley High School where she was a four-year letter winner, 1,000-point scorer, and two-time all-section. She was named Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fab Five and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 10. She was also AP second-team all-state in Track & Field, all while being involved in several other academic groups.
Continuing her career, Barrett was an outstanding student athlete at California University of Pennsylvania. While playing for the Vulcan women’s basketball program, Seairra’s accomplishments were many, including female athlete of the year, freshman of the year, all-American, and member of the national championship team in 2015-16. Barrett earned her both a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s in Entrepreneurship.
CCBC’s 2022 Women’s Basketball season is set to kick off on Saturday November 5that Penn State Beaver. The first home game, against Community College of Allegheny County, will be held on November 30th at 7:00pm in the Dome. For more information and the full schedule, go to https://www.ccbctitans.com/sports/wbkb/2022-23/schedule
Following Denzel Washington’s weekend visit to the Hill District to assist with the grand opening of the August Wilson House, the University of Pittsburgh Library System announced today a $1 million grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation to support the opening of and the public’s engagement with its August Wilson Archive.
This grant, the largest in the history of the University of Pittsburgh Library System (ULS), follows two years of support and other charitable donations toward in-depth public engagement with the archive, which is scheduled to open to the public in January.
In 2020, the ULS acquired the archive of the acclaimed Pittsburgh native, considered one of the greatest American playwrights. All 10 plays in his American Century Cycle were produced on Broadway — two earning Wilson the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“Pittsburgh was such a formative influence on August Wilson’s work and shaping his worldview,” said David K. Roger, president of Henry L. Hillman Foundation. “The ability to preserve the archive here in Pittsburgh where it will be accessible to audiences who grew up in the neighborhoods featured in Wilson’s storytelling is gratifying. This opportunity would not have been possible without Constanza Romero’s generous collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, helping to create an unprecedented view into the creative process of a singular American playwright.”
The ULS is partnering with other local cultural organizations to provide a week-long celebration of the legacy of August Wilson in March 2023.
Funding from the Hillman Foundation will support the final stages of processing the archive — comprising more than 450 boxes of materials such as draft scripts, artwork, plaques, correspondence and a guitar — and focus on partnering with groups and organizations both locally and nationally to see the Wilson archive come to life.
“The Henry L. Hillman Foundation grant will enable us to integrate the August Wilson Archive in the very fabric of the local cultural and civic life,” said Kornelia Tancheva, the Hillman University Librarian and ULS Director who also is the grant’s principal investigator. "Wilson's work was deeply informed by his experiences growing up in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, which makes the opportunity to share this collection with those communities, local schools, and cultural and arts organizations incredibly satisfying. With the generous support of the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, we embark on what is, in some ways, a second homecoming for the archive.”
City Theatre’s Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre has been renamed the Lillie Theatre.
City Theatre has paid tribute to the legacy of Kuntu Repertory Theatre founder and artistic director Dr. Vernell Audrey Watson Lillie by renaming its studio theater in her honor.
The former Lester Hamburg Studio, the 102-seat black box that is part of City’s South Side campus, is now the Lillie Theatre, a tribute to the award-winning Pittsburgh educator, artist, advocate and Black theater leader, who died on May 11, 2020.
The announcement noted that Dr. Lillie “was a co-founder of the Black Theatre Network and served as a mentor, director and inspiration to countless artists through Kuntu and as a long-time professor at the University of Pittsburgh.”
City Theatre founder Marjorie Walker consulted with Dr. Lillie on the company’s formation in the mid 1970s, and Dr. Lillie went on to assist on more than a dozen City productions.
A steering committee was formed after her death to explore ways to formally honor and celebrate her, City’s press release said, and the theater was renamed with the unanimous support from its board of directors,
“With the naming of the Dr. Vernell Audrey Watson Lillie Theatre at City Theatre, we honor her legacy of excellence and accomplishment, and recognize the critical and transformative impact she had on African American artists and lovers of theater nationwide,” said City Theatre co-artistic director Marc Masterson, who knew and worked with Dr. Lillie for more than 20 years. “Dr. Lillie was an inspiration to me and so many others and she made the world and community a better place through her art and her influence. We are so honored to memorialize her legacy for generations to come.”
