On March 25, 2022, Kathy W. Humphrey, Ph.D., was inaugurated as Carlow University’s 11th President. Her inauguration was not only a major moment in Pittsburgh’s history but also a national milestone in terms of the “stony road trod” by women, Blacks, and other underrepresented group members seeking to access and achieve at the highest levels of higher education. Dr. Humphrey’s appointment is a significant national signpost in terms of how far we have travelled from 1963 when, to support desegregation, President John F. Kennedy sent troops to the University of Alabama. Her cumulative achievements in higher education causes one to reflect on the substance of “my soul looks back and wonder, how I got over.” With the foregoing in mind, Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor Jack L. Daniel conducted the following interview with President Humphrey.
JLD: Often when people reflect on their background preparation for a new leadership position, they focus on steps in their professional careers. If I asked you to, instead, discuss aspects of your early childhood, your family background, and your experiences before entering college, what would you say helped prepare you to become President of Carlow University.
KWH: My family is vitally important to me. I have 11 siblings and 107 nieces and nephews, and to this day we remain extremely close. My parents were committed to the education of their children and moved their family from the deep South during the Jim Crow era to the Midwest so that all their children would have better educational opportunities. They instilled in me a strong work ethic, as well as the values of social justice, community service, and generosity.
I was also extremely active in my church at an early age, and this provided me with early leadership opportunities and the ability to interact with many well-educated people. I began to work at age 12, in the Parks and Recreation Department, teaching the Arts to children. I also worked as a babysitter for a family who would pick me up from the inner-city and take me to their suburban home, and there I realized the advantages that came with a good education.
I was also a Girl Scout, and selling cookies was my first experience as a fundraiser, and where I began to understand how to persuade people to do what I asked them to do. My childhood had a powerful impact on my ability to serve as Carlow’s President and, when I was offered the opportunity to lead the University, I seized it because the mission and vision of the Mercy Heritage were perfectly aligned with my core values.
JLD: I appreciate very much the solid foundation your parents and others provided for you. As you know well, ours is a complex and conflicted society. Your University’s Mission and Vision Statement indicates, “Carlow University’s vision is to be a preeminent, innovative Catholic University renowned for providing transformational learning experiences in which students realize their full potential and become career-ready ethical leaders committed to a just and merciful world.” To fulfill this mission, what are some of the critical aspects of a Carlow undergraduate education?
KWH: We take great pride in our commitment to both the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the mission and values of the Sisters of Mercy. Our students leave here with an understanding of human dignity, the plight of the poor and vulnerable, and the importance of arriving at a more just and merciful world. At the same time, we understand that it is essential for our graduates to get a return on the investment they make in Carlow.
Forty percent of our students are PELL eligible, and 27% of our students are non-White. Accordingly, the socioeconomic challenges that many Carlow students face mean that we often must work in more individualized and customized ways to ensure that they succeed. Therefore, we try to provide all students with a nurturing environment and close personal guidance to ensure that they earn their degrees as well as become the people they want to become. Our faculty members understand the profile of our students and they are committed to meeting their needs.
I am happy to report that 98% of our graduates are either employed or attending graduate school within six months of graduation. We are also third in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in our Social Mobility ranking which measures our success in advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students.
JLD: That is quite an achievement! Understandably, many have commented on you being the first Black President of Carlow University. However, in her book, The Truth We Hold: An American Journey, Vice President Kamala Harris indicated that her mother advised, "You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last." With that admonition in mind, what are the kinds of things people in a position such as yours can do to make sure they are not the last?
KWH: My job is always to encourage those who are from under-represented groups to aspire to new heights and to open as many doors for them as possible, much like you did for me, Jack, as you recruited me to Pittsburgh. And persistence is required, especially when those you are encouraging can’t always see a bigger picture or what you see in them.
Mentoring is very much a part of my life. I have been so fortunate over the course of my career to have benefitted from the personal, professional, and spiritual guidance of so many men and women, and I believe it is only right that I do my part in helping others achieve their dreams. I am a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority that helps women achieve their dreams through networking and professional development, and I regularly speak to church groups and women’s groups about affecting change in their lives so that they can achieve what they want to achieve.
In addition, I am committed to community leadership and serve on the Boards of the International Women’s Fund, Urban League of Pittsburgh, and Gwen’s Girl, among others. I have been blessed that my career has brought opportunities for me to serve the greater Pittsburgh community, in hopes of making it a better place for the underserved. I believe that if I can inspire others to give back to their communities, then I will have made a difference.
I am a strong believer that one must “lift as one climbs.” Everywhere I have worked, I have aspired to prepare the people working for me to rise to fill my place when I left. Finally, I believe deeply that “To whom much is given, much is required,” and I feel the pressure every day to live up to this standard, and to instill this value in those whose lives I touch.
JLD: Kathy, I and many others can bear witness to those you helped rise at the University of Pittsburgh. Thanks very much for taking time from your demanding schedule for this interview. For those of us who have been “doing the work” related to equity and social justice in higher education, you are truly motivational in that you serve as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
May 5, 2022
Alma Speed Fox, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement in Pittsburgh, and a resident of the city, has died at the age of 98. Known as the mother of the civil rights movement locally, in October of 2018, she was presented with the key to the city. She became involved with the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP in the 1950s and participated in nearly every march held at Freedom Corner. She also served on the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission, among several other Pittsburgh-based organizations like Freedom Unlimited and Gwen’s Girls.
STATEMENT ON PASSING OF CIVIL RIGHTS ICON ALMA SPEED FOX
The Pittsburgh Branch NAACP mourns the passing of Alma Speed Fox at the age of 98. After moving to Pittsburgh from Cleveland, Ohio, Alma was a tireless advocate for civil and women's rights. In the 1950s she was an integral part of our branch and from 1966 until 1971 Alma was the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh NAACP branch.
"She was an extremely giving person who was never afraid to fight for equality and justice for everyone," said Johnnie Miott, President of the Pittsburgh Branch NAACP. "The Black community has lost a true matriarch."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's first and largest grassroots-based civil rights organization. Over 2,000 volunteer-run branches nationwide.
