Affordable Elegance Comes to Centre Ave

Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I img_4515-0type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.

To reach Affordable Elegance, email or give a call to 412.224.0653.


If equity were so painless, wouldn’t we have it by now?

IISC_EqualityEquity (1).png

(reposted from my LinkedIn page)

Writing or thinking about some question on equity recently that involved the need to think about history, the “equality/equity” slide above flashed to my mind. If you are a follower of conversations on equity, the image is likely familiar to you: three people of three different heights are all positioned at a fence, standing on a box and watching a baseball game. The two taller figures on the left are able to see over the fence to see the game, but the one on the right is stuck looking directly into the fence because the height of the box is not enough to get his head above the top of the fence. The idea in this frame is that they are all being treated equally, in that they are each standing on a box, but they are having disparate outcomes in that one of them is not able to see the game, even with the help of the box. In the 2nd frame, the shortest of the three is now standing on two boxes and this allows them to see, the middle person is still standing on one and can still see and the tallest is now not standing on a box, but can still see because of how tall they are. The difference between the first frame and the second frame is in the outcome. Now all can see over the fence because the shortest person is standing on the box that the tallest did not need in order to see the game. How that transaction of box giving happened, we are not sure, although I always assume that the tallest person gave his box to the slump shouldered shortest person, particularly since I’ve seen this image as one of descending ages aligned with descending heights.

The image is very popular as an explanation of how treating people equally can still lead to inequitable outcomes and that equity is about assuring equal outcomes not equal treatment.  It was recently redone by the Interaction Institute and artist Angus Maguire (I tweeted about this recently without giving the artist or organization credit. Apologies!) and in the two years since the original was first created by Craig Froehle, it has had quite the evolution. Of course, there are only two words “Equality” and “Equity” embedded in this picture and so much must be inferred, but this is the intent, right? Make us think. Now,  that’s some background on the image, but what I want to reflect on is what is not in the image and how this missing information is emblematic of our racial equity conversation: We don’t see any representation of history that has lead to inequity and we don’t see the tension that is all over these conversations of redistribution. As I work in the non-profit arts sector, I will look at this image through the lens of the arts, but the arts touch everything and I think these ideas apply to other sectors as well.

As, I say above, what is not in the image is a frame or two or three about how our arts landscape came to be inequitable in the first place. Whether a report from the Devos Institute, Diversity and the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts’ Racial Equity in Philanthropy Statement of Purpose or even the rationale for the program we fund with The Pittsburgh Foundation, Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, it is clearly established that we have an inequitable, and by this I mean unfair, arts landscape when it comes to ALAANA artists, organizations, audiences and communities having the financial means to create and experience art as compared to white artists, organizations, audiences and communities. If we look at the image initially created by Froehle, and apply it to the arts landscape, we would understand this inequity to mean white arts organizations were simply naturally at a larger scale because of their DNA, or maybe they were just born earlier (although Froehle says that his image was designed to show youth of different heights). However, we know from reports such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Fusing Art, Culture and Social Change that in the late 19th century arts philanthropy began supporting art of the white western canon and did not begin supporting “community” arts until the 1960s, which is about the same time philanthropy began capitalizing orchestras in many large U.S cities. Around the same time the National Endowment for the Arts was born as was the state arts agency model and government arts funding priorities looked much like philanthropy’s. I serve on the PA Council on the Arts and when I look at the 100 largest budget organizations in the state, I see 4 that would be considered ALAANA led.  The National Large Western canon organizations and art forms are not simply taller. They were cultivated for ‘height’. ALAANA arts organizations are not simply shorter. They were not given access to the same resources to grow.

Staying with this image, and moving beyond how the larger predominantly white arts organizations got tall to the boxes they are standing on, what would it be to take one box away from them? What is this thing that can be taken away and causes them no less of a “view” and simultaneously provides a full view for the ALAANA arts organization? This is where the “Equality/Equity” slide greatly oversimplifies the problem we face, because as I think about the conversations I am involved in, this unneeded box doesn’t exist on the side of the predominantly white arts organization, and one box isn’t tall enough to get the heads of “shorter” ALAANA organizations over the fence. Of course, this issue is only compounded by the fact that many of the predominantly white arts organizations may not really have their heads over the fence either and that is a whole other issue that is not limited to the non- profit arts sector. The image does not reflect the issue of how competition for scarce resources is fundamental to the capitalist economic mode. So, feel like we need an image that shows on one end the history that has lead to inequity, the negotiation among the various “box providers”, the process of redistribution & the discomfort that is a part of this process and then more equitable outcome. Then we need some symbol for lather, rinse, repeat. We know from the history of racial inequity that this will not be done in one neat step and so don’t we need symbols that when it gets rocky and tense that remind us this is how it is supposed to happen and will need to keep happening if we are going to really build a fair or equitable landscape?

