Equity Café – Discover the Strengths

By Brian Conway & Will Halim

"It all starts with the youth"

Saturday, August 27, the Equity Cafe reached its conclusion. Once a month since June, New Sun Rising hosted Allentown residents for lunch and to solicit opinions and visions of the future of the Hilltop. Today’s mission? How to take those dreams and desires and transform them into reality.

The inaugural Equity Cafe took place June 18, during the URA’s Next 3 Days festival in Allentown, at Work Hard PGH’s Academy on East Warrington Avenue, one of several formerly vacant storefronts to come to life in the past year. There, guests were invited to identify their favorite aspects of Allentown past and present. The theme? “Discover the Strengths.”

Next month, July 16, the Equity Cafe moved across Warrington Ave. to Academy PGH, a coding academy and product of Work Hard Pittsburgh. There, over plates of Leon’s Caribbean, attendees shared their vision for the future of the Hilltop and discussed with one another what programs would be most beneficial to the community. The theme was “Dream & Design.”

Those in attendance August 27 at the Destiny/Delivery Cafe were charged with perhaps the most important task of all. The questions had shifted over the months from the abstract to the concrete, and one pressing question remained: how?

Academy PGH was once again the host for the Equity Cafe, the tables covered with checkered tablecloths, upon which those in attendance could once again enjoy plates of jerk chicken, cabbage, and rice and beans from Leon’s Caribbean, located just one block away.

As attendees trickled in, New Sun Rising’s Jorinda Bullitt welcomed guests and offered them one final opportunity to vote on the projects they deemed most important for the community, all of which were identified by residents at the previous Equity Cafes as areas of need.

Before long, the votes were cast and counted. What did Allentown residents identify as their top priority? With 22 votes, “Opportunities for the Young” took first place. Next, with 20 votes, “Safety—Form a Community Crime Watch.” And finally, with 18 votes, “Fund the Young People,” an apprenticeship program with local businesses.

“It all starts with the youth,” said Natasha Spears, of Allentown. Ms. Spears was in attendance with her niece, Lelei, age 3. Based off the votes alone, her neighbors agreed with her sentiments.

“We have to give the kids somewhere to go,” said Carlos Thomas, another Hilltop resident in attendance. “They dying young.”

After the votes were tallied and the results discussed, three separate roundtable discussions were held, and the 20 or so members in attendance were asked how to transform these community-wide desires into reality. Are there existing resources that could be used to utilized to achieve these goals? How can you personally contribute to shaping and implementing such programs?

One group working presently in the Hilltop to offer opportunities to youth was in attendance. Abiding Ministries was represented by three men, including William Moses, one of the group’s founders. Mr. Moses says that his organization is working with UPMC to establish a job training program for boys and girls ages 13-19.

Another person in attendance, Ms. Deborah Acklin, spoke of bringing mothers together to take turns walking children to school. Such a simple gesture satisfies some of the biggest community concerns by ensuring children go to school and that they arrive safely.

As the final Equity Cafe wound down, members of New Sun Rising offered up business cards and the promise of assistance should any resident seek to implement a plan or program to satisfy any of the areas of concern. Now, it is up to the residents to cultivate the vision they have seeded over three months of food and conversation with neighbors.

“The more people that stand for one particular thing, the more you’ll be heard,” said Ms. Spears.

Story Credits

Writer: Brian Conway
Photographer & Web Producer: Will Halim

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