From: Tim Stevens and Celeste Taylor
Date: January 25, 2022
Re: Announcement of the Passing of Civil Right’s Leader and Activists, Alma Speed Fox
In our lives, there have been few people as special as our Pittsburgh Civil Rights Mother, Alma Speed Fox. She was someone that we felt deeply connected to, and even though she is gone now (1/24/22), we still feel her beautiful and powerful presence. A big hole has been left in our hearts and in our civil rights community. There is so much more we would like to share with you all about our beloved Alma Speed Fox, plus any arrangements to celebrate her magnificent life. We are in consultation with the family and will share more information when we are able. Please lift this dear family up with love and compassion during this difficult time. Muriel Fox Alim Alma Speed Fox
State Rep. Ed Gainey declared victory in the Pittsburgh mayoral election Tuesday night, capping off a year of campaigning during which he defeated incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary and turned away an outsider Republican candidate in the general election. Gainey will be Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor.
He had 70% of the vote just after 11 p.m. Tuesday, with almost all mail-in ballots and 91% of in-person precincts reported.
"Let me tell you why this is beautiful. Because you proved that we could have a city for all," Gainey said during his victory speech at the Benedum Center. "You proved that everybody can change."
In conceding, Republican candidate Tony Moreno said his turnout underscores the success of his campaign. “All those people from the outskirts who came and were fired up because they wanted change…" Moreno said during a speech Tuesday night. "We started building something that I think is going to make a huge difference in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh.”
Gainey launched his candidacy last January as a challenge to Peduto, who sought a third term. Progressive figures like state Reps. Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato joined Gainey in saying the city needed new leadership, and financial support from a healthcare worker union PAC helped him win a shocking upset.
On November 22, 2021, the City of Pittsburgh dedicated a new $29. 3 million park as the Frankie Pace Park. The naming was in honor of Ms. Pace’s unwavering work as a community advocate for the Hill District as well as the larger City of Pittsburgh. While I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, I got to know Ms. Pace not only as a grassroots community organizer and business woman who operated a store that supplied products for Black churches, but also as a sturdy Black woman steeped in extended family traditions.
When I first met Ms. Pace, she lived with her daughter, Francis, on Center Avenue, just a few blocks from her store. Her daughter was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and, as such, was connected with her Sorority Sisters at Pitt, one of whom became my wife, Jerlean E. Colley Daniel. For members of the “Pitt extended family,” Ms. Pace’s home often became a “home away from home.” This was especially important during the 1960s when housing segregation was rampant in Pittsburgh and out-of-town Pitt Black students needed a place to stay when they could not afford to go home on holiday breaks or, for other reasons, needed temporary housing. For example, at the time, Pitt had a curfew for women students and Ms. Pace’s home became a late Saturday night “safe zone” for some Black Pitt women students. For me, Ms. Pace’s home became my “community-based office” during the latter part of my graduate studies at Pitt.
During the conduct of my doctoral dissertation, I chose to study the differential effectiveness of indigenous non-professional Blacks communicating with predominantly Black and poor Hill District citizens as compared with the communication success of White professionals, e.g., social workers. I focused on who could more effectively persuade Black citizens to make use of the “War on Poverty” services offered in the Hill District. In many ways, the issues were similar to today’s matter of encouraging poor, urban Blacks to make use of services related to the Coronavirus.
To conduct my dissertation, I had to spend a considerable time in the Hill District meeting local grassroots leaders as well as citizens, many of whom became participants in my research. Ms. Pace was indispensable when it came to not only connecting me with the local citizens but also in establishing my credibility to the point that the citizens permitted me to interview them. During the spring and summer of 1967, I often worked out of Ms. Pace’s home.
As I got to know Ms. Pace over time, she fondly referenced me as “son,” especially when she was giving me advice, e.g., “Son, I’m telling you. These folks have got to be organized when they go downtown. Son, when you get that degree from Pitt, don’t you get a big head on your shoulders because when success goes to a young boy’s head such as yourself, it leaves him looking in the wrong direction. And I’ll say it again --that education you’re getting over at Pitt can’t replace what you’re getting right here in the Hill. So, son, after you finish your Pitt work, don’t you ever stop working in the community.” While listening to her, Ms. Pace seemed to be the type of woman Langston Hughes had in mind when he wrote “Mother to Son:”
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Watching the dynamic Ms. Pace function, I observed a woman steeped in a Christian-based commitment to improving the lives of those around her. She lived the Biblical verse “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). She knew the reference was not to how much money/material things she might receive, but rather the extent to which her disposition was that of being supportive of the poor, the downtrodden. Her deep and abiding respect for the dispossessed was steeped in “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
The 1960s were some of the worst race-related times, capped by the 1968 looting and burning in the Hill District, Homewood and Manchester districts. However, because she so loved those around her, Ms. Pace’s was not a store that anyone broke into. Ms. Pace could walk home during the late evenings of that long hot summer, knowing that she would not be harmed by those in open rebellion. Even a junkie respected her when he moved off her store steps after she politely said, “Son, you have to move on. These are steps for those seeking the Holy Ghost, not drugs.”
Some of my fondest memories of Ms. Pace were when I went by her house to “drop off” the fresh fish I had just caught and cleaned for her. I was never able to just “drop off” the fish and leave in minutes. “Dropping off” the fish meant spending at least a half hour to an hour listening to Ms. Pace talk about things such as how to get the Mayor to improve housing in the Hill; the “goings ons” at her church; how well a local activist spoke at a rally regarding rent controls; who was really responsible for the dope in the Black community; and who were and were not legitimate Black community leaders. She made it clear that “all skin ain’t kin” as well as the fact that “empty barrels make the most noise.”
Long before there were conceptual frameworks such as “Critical Race Theory,” “Systemic Racism,” and “Social Determinants of Health,” Ms. Pace was steeped in the awareness she expressed as “these devilish folks been hunting and hounding us in every which a way ever since they had us as slaves, but with God on our side we will change the whole way of doing things.” For the life she lived, Ms. Frankie Pace should not only have a Park named for her but, going forward, she should also be known as Queen Mother Frankie Pace. Indeed, since she helped so many Black students succeed at Pitt and, as a way of expressing its commitment to equity and social justice, the University of Pittsburgh would do well to posthumously grant her an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy Degree and, we the people, must “march on, till victory is won.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Black Panther
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
December 6, 2021
While living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for more than 40 years, I did not believe I would live to see a Black person elected Mayor of Pittsburgh. This belief was reinforced as I observed the following terms of White Mayors:  Pete Flaherty, 1970-1977;  Richard S. Caliguiri, 1977 – 1988;  Sophie Masloff, 1988 – 1994; and  Thomas Murphy, Jr., 1994-2006. After moving from Pittsburgh, the possibility of Pittsburgh being a place for “White Mayors Only” was reinforced by Bob O’Connor, Luke Ravenstahl, and Bill Peduto serving as Pittsburgh’s Mayors from 2006-2021. Matters were not made better by reports indicating Pittsburgh was one of the worst cities for Blacks (See for example, Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race, 2019). Nevertheless, what I could not imagined has happened.