Charisse R. Lillie, speaking on behalf of her sister, Dr. Marsha (Hisani) Lillie-Blanton, and their families, said in a statement, “Our mother was the ultimate mentor, mother-figure, consultant, confidante, and even a source of financial support for her students, and sometimes their families. She loved her students, the Black Theatre Network, and Kuntu Repertory Theatre – which we used to joke was her third child and for which she dedicated her heart and soul. She viewed Black theater as a tool for educating, elevating and uplifting the African-American community which would, in turn, educate, elevate and uplift the nation and the world. We are very grateful to City Theatre for this wonderful gift they are giving our family.”
“Dr. Lillie was a pioneer. She created a path, she created opportunities – specifically for Black artists and Black people who didn’t realize that they were artists until they tapped into that strength inside of them,” said City co-artistic director Monteze Freeland, who first worked with Dr. Lillie in a production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf in 2010. “Dr. Lillie was an encourager; she taught me – and told me – that I needed to love myself and she led by example: No one else was going to knock her down.”
A ceremony that was to unveil the new Lillie Theatre name and signage on May 22 was postponed due to rising Covid-19 concerns, and will be rescheduled for this fall. Prepared remarks for the postponed event from Charisse Lillie and Dr. Lillie’s long-time colleague and collaborator, Eileen J. Morris, are available at CityTheatreCompany.org/LillieTheatre. The company welcomes additional remembrances of Dr. Lillie which will be shared online and on screens in the City Theatre lobby.
Source: onStage Pittsburgh
Dr. Michael Forbes earned his B.S. Degree in Chemistry and his Medical Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986 and 1990 respectively. An Akron Children’s Hospital April 21, 2022 press release indicated that Dr. Forbes was named “…chief academic officer, a new position that will oversee and align the hospital’s research and medical education strategies. The position is an endowed chair made possible by a $1 million gift to the hospital’s Rebecca D. Considine Research Institute by former president and CEO William Considine and his wife, Rebecca. … In his new position, Dr. Forbes is responsible for the overall execution of the medical education and research strategy for Akron Children’s, and engaging with university partners to foster collaborative efforts to advance the academic mission across organizational boundaries…”
On May 5th, 2022, Becker’s Healthcare released its "150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare 2022" list which highlights hospitals, health systems and healthcare companies that promote diversity within the workforce, employee engagement and professional growth.” The rating system also considered the institutions’ missions as they related to “volunteerism and giving back.” Akron Children’s Hospital was on the list of 150.
The University of Pittsburgh provided Dr. Forbes with an opportunity to succeed at the collegiate level when it admitted him via the University Community Education Program (UCEP), a special program for “disadvantaged” students. Given his spectacular academic and professional success since then, I asked Dr. Forbes to summarize how a Black child from Brooklyn managed to become a chief academic officer, a holder of an endowed chair, and a physician with a focus on pediatric critical care. He explained as follows:
“Growing up in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s and early 1980s, my Jamaican family fully embraced the American Dream. I witnessed my Mom, a single parent of 8 boys and 2 girls, work as many as 4 jobs at a time to make ends meet. She stressed personal responsibility, academic excellence, and has lived an incredible life of resilience. She was a 3D example of the belief that hard work and faith will ultimately make your wildest dreams come true. My Mom never quit!
I lived through utilities being cut in the winter, forcing us to sleep in a single bed to stay warm. It was as if my mother’s two arms were capable of embracing all 10 of us. We knew we were loved by her, loved by God, and were given individual destinies here in America. She encouraged me to attend a college prep program at NYU. I loved it and set my sights on NYU as my ‘school.’ I realize today that the program provided me an opportunity –an exposure to possibilities. I didn't know it then, but that program was an opening to the huge world I could access beyond downtown Brooklyn.
During my high school senior year, I was challenged by my girlfriend's sister, a Christian, to trust God with my future. After a series of heartbreaking losses, including the death of my brother during a military exercise in Baumholder, West Germany as well as friends killed in gang warfare and other forms of violence, I gave my life to Christ and was determined to follow Him. This spiritual relationship gave me the necessary lens to process what I now know as ACES, the aggregate impact of adverse social determinants of health.
