Story By Alyse Horn & Will Halim
Illustration by Emily Marko

At the beginning of New Sun Rising’s second Equity Café, Jorinda Bullitt from NSR turned on relaxing music, asked participants to close their eyes, and imagine Allentown 10 to 15 years from now.

The workshop, held on Saturday, July 16, was dubbed the Dream/Design Café and built off the first Equity Café held in June.

During the opening exercise, attendees listened to the song and imagined that he or she was a tour guide for a delegation from San Francisco that was visiting Allentown because of the success of the “equitable revitalization that has been happening here,” Bullitt said.

After the music ended, several participants shared their visualizations for the future of the Hilltop.

Ryan, a Hilltop resident, said he envisioned beautified vacant lots, more police officers walking their beat, and a large mural on Beltzhoover and Warrington Avenues that acted as a timeline for the Hilltop; showing the past, present, and future for the neighborhoods. He added to that idea and said he visualized a mural in every neighborhood, using the art as “a chain of murals to connect the communities.”

At the front of the room on a large white sheet of paper, Emily Marko recorded the thoughts by drawing images and graphics so attendees were able to see a physical representation of their ideas.

The exercise opened up to roundtable discussions, focusing on how to increase resident engagement and which current initiatives have the most promise to positively affect the community as a whole.

Ronnie Somerville, owner of Slayd Apparel, 748 E. Warrington Ave., said she believed the biggest thing would be to support programs that would create paid jobs in the neighborhood for teenagers and have them working around the community maintaining the streets or performing lawn services. Somerville mentioned that Lew Johnson, who was present at the Equity Café, had already begun the process of creating such a program.

“I want to make a positive influence
on somebody else’s life.”

Christian Nowlin, co-founder of the South Hilltop Men’s Group, said his organization is working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and The Pittsburgh Foundation, to beautify vacant lots through their program “Lots of Pride.” The program was created to hire and train teenagers and adults to reconstruct vacant lots in the neighborhoods, which can transition into a housing rehabilitation program where they can learn carpentry.

Building off Nowlin’s initiatives, Somerville began to imagine the benefit her business and others in the neighborhood would have by creating an “apprenticeship” for teenagers to work in the shops and shadow the owners, learning a new craft in the process. Somerville said she wants to share her knowledge with others and raise them up, although she said she’s one of the few.

“A lot of people in the community get knowledge, but they don’t pass it on,” Somerville said. “If more people were sharing that information we’d have more business owners.”

She compared becoming a business owner to walking “through that door” and how she’d made a path where seven people have followed her through “that door” since.

“I want to pull people in,” Somerville said. “I want to make a positive influence on somebody else’s life.”

The next Equity Café, entitled the Destiny/Delivery Café, will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, August 27 at Academy PGH, 753 E. Warrington Ave.

Story Credits

Writer: Alyse Horn
Photographer & Web Producer: Will Halim

Disclaimer: the narrative expressed in the article is solely those of the author(s).
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