As it is now well known, on November 2, 2021, Ed Gainey became the first Black elected to serve as Mayor of Pittsburgh. In addition to the spectacular success of Ed Gainey are the facts that, when it comes to governance in the City of Pittsburgh, Councilman Robert Daniel Lavelle serves as the City Council Finance Chair and Councilman Ricky Burgess serves as President Pro Tempore.
While many national news commentators focused on gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, what many across the nation missed was other great news coming out of Allegheny County, i.e., as of this writing, Blacks were the four leading vote getters and six of the top ten were women for the 10 available seats on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. What then are we to make of this momentous occasion?
As spectacular a moment the election of Ed Gainey as Mayor happens to be, Pittsburgh is no more “post-racial” than the United States was when Barack Obama was elected President. Therefore, now is the time to turn this “Ed Gainey Moment” into a “Movement” that culminates in Pittsburgh becoming the “Most Livable City for All of its Citizens!” Such a “Movement” necessarily means achieving goals such as  making housing affordable for all;  implementing comprehensive workforce development whereby citizens are prepared to be part of the unfolding 21stCentury workforce;  closing the race-related educational achievement gaps in the Public School System as well as the gaps from baccalaureate through post-graduate work in Pittsburgh’s colleges and universities;  turning all of Pittsburgh’s communities into stellar examples of comprehensive community development;  implementing a positive sea-change relationship between the community, members of the Police Department, and the entire legal system;  ending the systemic violence that plagues Pittsburgh; and  ending systemic racism as a public health issue in Pittsburgh.
The foregoing goals and much more, including the platform on which Ed Gain ran his campaign, can be accomplished if the City’s public and private leadership joins with Pittsburgh’s elected officials to do so. For example, now is the time for Pittsburgh’s colleges and university leaders to collaborate with others and  make Pittsburgh a Flagship City for demonstrating how to effectively partner with Public Schools as well as  on their respective campuses, enroll and graduate Black students as well as other students of color in proportion to their presence in the City, Region, and State.
With Ed Gainey at the helm, now is the moment for multi-billion dollar privately funded workforce development projects to enhance the lives of those who have been truly disenfranchised. It is at this moment that there should emerge a sustained movement whereby Pittsburgh leads the nation in terms of rebuilding worn out bridges as well as significantly enhancing its human infrastructure.
The movement-related matters referenced above and more will contribute to a true Pittsburgh Renaissance.
Let us keep in mind something Ed Gainey said on the occasion of his election, i.e., “The one thing that I want to have, is a city where everybody feels they can have success and opportunity, where nobody feels left behind. We have to empower our working-class families, and that is something we’re going to do.” (New Pittsburgh Courier, November 3, 2021). It is now up to all of Pittsburgh’s residents to help sustain such a “Movement,” to support Mayor elect Ed Gainey as Martin Luther King Jr. advised when he stated, “We cannot slow up, because we have a date with destiny and we must move with all deliberate speed… If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
November 5, 2021
Mayor elect Ed Gainey and wife Michelle.
Retired Judge Justin Morris Johnson, who served on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, has died. He was 88.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto confirmed the death in a statement.
Johnson, of Pittsburgh, had a storied law career and was the second Black judge appointed to the state’s Superior Court in 27 years.
“I had the privilege of getting to know Judge Justin Johnson through his leadership at East Liberty Presbyterian Church while I was a city councilman,” Peduto said. “Together we worked on issues of equity, peace and gun violence with his wife, Florence. I already knew him as a brilliant legal scholar and then got to experience his passion, heart and commitment for the city of Pittsburgh and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Johnson was born Aug. 19, 1933 in Wilkinsburg to Irene and Oliver Johnson.
In 1954, Johnson in received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Chicago. From 1956-59, he served in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft commander and as major from 1963-73. In 1962, he received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago, according to a biography posted on The History Makers, an online African American oral history project that interviewed Johnson in 2008.
After graduating from law school, Johnson worked for the firm Johnson, Johnson & Johnson, where he eventually became a partner and sole proprietor. After working with the firm for 15 years, Johnson became the assistant solicitor and assistant secretary for the Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh-Mt. Oliver board of education.
He then became a partner at Berkman, Ruslander, Pohl, Liber & Engel from 1978-80.
In 1980, Johnson was appointed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court where eventually served as a senior judge.
While on the bench, Johnson worked as an adjunct professor at Duquesne University Law School.
Johnson previously served on the board of trustees for Mercy Hospital, Southside Hospital, United Way of Allegheny Company and Princeton Theological Seminary. He was also a life trustee of Carnegie Mellon University and was chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Examiners from 1983-89.
He received several awards including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Citizen’s Award; the Top Hat Award for distinguished judicial services: the Homer S. Brown Service Award, the Presidents Award by the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association; the Award of Merit by the Pittsburgh Young Adult Club and the Man of the Year Award from Bethesda Presbyterian Church.
Johnson had three children and lived in Pittsburgh with his wife, Florence.
Source: Tribune Review
Carnegie Mellon will award the Founders Medal for Outstanding Service and Exceptional Achievement to a distinguished alumnus and CMU trustee who has demonstrated outstanding dedication and service to the university and extraordinary accomplishments in his career: Erroll B. Davis, Jr, a 1965 graduate of the College of Engineering.
Davis has been recognized as a leader in the energy industry, with a career that included roles as vice president of finance and CEO and president of Wisconsin Power and Light Company. He also served as president and CEO of WPL Holdings, now Alliant Energy Corporation. In 2006, he shifted his career focus to education when he became chancellor of the University System of Georgia and, later, superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools system, with the goal of ensuring that education systems work for all students.