High school was painful, and, truthfully, boring. I found myself repeatedly in my Guidance Counselor’s office due to disruptive behavior. I graduated in the bottom quartile among 652 seniors from Clara Barton High School for Health Professions. I was furious and knew I could do better. I had let my Mom down and I knew why: delinquent behavior is incompatible with academic success.
After high school, my application was rejected by NYU, but Pitt gave me an opportunity through UCEP. In UCEP, I was surrounded by Black and Brown students as well as teachers. I was taught mathematics by Samuel Johnson, the 1st Black man I ever met who taught math. I was inspired by my teachers and, frankly, was motivated by Black professionals who believed I could succeed. I finished my freshman year as a member of Phi Eta Sigma, a national freshman honor society. During my 2nd year, I became a math, chemistry and physics tutor. In UCEP, I met my wife Yolanda who was also a multi-science tutor, premed major, dynamite student, and gorgeous. We would marry in the summer of 1986, right before I started medical school.
During my junior year at Pitt, I had exhausted my financial aid after taking 18 credits during a summer session and I faced the prospect of returning to Brooklyn. I talked with Renee Frazier, UCEP’s program coordinator, who directed me to you, Dr. Jack Daniel. I told you about my financial situation and my dream of becoming a doctor since my childhood. You asked me a single question: ‘Are you good academically?’ I replied, ‘Sir. I’m in Phi Eta Sigma and am planning on dedicating my summer to studying for the MCAT. I only want to take it once.’ You told me you would ‘see what you could do.’ Because of you, I received notice that my tuition gap had been ‘handled.’ I was so happy, praised God, and thanked you, Dr. Daniel, for the opportunity.
My life has been a series of challenges, opportunities, big dreams and possibilities. I am determined to make the most of what has been given me. I am constantly reminded by my Mom’s voice telling me ‘he who has been loved much, forgives much, and to whom much has been given much is required.’ I have dedicated my life to serving critically ill and injured children and their families and am grateful to have personally participated in miracles.
One of the reasons I came to Akron was the hospital leadership’s commitment to the community and our employees. Before I came here in 2006, I had heard of the closure of Tod’s Children’s Hospital, about one hour east of Akron in Youngstown, Ohio. It was a sad milestone for the Mahoning Valley families and their children. The leadership at Akron Children’s decided to partner with folks in the Valley and build a new free standing Children’s Hospital to continue providing care to children and families. The journey has been rocky, but extremely rewarding as we have partnered in the Valley and elevated child health. Over a decade later, we continue to grow, expand and elevate child health in the Valley. We continue our mission to seek and serve the underserved while believing every child within our reach deserves the highest level of pediatric care needed to live their best lives.
Personally, I was fortunate to participate in my church’s efforts presenting ‘One Minute Health Tips,’ a series of brief, hard hitting videos that address common and uncommon, simple and complex health issues that disproportionately affect underserved communities. In my role for the past 15 months as Interim Chair, I was fortunate to interact with our Northeast Ohio Medical University School of Medicine (NEOMED) students. In my new role as chief academic officer, I intend to facilitate even more academic growth at Akron Children’s through strategic recruitment that celebrates human diversity and leverages scientific curiosity. Can the next decade of service, connection, and opportunity creation at Akron Children’s be even better than the last? I am convinced our academic profile and service impact will be even greater in 2032 than today!”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
May 22, 2022
The Social Justice Institutes at Carlow University, guided and informed by the mission, history and traditions of the University as well as its founders and sponsors, the Sisters of Mercy, works to facilitate change by providing education for social justice. The Social Justice Institutes (SJI) also supports the University’s strategic plan by working with faculty research, securing partnerships for community-based learning and serving as a platform for community engagement. The SJI strives to close educational, socio-economic and leadership gaps, especially those that disproportionately affect women.
Dr. Ryan Scott, Executive Director of the Social Justice Institute tells us more about his focus and leadership in this role. As the Executive Director, Dr. Scott provides vision, leadership, and strategic direction to four distinctive Institutes: the well-established Grace Ann Geibel Institute for Justice and Mercy, the Center for Community-Engaged Learning, the Center for Youth Media Advocacy, and the Educate for Justice Initiative.