If You’re Reading This in 2116, I’m Glad You Made It. 

I was invited by Sue Kerr, author of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog found at to present with her and archivist & librarian, Megan Massanelli at Pittsburgh Pod Camp and we did our thing this morning. The subject was “How (and why) Your Blog is History”. The central idea was archiving your blog and thinking about preserving Pgh voices for the future. The archiving process is still a little over my head technically, but the idea of preserving my voice and conversations about the Hill District and other tropics for an audience in the year 2116 is kinda cool (hello there). She has formed a fb group to talk about the issue, which you can join, so look for it as “Your Blog Is History”. 

Sue hipped me to the fact that my posts could be 1 sentence long, so we’re done here. 

me, Megan Massarell & Sue Kerr


ROOTS in Culture. ROOTS in Justice.

Sunday morning, thinking of a master plan, and perusing the amazing body of work of Alternate ROOTS, the southern based, artist membership organization with a mission to


From the ROOTS blog post “Honoring each other through our work” by Rasha Abdulhadi

support the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As a coalition of cultural workers we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services. In wanting to learn more about their work, I found  The Resource for Social Change, ROOTS’ training publication describing how they bring their 40 years of experience working at the intersection of arts, justice, community & place to  developing  responses to range of problems & challenges of arts, culture and community. The model is built on five principles of POWER, PARTNERSHIP, DIALOGUE, AESTHETICS & TRANSFORMATION & the publication includes case studies of their work in different communities, a comprehensive  bibliography and set of internet resources at the end. It is soooo challenging to do the work and document the work. HATS. OFF.

And, Alternate Roots, put me in the mind of #ArtsinHD, the planning and implementation process to increase the visibility & quantity of artists and arts activities in the Hill District. For this work that I sit on the steering committee with my wife Bonnie Young Laing, Co-Director of the Hill District Consensus Group, Kendra Ross, who is the consultant helping us keep our train moving, Diamonte Walker, Program Associate of the Hill District CDC, and newly joined Samantha Kellie-Black, our next steps will include a Hill District artist meet up, collaborating with Sembene Film Festival for a film showing, quarterly story telling events and an arts festival next summer. How dope it would be to have an annual gathering of Hill District artists and culture workers like Alternate ROOTS?!  Maybe the artist meet up we are planning for September will be the first of 40…


At the end of the strategic planning weekend, pie charts of the grantmaking budget Heinz staff developed with the TAP Advisory Board. #participatorybudgeting Photo credit: Germaine Williams

On another note, I feel similarly about the value of this document for the work we are doing at The Heinz Endowments with, The Transformative Arts Process. This program, an experiment in participatory grantmaking, is building the field of those teaching artists, arts organizations, youth and grantmakers who work at the intersection of arts, justice, youth and African American neighborhoods. Just the way ROOTS has codified their work is an incredible accomplishment and I hope to see us do some of this with TAP. It has been an awesome learning experience to work with TAP Advisory Board and they have done some amazing work. If you are connected to an arts organization, program or artist with three years of experience working in a particular African American or “distressed” neighborhood, you may be interested in checking out the current Request for Proposals. The informational being held on September 6th has plenty of openings. Please email Siovhan Christensen at to register.

Shouts out to Alternate ROOTS and all working to make a #justculture, a #justpgh.



I’m With Jill

So, the core Clinton campaign message has devolved to “We can’t have Trump and not voting for me is a vote for Trump, so, you must vote for me”. But, I don’t. On the contrary, trump clintonI don’t think I want electing Hillary Clinton and her version of white supremacy on my head.  In the 2008 campaign, she co-signed a subtle but clear racism in her attempt to win the nomination, the most memorable examples being her surrogate, Bob Johnson, commenting that Bill Clinton was more of Black man than Barack Obama because he had slept with more Black women and her pressuring Obama to denounce both Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She has argued Dr. King’s dream was realized with the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  made no attempt to apologize for her depiction of young black men as “super predators” and was an integral part of the team that has intensified The New Jim Crow.  As if this was not enough, Hillary Clinton has solidified American imperialism in Haiti by preventing an increase in minimum wage to .61 and her private server emails show she pressured Haitian officials to change results from the first round presidential elections in 2010. As Marian Wright Edelman stated in July of 2007, “You know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they are not friends in politics.”

Following the 2000 election in which Nader received 2.75% of the popular vote, the Democratic Party blamed Al Gore’s inability to win an election on the 2.75% of Americans who chose to vote for the candidate they felt was most qualified and not their party’s platform or the Florida Supreme Court. Since that election, the Green Party has not received more than 1% of the popular vote (This year, Presidential candidates must receive an average of 15% across 5 polling bodies selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates is needed to gain entrance into national televised debates) which leads me to believe the Democratic Party’s argument that a third party is responsible for the Bush years has been successful.