His commitment to Carnegie Mellon has been a lifelong one, serving as a trustee for more than 30 years and as chairman of the board from 2000 to 2004. Since 1986. Davis and his wife Elaine have awarded numerous scholarships to deserving students through the Davis Family Foundation as part of their commitment to educational accessibility.
“Erroll’s extraordinary career has spanned the private sector as well as the academy and at every opportunity, he has generously committed his expertise to helping others,” said Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University. “He has used his professional success to help many organizations thrive, and CMU has benefited significantly from his knowledge and dedication. I am profoundly grateful for Erroll’s many years of service to Carnegie Mellon University as an alumnus, trustee and advocate for our students.”
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation mourns the loss of trailblazing broadcast journalist and gospel radio pioneer Bishop Loran E. Mann and sends condolences to his family and friends.
Mann passed away Sunday, May 2, 2021. He was a former anchor/reporter for WPXI-TV Channel 11. In 1968, Mann was hired by AM 1020 KDKA as a newscaster. He was also owner of WGBN-AM 1150 (now 1360-AM), the first 24-hour radio station dedicated to gospel music in Pittsburgh.
Mann worked with WPXI for 21 years and won numerous journalism honors – including being the recipient of the Robert L. Vann award of excellence from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation (PBMF), of which he was a longtime member.
Two of Pastor Mann’s radio programs, “Daily Bread” and “Sunday with Christ” were among the most popular in Christian programming in the Pittsburgh area.
In March 2005, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell appointed Mann as a member of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission. The commission sets policy for all public television stations in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Dee Thompson, a founding member of PBMF and a colleague of Mann’s at WPXI, reflected on his impact.
“Loran was a pioneer in journalism, not only in Pittsburgh’s Black community but also the community at-large; and not only in Pittsburgh but nationally. In fact, he was one of the first Black journalists in radio and television in Pittsburgh and because of his outstanding work in the church as a pastor and as a bishop, he was very well known throughout the country and the world.”
Bishop Mann inspired many journalists of color to join the media industry but he retired from broadcast journalism and dedicated himself to the growth of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, which he founded in 1969.
PBMF President Brian Cook says, “The loss of Loran Mann is not only a loss for the church community but for those who enjoyed his television and radio reports. He was a trusted newsperson and will be missed for his pioneering inspiration and his dedication to community coverage.”
The U.S. Postal Service issued the August Wilson Black Heritage stamp. This Forever stamp was dedicated during a virtual ceremony and is now being sold at Post Office locations nationwide and online at usps.com/wilsonstamp.
News about the stamp is being shared on social media using the hashtags #AugustWilsonForever and #BlackHeritageStamps.
Legendary playwright August Wilson is the 2021 Black Heritage Forever stamp honoree.
The August Wilson stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp in panes of 20.
"The Postal Service is honored to issue the August Wilson Forever stamp," said dedicating official Joshua Colin, vice president, Delivery Operations, U.S. Postal Service. "Wilson is hailed as a trailblazer who brought fresh perspectives and previously unheard voices to the stage."
Colin was joined for the ceremony by Constanza Romero, trustee of the August Wilson Trust and widow of August Wilson; Sakina Ansari, daughter of August Wilson; Phylicia Rashad, actor, director; and Stephen McKinley Henderson, actor and associate artistic director for the audio recordings of August Wilson's American Century Cycle. The virtual ceremony also included photos from the August Wilson Archive courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh and a video tribute featuring actor Viola Davis. The ceremony can be viewed on the Postal Service Facebook and Twitter pages.
"August Wilson was a literary master. He understood the inherent power of language," said Rashad. "I am overjoyed that the Postal Service has selected this inspired playwright as its 44th honoree in the coveted Black Heritage stamp series."
One of America's greatest playwrights, Wilson is hailed as a trailblazer for helping to bring nonmusical African American drama to the forefront of American theater.
August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, PA, on April 27, 1945. After dropping out of high school, he became a voracious reader at the local library, served in the Army for a year, and worked a variety of jobs. In 1965, the year he took the surname of his African American mother, he discovered the blues, which inspired a lifelong fascination with the importance of music and oral tradition in African American culture. Energized by the Black Power movement, he helped found a theater company in 1968 in Pittsburgh's Hill District, his childhood neighborhood. In the late 1970s, Wilson moved to St. Paul, MN, where he worked for a science museum, honing his scriptwriting skills by adapting Native American stories into plays for children.
Between 1982 and 2005, Wilson focused on writing his acclaimed American Century Cycle. This series of 10 plays includes nine set in Pittsburgh's Hill District, with one play for each decade of the 20th century. Loosely connected through a few characters who appear at different stages of their lives, the American Century Cycle plays have been praised for being emotionally powerful but not sentimental, and for demonstrating Wilson's ear for African American storytelling traditions. All 10 plays have been produced on Broadway, and several have returned to the Broadway stage for critically successful revivals.
The only play in the American Century Cycle not set in Pittsburgh, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" chronicles a tense 1927 recording session in Chicago that reveals truths about the exploitation of African American musicians and the tenuous nature of African American success. Noted for its statement about the blues as a way of understanding African American life, the play debuted at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1984; Wilson typically debuted his plays with regional theater companies before honing them for the Broadway stage. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" opened on Broadway later the same year. Several awards and nominations marked the Broadway production as a turning point for Wilson's career, including a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best American Play and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play, and the original Broadway cast recording won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Recording. The film adaptation of the play was released on Netflix last month.
With lyrical language and the emotional power of the blues as staples of his work, Wilson collected innumerable accolades, including seven New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards; a Tony Award for 1987's "Fences"; and two Pulitzer Prizes for "Fences" and 1990's "The Piano Lesson."
Art director Ethel Kessler designed this stamp with art by Tim O'Brien.
The August Wilson stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp in panes of 20. This Forever stamp is always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.
A pictorial postmark of the designated first-day-of-issue city, Pittsburgh, PA, is available at usps.com/shopstamps.
Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet ever to perform at a presidential inauguration, recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” at today’s Presidential inauguration.
Transcript of The Hill We Climb:
Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world, when day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is hours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time, where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide, because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true, that even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious, not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lighten the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made, that is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare, it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we stepped into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption. We feared at its inception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, “how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?”, now we assert, “how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?” We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be, a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation.