The Social Justice Institutes at Carlow University aim to facilitate systemic change by informing practice and educating for social justice, how is this accomplished through the various programming offerings?
Dr. Scott: This is done through programming events for faculty, staff, students and community, social-justice related trainings, the Presidential Lecture series, Grant funded Faculty and staff research projects.
The SJI supports the University’s strategic plan by serving as an incubator for faculty research, providing opportunities and securing partnerships for community-based learning, and serving as a conduit for community engagement. Tell us more about these endeavors.
Dr. Scott: This is done through our Grace Ann Geibel Institute for Justice & Mercy. The three goals of the Institute are to Address issues of justice and social responsibility through research and outreach projects led by Carlow faculty and staff Support faculty development that enhances woman-centered approaches to issues of justice and social responsibility. Increase engagement with University faculty and students in community, corporate and cultural education efforts that address relevant issues. We have had projects that range from high school to college programs for marginalized youth, to ensuring freshwater wells are up in running in Uganda.
What key upcoming events, programs or areas of focus.
Dr. Scott: The University has made a declaration to be an anti-racist institution, therefore the SJI is in support of this by facilitating programming around this notion. Some key events coming up are:
The Film Screening and Discussion with cast/crew members of "When George Got Murdered".
The Social Justice Training Institutes- A leadership development program designed for Carlow Students interested in Social Justice/Advocacy.
The SJI Book Discussion Group.
The Social Justice Institutes at Carlow University will be hosting When George Got Murdered, a film screening and talk-back with the cast and crew. The SJI hopes this event will spark important dialogue about policing and police brutality, community engagement, and the strict definition versus the reality of justice. “Social justice is in the DNA of Carlow since our founding by the Sisters of Mercy nearly 95 years ago,” said Dr. Ryan Scott. He added, “We believe in the power of conversation around social justice, and injustices, in a respectful and constructive manner, which we hope this film screening will evoke among all of us who care deeply about progress for Pittsburgh.”
When George Got Murdered: Screening and Talkback Tuesday, April 26, 2022 | 6:00 – 9:00 PM Gailliot Center | Carlow University | 3333 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219 What happens when the sentence is handed down? What happens when the media circus goes away? What happens when we’re forced to examine what justice really means? Filmmaker Terrence Tykeem attempts to answer these questions, and many more, with his new film, When George Got Murdered: Where Were You. Join the Social Justice Institutes for a live screening of the film and a talkback with the cast and crew including Terrance Tykeem, Montel Williams, Don Most, Robert Ri’chard, and Claudia Jordan. Moderated by SJI Executive Director, Dr. Ryan Scott Film runtime: 65 minutes Registration is required: https://carlowu.info/George-Floyd
Artist Janel Young of JY Originals will begin a seven-month residency at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art on March 6. During her residency, she will be creating an installation within the Museum while also working on a public art project in the community. The Westmoreland’s Artist-in-Residency Program is part of an ongoing partnership with BOOM Concepts, which to date has provided residencies for five artists, including Young.
Known for a number of public installations and murals painted throughout Pittsburgh, Young completed three major projects in the past several years: New Space Spheres, Pathway to Joy, and Heroes on the Horizon. In collaboration with four additional artists, she curated New Space Spheres, a series of pandemic-inspired social distance artworks appearing throughout the city in 2020. Her Pathway to Joy, a large brightly-colored geometric asphalt mural, was created for the Allegheny Overlook pop-up park experience that kicked off the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival in the summer of 2021, and Larimer’s Bakery Square features her Heroes on the Horizon, a permanent three-dimensional mural, which she created after working with students from local schools Lincoln K-5 and Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh.
Young has also achieved national and international recognition for commissions, including her canvas titled Be Open To… which was displayed at the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City, and for major companies, including Yahoo!, where Young was the first artist ever commissioned to design their Black History Month logo in 2021.
“I am thrilled to be expanding my practice into Westmoreland County and grateful for such a wonderful opportunity that BOOM Concepts and the Museum have put together. There is a lot to be excited about, and I’m looking forward to not just contributing, but learning and experimenting during my time there as well,” commented Janel Young regarding her upcoming residency at The Westmoreland.