Because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain. If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change, our children’s birth right.
So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with, every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise through the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states. We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover, in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful. When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.
This is democracy's day, a day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve. Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew. And America has risen to the challenge. Today we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people, has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded.
We've learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.
So today I stood on hallowed ground, where just a few days ago violence sought to shake the Capitol's very foundation, we come together as one nation under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries. As we look ahead in our uniquely American way, restless, bold, optimistic, and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.
I've taken the sacred oath each of those patriots before me has taken. The oath first sworn by George Washington. But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us, on we the people, who seek a more perfect union. This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we've come so far, but we still have far to go.
We'll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. Few people in our nation's history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we're in now.
A once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country. It's taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost, hundreds of thousands of businesses closed, a cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.
A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can't be any more desperate or any more clear, and now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.
To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy. Unity.
In another January, on New Year's Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote, "if my name ever goes down into history, it'll be for this act, and my whole soul is in it."
"My whole soul is in it." Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.
Uniting to fight the foes we face, anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things.
We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.
So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to those tasked of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction, and devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts.
May God bless America and may God protect our troops.
Thank you, America.
President Joe Biden
Kamala D. Harris is the Vice President of the United States of America. She was elected Vice President after a lifetime of public service, having been elected District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General, and United States Senator.
Vice President Harris was born in Oakland, California to parents who emigrated from India and Jamaica. She graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
Vice President Harris and her sister, Maya Harris, were primarily raised and inspired by their mother, Shyamala Gopalan. Gopalan, a breast cancer scientist and pioneer in her own right, received her doctorate the same year Vice President Harris was born.
Her parents were activists, instilling Vice President Harris with a strong sense of justice. They brought her to civil rights demonstrations and introduced role models—ranging from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to civil rights leader Constance Baker Motley—whose work motivated her to become a prosecutor.
Growing up, Vice President Harris was surrounded by a diverse community and extended family. In 2014, she married Doug Emhoff. They have a large blended family that includes their children, Ella and Cole.
Throughout her career, the Vice President has been guided by the words she spoke the first time she stood up in court: Kamala Harris, for the people.
In 1990, Vice President Harris joined the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office where she specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases. She then served as a managing attorney in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later was chief of the Division on Children and Families for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
She was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. In that role, Vice President Harris created a ground-breaking program to provide first-time drug offenders with the opportunity to earn a high school degree and find employment. The program was designated as a national model of innovation for law enforcement by the United States Department of Justice.
In 2010, Vice President Harris was elected California’s Attorney General and oversaw the largest state justice department in the United States. She established the state’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice and instituted several first-of-their-kind reforms that ensured greater transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system.
As Attorney General, Vice President Harris won a $20 billion settlement for Californians whose homes had been foreclosed on, as well as a $1.1 billion settlement for students and veterans who were taken advantage of by a for-profit education company. She defended the Affordable Care Act in court, enforced environmental law, and was a national leader in the movement for marriage equality.
In 2017, Vice President Harris was sworn into the United States Senate. In her first speech, she spoke out on behalf of immigrants and refugees who were then under attack. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, she fought for better protections for DREAMers and called for better oversight of substandard conditions at immigrant detention facilities.
On the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, she worked with members of both parties to keep the American people safe from foreign threats and crafted bipartisan legislation to assist in securing American elections. She visited Iraq, Jordan, and Afghanistan to meet with servicemembers and assess the situation on the ground. She also served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. During her tenure on the committee, she participated in hearings for two Supreme Court nominees.
As Senator, Vice President Harris championed legislation to reform cash bail, combat hunger, provide rent relief, improve maternal health care, and address the climate crisis as a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Her bipartisan anti-lynching bill passed the Senate in 2018. Her legislation to preserve Historically Black Colleges and Universities was signed into law, as was her effort to infuse much-needed capital into low-income communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On August 11, 2020, Vice President Harris accepted President Joe Biden’s invitation to become his running mate and help unite the nation. She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President, as was the case with other offices she has held. She is, however, determined not to be the last.
Source: White House
A life worth living and a man willing to share his wisdom, PUM sends our condolences and prayers to the family and friends of Josifani M. Moyo, 79, who died December 9, 2020. A mathematics professor who taught at the Bidwell Training Center on the North Side of Pittsburgh, he began as a math instructor at the career training institution in 1972, according to Post-Gazette archives. He also served as the director at the academic support center at Bidwell. A true King of all Kings...
PUM had the honor of saluting and interviewing Mr. Moyo in the past, and respectfully share his words of encouragement to our audience:
“My arrival to the U.S.A. was in August 1963. That happened to be the time of
the March in Washington. Civil rights was the topic of the day. I was invited by
Pittsburgh organizers but my college had an early start in August and I was
focused on the task at hand. I did follow all the reports on the march and Dr. M
L King’s address. The civil rights movement relates my firm conviction that all
individuals can achieve their goals if they work hard and take advantage of
educational opportunities most states provide. As one who benefitted from
scholarship education at no cost to my family, I have made it my life goal to give
back by engaging adult students to make improvements in their academic abilities
and take advantage of the vocational programs our school provides.
Nothing comes easy. All progress in life requires our best effort and although
there are no guaranties we must continue to engage those who are short sighted.
A better tomorrow requires us to do our best to prepare now for whatever might
come in the future”
Josifani Munyika Moyo, affectionately referred to as Daddy, Pop-Pop, Uncle Joe and by most simply as “Joe Moyo”, was born on October 3, 1941 in Zishavane, Zimbabwe.
Joe is the eldest son of six children born to Jairos Munyika and Shoorayi Shumba Moyo of the Shona speaking Bantu Tribe. Joe was fiercely devoted to his family, particularly to his mother, to whom he often described as “the kindest person one could ever meet”.
By 1957, at the young age of 16, Joe was one of only four students in his primary class selected to attend Fletcher High School, a prominent government sponsored all male boarding school in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Upon graduation from Fletcher High School in 1963, Joe received a full scholarship to continue his academic pursuits in the United States at Waynesburg University, Waynesburg, PA, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and Chemistry. After graduation, Joe attended Purdue University in West LaFayette Indiana, where in 1970 he earned a Master of Science Degree in Chemical Physics.
During this period in 1967 Joe married Janet Lee Patterson of Pittsburgh, PA. Together they spent the next fifty-four years through life together, during which time they produced two daughters, who became the center of Joe’s and Janet’s life. Erita Munyika Moyo was born in 1967 and Selina Munyika Moyo followed in 1974.
From 1972 to 2020 Joe was the Academic Program Director and Mathematics Instructor at Bidwell Cultural Training Center-Manchester Craftman’s Guild, Pittsburgh, PA., where he was noted for his very successful and unique style of teaching, known as “Moyo’s Math”.
At the sacrifice of his own desires, wants, and needs, Joe’s complete humility, devotion to his family and his personal values based on giving, and giving , and giving has left an unreplicable imprint of giving on his family, both in the United States and in Zimbabwe, and the City of Pittsburgh.
Consequently, Joe leaves a legacy, which was truly ordained by GOD himself before the beginning of this world His deep affection and lifelong passion for golf, which he developed during his youth in Zimbabwe, continued to the end of his life. In fact one year Joe’s endless enjoyment of golf rewarded him with a remarkable hole-inone. Joe’s sudden and unexpected departure has left an enormous void filled with pain for his family and all of those who loved him. This is chiefly due to the one common denominator in Joe’s life, which was simple and quite clear, as his math lessons. It was “Love”.
Josifani Munyika Moyo is survived by his beloved wife and life partner for fifty-four years, Janet Lee Moyo; Daughters Erita Munyika Moyo, Plainfield, Illinois; Selina Munyika Moyo Anderson, Son-in-Law Charles Anderson, Esquire, and adored granddaughter Leah Erita Anderson, Fort Mill, SC. Joe is also survived by two direct siblings’ eldest sister Erita Tagwi and younger brother Zivai Mbrenego Moyo of Zimbabwe. Joe is loved and cherished by scores of students in the Pittsburgh area and an army of extended family both in the United States and worldwide, and a host of friends.
Joe’s only and last request is to have his remains returned to the soil and land of which he originated.
Honoring the legacy of Josifani Munyika Moyo
Statement from Family...
It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman.
Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV.
A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.
It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.
He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side.
The family thanks you for your love and prayers, and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.
PUM Contributor Kam Williams, interviewed Chad Boseman in 2013 for PittsburghUrbanMedia.com.
Hailing from Anderson, South Carolina, Chadwick Boseman is an accomplished actor, scriptwriter and playwright who, until now, was probably best known for portraying the character Nate on the critically-acclaimed dramatic TV series Lincoln Heights. Prior to entering show business, Chad earned degrees at Howard University and the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford.
Here, he talks about playing Jackie Robinson opposite Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie in 42, a biopic about the late Hall of Famer’s historic breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier back in 1947.
Kam Williams: Hi Chad, thanks for the interview.
Chad Boseman: Nice to talk to you, Kam.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I appreciate the opportunity to ask you a question, especially because everything changed for Jackie Robinson in my hometown of Montreal. What did it mean to you to portray Jackie Robinson and how did you prepare for the role?
CB: It’s just a great honor to play him. In order to portray him, I basically paid attention to three different aspects of the role. First, the physical aspect of baseball, and his five-day-a-week workout regimen starting with Spring Training in the middle of January all the way to May. Secondly, I studied Hall of Fame footage of Jackie so that I could emulate his batting stance, how he took leads, how he ran bases, the arm slide he used in certain situations, and his fielding style. Thirdly, there was the question of how to attack the role. I didn’t want to just do an imitation. I wanted to interpret it while remaining faithful to the script and [director] Brian Helgeland’s vision.
The research also included reading, and talking to Jackie’s widow, Rachel, and his daughter, Sharon, in order to deliver the most authentic interpretation of him possible.
KW: Documentary filmmaker Kevin Williams asks: Was the role at all intimidating to you? Did you feel any pressure to get Jackie right, given his importance in history?
CB: Yes, because Jackie is a hero to people from so many walks of life whose reverence for him is often based on different interpretations of who he was. I also felt a certain amount of responsibility to give an accurate account of his life and the person that he was for the benefit of the youth who don’t know him. But I still felt a great responsibility to Rachel Robinson and his family. She has carried on his legacy for decades, and she’s carried the torch for this film. So, my main goal was to do right by her.
KW: Peter Brav says: You were absolutely awesome in the role. My 85 year-old mother, a concentration camp survivor, embraced the Brooklyn Dodgers when she came to this country in 1946. She saw 42 and hasn't stopped talking about how you ARE Jackie in the movie. Prior to auditioning, how much of the Jackie Robinson story did you know?
CB: I knew his story since I was a kid. My parents told me stories about him. And I learned about him, Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders at church. I didn’t know anything about Jackie’s personality, or the specifics about his family or where he came from. So, I went into the audition with very limited knowledge of the facts that you would need to play him.
KW: Kate Newell asks: In doing this film, what did you find out about Jackie Robinson that surprised you the most?
CB: I was surprised that he was considering quitting baseball just before he was signed by the Dodgers’ GM Branch Rickey [played by Harrison Ford]. He had become disenchanted with barnstorming across the country in the Negro League for several reasons: he often had to play several games a day; there were a lot of places where African-Americans couldn’t stop to eat, sleep, buy gas or even use the bathroom; and he wasn’t being paid enough at a time when the most important thing to him was taking care of his family. I was also surprised that baseball was only his fourth best sport. He had greatness in him already. He was an All-American football player, a great basketball player, and he could’ve gone to the Olympics in track and field. Jackie was a better athlete than his brother Mack who had been a silver medalist behind Jesse Owens in the 200 Meters at the ’36 Olympics in Berlin. So, Jackie was well aware of his talents but felt very frustrated by the fact that there was no place in the United States at that time where a black man could fully actualize himself. Fortunately, baseball became that place where he could reach his full potential, although he might have achieved it in other sports. But that frustration of his potentiality almost made Jackie quit.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: Jackie Robinson encountered extraordinary obstacles on account of the color of his skin pursuing his professional baseball career. Have you encountered similar obstacles in your acting career?