“We are delighted to welcome Janel to The Westmoreland. Her work is vibrant and joyful, playful and poignant, and we are so excited to see what she creates during the residency,” said Erica Nuckles, Director of Learning, Engagement and Partnerships.
During the course of her residency, there will be opportunities for the community to meet and interact with Young through free public programs that will be announced at a later date on the Museum’s website: thewestmoreland.org/events.
The Westmoreland’s Artist-in-Residency Program, which features two to four artists annually, emphasizes the Museum’s commitment to engaging and supporting Black and marginalized artists, to promoting equity in the arts, and to sharing compelling and meaningful cultural experiences with the regional community.
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art Artist-in-Residency Program is presented in partnership with BOOM Concepts and made possible by generous support from The Pittsburgh Foundation and The New Sun Rising Arts | Equity | Reimagined program.
Learn more about the program at thewestmoreland.org/programs/artist-in-residency-program.
About Artist Janel Young
Celebrated painter and muralist Janel Young of JY Originals is a Pittsburgh native, now based in Chicago, who is on a mission to inspire through creativity and play. Young’s style of vivid colors and geometric designs have been recognized nationally and internationally, from Pittsburgh to the coast of Sydney, Australia.
Prior to pursuing art full-time, Young attended Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, PA as an International Baccalaureate student athlete and went on to study Business Marketing and International Studies at Penn State University as a Bunton-Waller Fellow. She relocated to NYC in 2013 to work in public relations as a Digital Content Strategist for industries, including healthcare, tech and non-profits for 5 years, before becoming a full-time artist in 2018.
After returning to her hometown in 2019, she completed an installation of Pittsburgh’s first art basketball court at McKinley Park in Beltzhoover. Called The Home Court Advantage Project, the mural was inspired by connecting with local kids and neighbors who participated in the design and painting process. Her community-centered effort had such an impact that the City of Pittsburgh designated October 23rd 2019 “Janel Young Day.” Inspired by this honor and further putting her mission into action, she established the annual JY Originals Scholarship for Creatives to support young adults pursuing the arts.
In response to the pandemic in 2020, Young led a project with four additional Pittsburgh artists to create social distance artwork throughout the city called New Space Spheres. Last year, she created her largest-led mural to date, Pathway to Joy, at the Allegheny Overlook pop-up park experience that kicked off then Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, and her first three-dimensional mural, Heroes on the Horizon at Bakery Square, which was completed alongside a residency program with students from local schools, Lincoln and Urban Academy.
In addition to her work in Pittsburgh, she has also achieved national and international recognition for commissions, including her canvas titled Be Open To… which was displayed at the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City and for major companies including Yahoo!, where Young was the first artist ever commissioned to design their Black History Month logo in 2021.
Young is also active in the community in Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago. As the Community Artist in Residence at UrbanKind Institute based in Pittsburgh, Young utilizes visual arts as a communication tool to connect people to equity and justice values and initiatives in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Young has also collaborated with youth-focused organizations to host in-person and virtual coloring events, where New York and Pittsburgh sponsors and non-profits donated her self-illustrated Color Your Crown natural hair coloring book to kids. Lastly, she continues to lead public art projects, youth workshops and speaking opportunities in different cities.
Recently, Young has received accolades for her work being named 2021 Person of the Year in Visual Arts by Pittsburgh City Paper and acknowledged as a finalist for the 2021 Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Award.
Visit her website at janel-young.com.
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is honoring the late Dr. Morris Turner, OB-GYN, by hanging his portrait on the second floor outside the Birth Center beside his plaque. Dr. Turner made exemplary contributions to women’s health care in the city of Pittsburgh and was dedicated to bringing equitable care to women in underserved communities, focused on delivering healthy babies and making family planning safer.
During his career, Turner served as president of the UPMC Magee-Womens medical staff and opened one of the first Black specialty OB/GYN practices in East Liberty— a densely populated Black neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Turner was also the medical director for the Magee-Womens outreach sites at Wilkinsburg and Monroeville. It’s coincidental but also befitting that Dr. Turner is being honored during Black History Month.
Maternal mortality disproportionately impacts Black women in Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Black women are twice as likely to die from complications during birth than White women.
Today, the legacy of Dr. Turner’s work lives on in other women’s health equity advocates at UPMC Magee.
Turner family and painter Douglas Webster unveil Dr. Morris’ portrait during a dedication event at Magee
Jeaonna Hodges, CD-DONA, C.L.C, is one of the lead doulas of the Birth Circle at UPMC Magee. She has attended hundreds of births and believes that it’s important to listen to her patients.
At UPMC Magee, community-based doulas provide free services and support to women at the same level of care as private doulas. The doula services range from assistance during birth to post-partum support.
Jeaonna believes that diversity within health care systems can help lower women’s complications and anxiety during birth. “What would happen if the person that came to take care of me looked like me? That person would understand what I am going through,” she shared.
Dr. Amaris Yandel is a clinical assistant professor and specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Dr. Yandel is a member of UPMC’s Health Equity Now committee and sits on the UPMC Maternal Mortality Review Committee. She believes that some of the outcomes and mortality impacting local women are due to racism.
“People feel unheard,” said Dr. Yandel. “Health equity means that it shouldn’t matter how someone comes to us, but we should work to make sure that the outcomes are good and equal.”
“Finding a doctor who you can trust and have a good relationship with is important,” Yandel shared.
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has launched UPMC Health Equity Now— a group led by UPMC employees— to serve as a voice for Black and Brown women.
Source: UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
Portrait painted by Douglas Webster
The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is pleased to announce a grant of $41,378 from the African American Civil Rights Grant Program, through the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
The grant will enable PHLF to design an educational program around the National Negro Opera House, that will not only highlight the history and significance of the building in African American history, but also the importance of its restoration and preservation. The program will be titled, A Legacy in Stone: Homewood’s National Negro Opera House and the Confluence of Pittsburgh’s African American Culture.
“We are delighted to receive this grant, which will enable us to not only deepen our understanding of the significance of the National Negro Opera House and its place in American history, but also tells the greater story of the African American experience in Pittsburgh in the first half of the Twentieth Century,” said PHLF President Michael Sriprasert.
As part of this program, PHLF will prepare and submit a nomination of the National Negro Opera House for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This will include the creation of an educational component to explore the history of the building, bringing an understanding of the depth of Pittsburgh’s African American cultural legacy to a younger generation of students.
This grant is one of 53 projects in 20 states funded by a total of $15,035,000 from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Grant Program.
“This grant makes it possible for us to work with educators in sharing the history of the National Negro Opera House with more students, helping even more people learn about and appreciate the significant African American history reflected in this landmark building in Homewood,” said PHLF Co-Director of Education, Sarah Greenwald.
Listed in 2020 as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Queen Anne-style house in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, was once a place of prominence for African American entertainers, musicians, and sports figures.
It served as a lodging house and a community space for prominent African Americans visiting Pittsburgh during the era of segregation when it was not easy for African Americans to gain lodging in white-owned establishments. It is currently undergoing efforts to renovate and restore it by a group of stakeholders led by its owner Jonnet Solomon.
Our organization has been working with Ms. Solomon to help implement a strategy of restoration and renovation of the building. This includes an initial stabilization study to assess the feasibility of restoration and an ongoing engineering assessment of the building to analyze stabilization of the hillside behind the house and restoration of a historic wall along the property.
The Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced that it has made a $500,000 gift to help save the former National Negro Opera Company House in Homewood – a once-proud national landmark that has been vacant 50 years and is dangerously close to collapse.
“This property once was the center of Black cultural life in Pittsburgh, and a national artistic destination,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “The National Negro Opera Company – the first permanent African-American opera company in the nation – called it home. And it was a safe house for great musicians, such as Cab Calloway, Lena Horne and Duke Ellington, and for visiting athletes, such as heavyweight champion Joe Louis and our own Roberto Clemente.
“But the property has been vacant for half a century, and now is dangerously close to becoming unsalvageable. The National Trust for Historic Preservation rightly has named it one of the most endangered historic places in the nation. Jonnet Solomon took the first and most important step, buying the property to save it from demolition. But now she needs help – and not just to save it, but to make it special once again, converting it into a self-guided museum, with powerful programming for disadvantaged young artists of today.