KB: Well, you don’t get the same opportunities as white actors. Every year, Hollywood is looking for that new, white leading man and new white starlet that audiences fall in love with. But they’re not looking for the next Denzel Washington, Will Smith or Sidney Poitier. Some of that is due to the fact that even in our educational process we’re taught history from a totally Eurocentric perspective. And so it’s no surprise that we grow up to value European literature. Since we don’t value our own history, African-American stories don’t get made into movies as much. Your being the protagonist or the hero is not a fundamental part of our culture. That’s what I run up against trying to get cast as an actor, and that’s what I feel needs to change. It’s very difficult to make strides to play big roles in big movies when our culture doesn’t support it and therefore the movies can’t.
KW: What did you major in at Howard, Acting or Black Studies?
CB: I majored in directing. However, I did spend some time at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, so I am somewhat well-versed in African Studies.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
CB: One wish instantly granted? Woo! I would love for my grandmother and my sister to have been able to see this movie. They both passed.
KW: My condolences Chad. Thanks again for the time, and best of luck with 42.
CB: Thank you, Kam.
(Kam Williams was a frequent contributor to PUM, as a film critic and literary writer, Kam caught up with many noted actors and celebrities. Kam, who enjoyed a nearly 22-year career as a writer, passed away May 30, 2019 from prostate cancer. He was 66 years old.)
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin
but by the content of their character."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.-
When it comes to Americans making one of their most important 2020 decisions, the election of a President and Vice President, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has not come true for the little child referenced when Kamala Harris said to Joe Biden, “You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day, and that little girl was me.” Instead of judging by the content of the 55-year-old’s meteoric career as it pertains to her becoming Vice President of the United States, naysayers and outright haters are judging Senator Harris by factors such as her race, gender, national origin, and choice of a spouse.
The worst misogynists have publicly declared Senator Harris to be a “nasty,” “mean,” “horrible,” “phony” woman. Other would be detractors disregard the following facts:
· Following Harris’ graduation from Westmount High School in Quebec, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Howard University and, subsequently, a Law Degree from Hastings Law School;
· She became Deputy District Attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office;
· She served as managing Attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office; headed the San Francisco City Attorney's Division on Families and Children; and was elected as the San Francisco District Attorney;
· While serving as California Attorney General, she had a stellar victory by ending negotiations for a settlement from the country's five largest financial institutions for improper mortgage practices and, subsequently, obtained a $20 million settlement which was five times the original proposed figure for California; and
· After being elected to the Senate, she has served on the Senate Budget, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Judiciary, and Intelligence Committees.
Sadly, as was the case with President Barack Obama, some sickened by racism folks cast aspersions regarding whether Senator Harris is “Black enough,” both in terms of skin color as well as other misguided essentialist views regarding what it takes to be “Black,” e.g. “maybe she isn’t Black enough because her parents were highly educated bourgeois folks in Berkeley California.” Added to this counterproductive narrative regarding “Blackness” is the “Misogyny Litmus Test” for a “Black” electoral official. This view, held by some Blacks as well as Whites, maintains that the “ideal Black” is one who is a function of miscegenation and immigration, i.e.,  someone whose demeanor has been supposedly enhanced by a mix of “White,” “Caribbean,” “Asian,” or “African” blood;  someone with relatively recent geographic roots outside of the United States; and, in short,  any “Exotic Black” other than a “pure” descendant of African slaves in America.
Then there are those who ignore the biblical admonition not to “tear asunder” what “God has put together.” They, along with the racists who for centuries prevented interracial marriages, just can’t take Senator Harris at her word when she stated, "Look, I love my husband, and he happened to be the one that I chose to marry, because I love him… and he loves me.”
Before engaging in any of the foregoing foolishness regarding Senator Harris, people should at least read her book, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Therein, for example, the reader will find Harris’ detailed analysis of how health disparities begin “in the delivery room;” the need for “every medical school in the country to require implicit bias training for their students…;” and why “… improving health outcomes across the board demands that we transform the health care system itself.”
Before offering irrelevant criticism, read carefully Harris’ analysis of how “The criminal justice system punishes people for their poverty. …Whether or not someone can get bailed out of jail shouldn’t be based on how much money he has in the bank. Or, the color of his skin.” Review her criticism of the fact that Blacks pay 35 percent higher bail than Whites for the same charge and how Latinos pay nearly 20 percent more. In response to this miscarriage of justice, Senator Harris introduced legislative actions to replace the bail bond system.
Now is not the time for petty presidential politics given that our nation is sinking into an abyss of lies, deceits, exploitation, manipulation according to race and ethnicity, misogyny, homophobia, and other deplorable acts similar to those during the time that Hitler desired to make Germany great again. With Americans dying by the second as a result of a grossly mismanaged health pandemic, now is not the time to engage in castigations regarding “birtherism.”
Now is the time to heed Senator Harris’ admonition to us, i.e., “Even as our democracy faces an assault unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, we have to remember that our system works when people who care about the Unite States stand up and participate. My daily challenge to myself is to be part of the solution, to be a joyful warrior in the battle for the soul of the country. My challenge to you is to join that effort. Let’s not throw up our hands when it’s time to roll up our sleeves.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
August 16, 2020
Senator Kamala Harris, is the Democratic vice presidential nominee in the 2020 election.
On January 26, 2020, a helicopter carrying former pro basketball player Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others crashes in Calabasas, California, roughly 30 miles north of Los Angeles; everyone onboard dies. ... Not long after takeoff, the helicopter crashed in foggy conditions.
Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 until 2016, winning five NBA Championships and the 2008 Most Valuable Player award while making the All-Star team in 15 of his 20 seasons. By his mid-career, Bryant had established himself as one of the greatest players in NBA history, known for his clutch shooting, capable defending, work ethic, and longevity.
Bryant and his daughter, along with the other passengers, were headed to Gianna’s basketball game at the his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. Not long after takeoff, the helicopter crashed in foggy conditions. The accident shocked sports fans across America and around the world. Bryant had been set to host the Grammy Awards that very evening, and the ceremony became one of the first of countless tributes to him and his daughter. The Los Angeles Airport, the Empire State Building and the Burj Khalifa were all lit in purple and yellow, the Lakers’ colors, in tribute to Bryant. Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant’s longtime teammate, sometime rival, and another of the era’s greatest players, said he had “no words to express the pain” he felt at Bryant’s death, and fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan called Bryant “one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”
Oronde Sharif remembers meeting Vernell A. Lillie when he was 10. He and his brother were always in tow when his busy mother Shona, a choreographer, dancer and Pitt lecturer, was out and about at meetings and events. Lillie, a former associate professor of Africana Studies and founder of Pitt’s Kuntu Repertory Theatre, was a close friend of Shona’s.