“The Foundation is hoping its initial gift will inspire other Pittsburgh community leaders – and leaders across the nation – to support Jonnet in this noble quest. Together, we can save a landmark before it’s too late. We can help young artists today to find a welcoming place again. And we can bolster Homewood’s ongoing efforts to return to its rightful place as a cultural and community hub.”
“This has been a 20-year, life-altering labor of love,” said Solomon, an accountant by profession who purchased the Queen Anne-style house, with the late Miriam White, in 2000. “And I’m more hopeful now than ever that we can preserve this historic house, and make it an artistic hub for the community once again. This gift is the catalyst that will inspire others to do the same.”
The house first rose to national significance in the 1940s, when opera singer Mary Cardwell Dawson rented space there for the National Negro Opera Company. The company disbanded in the 1960s.
Solomon’s vision of saving the property and restoring it to new vital uses requires more than $2 million. Solomon has launched a website to tell the story of the home’s history and future vision, and to raise funds. The story has captivated national attention. But donations have been sparse.
So the Foundation stepped in to get things started.
Grammy and Emmy award winning mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, along with her team and a network of singers, also have been highly instrumental in the attention being given to the National Negro Opera House. “I feel a great obligation to this important monument of American history that has been so long neglected,” she wrote in a fundraising appeal to fellow artists. Graves founded The Denyce Graves Foundation to support projects like this. Raising funds and national awareness for the National Opera House is the foundation’s first philanthropic project.
The Richard King Mellon Foundation’s $500,000 grant will go through Pittsburgh Opera, which is assisting Solomon with the effort and serving as fiscal sponsor for the Foundation’s grant.
“Pittsburgh Opera is working as a key collaborator in developing the artistic programming that will be based in the renovated facility to celebrate the rich operatic history of our region and to fulfill the dream of Mary Cardwell Dawson by providing opportunities for children in Pittsburgh most affected by racial inequalities in education and the arts,” said Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera’s General Director.
Avis Williams has always loved to cook and share her culinary talents with friends and family. Now, anyone can enjoy the delicious comfort food she prepares by visiting Hilda’s Soul Food Kitchen in Homestead. The restaurant specializes in Southern hospitality and cooking that will “bring back memories of your grandmother’s kitchen” and “bring the South to Pittsburgh.” Opening the restaurant in July fulfilled a 10-year dream for Williams, who named the restaurant in honor of her mother.
After working in accounting and banking for many years, Williams prayed about making the change, and then “God started opening doors.” Although she previously helped to run a catering business, she had no professional training, so she decided to go back to school to learn how to manage a restaurant. Williams is graduating from CCAC’s Hospitality Operations Management program this year. Through the program, she learned every aspect of restaurant management—from maintaining food in the right order in the refrigerator, to becoming ServSafe certified, which is the industry standard in food safety training and is administered by the U.S. National Restaurant Association.
“CCAC was a tremendous help,” said Williams. “Every class that I took was so beneficial. The whole setup of the program is exactly what someone needs if they’re looking to manage a restaurant.”
Although she was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Williams acquired a love of Southern cooking through her husband and other family members who are from the South. Hilda’s is definitely “filling a niche” by offering daily specials, such as meatloaf and gravy with rice and Southern creamed peas, BBQ ribs with mac ’n cheese and greens, smothered pork chops with two sides, or blackened salmon or chicken tossed salads. Fridays are fish FRYdays with crabcakes, salmon cakes and shrimp étouffée, and every Saturday features a Southern breakfast buffet. Patrons can also sample Southern specialties such as boiled peanuts and pimento cheese.
Customers have responded enthusiastically to the new restaurant, which is currently open for takeout and delivery. The restaurant has limited seating, and Williams plans to offer indoor dining in the future when health concerns about COVID–19 have lessened.
Hilda’s Soul Food Kitchen, located at 514 E. 8th Ave., Homestead, is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a Saturday breakfast buffet from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information or to place an order, call 412.462.4220.
Visit ccac.edu to learn more.