Years later, when Sharif was an undergraduate student at Pitt, he found himself in Lillie’s office more often than his mother’s.
“I would go there just to talk,” said Sharif, who is now director of Pitt’s Shona Sharif African Drum and Dance Ensemble, part of Africana Studies. “And not about acting … we talked about student life. Dr. Lillie was like that mother, grandmother or mentor who had so much knowledge.”
Lillie, who retired from Pitt in 2006, died on May 11, her 89th birthday.
A poster from the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Records, housed at Pitt. (Kuntu Repertory Theatre Collection, c. 1970-2013, CTC.2015.01, Curtis Theatre Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System)
Born in 1931 in Hempstead, Texas, Lillie arrived in Pittsburgh in 1969 to pursue a doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1973, she began teaching in what was then Pitt’s Department of Black Community, Education, and Research and, along with prolific poet and playwright Rob Penny, founded Kuntu the following year. The new theater company exposed Pittsburgh audiences to cutting edge ideas, art, culture and the Black community’s social and political concerns. For nearly four decades, it featured works by Penny, Pulitzer Prize-winning Pittsburgh native August Wilson and other Black playwrights. The Black Arts Movement was thriving in cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh, and Lillie and her peers were in the forefront.
Kuntu was the first company to mount the August Wilson play “Homecoming” in 1976, which Lillie directed. Actors such as Sala Udin, Emmy-winner Esther Rolle and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company founder Mark Southers, performed on the Kuntu stage, located at Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial, and later at Alumni Hall. Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” fame also had a play staged by Kuntu and acted in it, under Lillie’s direction.
Sharif remembers Lillie, along with people like Shona, Penny and former department chair Barbara Sizemore as providing the depth, soul and energy to that corner of campus. Students would hang out in their offices, listening to advice and absorbing like sponges.
Many of Sharif’s friends were actors and some say that studying under Lillie was the highlight of their Pitt experience. Sharif enjoyed watching the Kuntu rehearsals and always stayed late after a final performance to help strike the set, just to be of help to Lillie.
“I just gravitated to her,” he said.
Sala Udin, who acted in Kuntu plays and eventually served on Pittsburgh City Council for 10 years, said Lillie was “a serious taskmaster” of a director, compared to others. And she was all about educating her audience.
“She integrated teaching into her directing,” he said. “She was always serious about people have an intellectual curiosity and an understanding of Black theatre.”
Lillie was known for opening up Kuntu to community members and non-theater majors. Even those who lacked acting experience were welcome to audition for one of the plays, which often used music and African themes to bring stories of Black life to its audiences.
Pitt Professor of History Laurence Glasco, whose career at Pitt started around the time Lillie arrived, says he was always impressed by the quality of the Kuntu performances, including many works by Penny, whom Lillie liked to showcase.
“I found a lot of human interest in the plays, though they had a political message,” he said. “Vernell had an orientation in Black consciousness and Black Power but it didn’t overwhelm the work or make it one-dimensional at all.”
Glasco also enjoyed the “talk-back sessions” Lillie offered at the end of a performance, in which the cast would return to the stage and engage with audience members.
Lillie and actor Lamman Rucker at a National Black Theater Festival. (Courtesy of Lamman Rucker)
While he was a Duquesne University student, actor Lamman Rucker was in the cast of Penny’s play “Nefertari Rising” and Lillie made an indelible impression on him. As she did often, Lillie brought in a guest director, this time Woodie King Jr., the founding director of the New Federal Theatre in the lower east side of Manhattan. The experience inspired Rucker to move to New York to work with King.
“There’s so much excellence that you see on stage, Broadway, screen and through regional theater, it leads back to Dr. Lillie’s leadership,” he said. “So much of what I say and do has come from her, especially while training artists now.”
Rucker, who has appeared in Tyler Perry films and on the popular “Law & Order” TV series, said Lillie inspired him to establish The Black Gents of Hollywood, a Black male artist’s collective.
“Now that she’s an ancestral spirit, she’ll continue to guide me,” he said.
Lillie’s robust career at Pitt garnered her many awards, including the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1986, a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania in 1998 and the Pennsylvania Creative Community Award in 2006. A scholarship in Lillie’s name was established at Dillard University in New Orleans, her alma mater. She kept Kuntu alive even after her retirement. The company’s final performances were at the Homewood Library in 2013. But Sharif, Udin and the others feel her presence will stay with them.
Said Rucker: “She breathed life into me and so many people. Her work, vigor and love for us will continue to pour through us forever.“
A treasure trove of items and correspondence related to Kuntu Repertory Theatre’s 40-year journey at Pitt is being catalogued at the University Library System. Donated in 2015 by the family of Vernell A. Lillie and facilitated by the Kuntu staff and board of directors, the items filled 500 boxes when they arrived at the University Library System’s Ford E. and Harriet R. Curtis Theatre Collection.
Project archivist Megan Massanelli said the archives are being separated into two collections—the Dr. Vernell A Lillie Papers and the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Records. She says the boxes contained several hundred audio and video recordings, and a special grant came through last fall to help the library preserve and digitize them, including recordings from the Bob Johnson Papers.
The Lillie Papers will include syllabi for classes, personal research materials, academic records, department correspondence and personal letters, photos and school yearbooks. Materials cover the years 1950 through 2013. The Kuntu Records will contain written, audio and photographic records documenting the history and activities of Kuntu Repertory Theatre.
“Kuntu was the predominant Black performing arts group in Pittsburgh for more than 35 years,” said Massanelli. “It provided a platform for Black artists and technicians and examined the Black experience with the goal of creating personal growth and social change.”
While there is no official finding aid available yet, information on the two collections can be found in the following places:
Source: University of Pittsburgh
The Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh was also the site of the National Negro Opera Company, which flourished from 1941 to 1962. It set the stage was set for the rise of Kuntu Black Theatre to reach international influence.