My interests in this election are quite simple – it is about being a part of the long game to establish a legitimate third party that is a threat to win an election. I have conceded this election – Trump or Clinton – to me the difference is not enough that I in good faith would vote for either. I survived Bush, I survived Obama, I hope to survive Clinton or Trump – neither represents the radical change we need from the current status quo. Stein, like most “progressively left” candidates has shown limitations in her able to critique white supremacy, but she is in support of reparations, tuition-free public colleges, and the demilitarization of the police. This is a vision I will support. If we acknowledge a vote for Clinton or Trump is a vote for evil, why not invest in a third party? the evil is coming regardless.


#BlackLivesMatters To #ChangingSystems

Sunday I was trying to think thru something and so went back to this piece I really appreciate,  “Leverage Points: Places To Intervene In A System” by Donella


Photo credit: Gail Manker. Silent Protest 7.12.16 organized by Ayodeji Young

Meadows and it hit me, again, how a lot of us are sleeping  the demonstrations strategy  of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Meadows ranks the  ways to move a system from the weakest, changing out specific people (e.g. elections) or the numbers of a system (e.g. tax rates), to the most powerful lever, the mindset that sits behind the overall culture. The murders of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police followed by the murders of five Dallas police officers, again put the need for a new system front and center. In explaining mind shift as the most powerful of all system change levers, the actions of #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations become not just clearly courageous… but strategic and it’s that last piece, strategy, that’s not getting  enough love. We should support and join the demonstrations as the highest level of  system change i.e. mindset change because the demonstrations go right at the core idea of white supremacy: Black lives do not matter as much as white lives, ideas and comfort and Black lives really only matter when they contribute to white lives (this is also, a core idea of Critical Race Theory, the framer of which, Prof Derrick Bell, came right from this Hill District. Love and Light to him.) The demonstrations insist our lives cannot go on undisturbed while Black people are murdered by police. These reverberations are felt society wide, including in the halls of institutional power.

At the most recent Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference, Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Network, gave a short talk and I had the honor of moderating the Q & A. To help stimulate conversation about Ms. Garza’s talk, I wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to the opening reception and as a result, a couple of colleagues shared what I hear as a lingering and often held doubt: “#BlackLivesMatter is great, but I am curious to see what it accomplishes.” In addition to the speaker positioning themselves as a spectator, I also think it misses what the #BlackLivesMatter movement has already accomplished just in that moment: we are discussing police violence and killings of Black people right there and then and what has been known for decades upon decades in Black communities is now one of the most talked about subjects all across the country. But what it really misses is how by marching, stopping traffic, calling for us to #shutitdown, #BlackLivesMatter and its leadership, so many of whom are young & female & Queer, have correctly identified the key lever of change: the mindset that Black lives could never warrant this kind of attention, particularly not in ways that inconvenience and make uncomfortable the lives of white people, and the mindset of too many of us Black people that our murder and unjust treatment by police is part and parcel of what it is to be Black and living in America. These shifts in mindset simultaneously shift the world. Meadows point is that the mindset lever then lets the other weaker levers like policy change do their work, including the set of policies that Campaign Zero released yesterday. Amen to that.



Did The Clinton Campaign Appropriate The Good Words of Jesse Williams?

Jesse WilliamsSo, I want to add my reaction to the many out there re: Jesse Williams’ fiyah spoken word piece at the BET awards, and actually not his words, those I appreciate and recognize from social media, but to the backdrop of his speech, to the people I feel like benefited as much as us at home watching and that is the Democratic Party and presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton. To my eye, clearly the folks at BET have returned to the side of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 election (you’ll remember the former owner, Bob Johnson, endorsed Clinton over Obama). In most years, the musical performances dominate the discourse of the BET Awards, but this year the noteworthy performance was not the performance featuring both Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce, but from an actor – Jesse Williams – giving a speech reflecting his continued commitment to speak out against police violence. In the past days, the New York Times, LA Times, Time Magazine, and countless other media outlets (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) have spotlighted Williams’s speech, and of course I agree with all of Williams’s words, how could I not??, but I have been thinking a lot about the frame within which I saw his words and of course frames affect pictures.

For me, the core message of the evening didn’t come into view w/ Williams’ really well crafted combination of speech, spoken word and informal chat, but rather started with Terence J, who prior to introducing the hosts Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, told the audience “Your vote is your voice.” Shortly thereafter, Tracee Ellis Ross shared that the most important demographic in this fall’s presidential election was single women and that her vote (because she is a single woman) would decide the election and concluded by stating “Welcome to the White House, Hillary Clinton.” Throughout the show BET would include more messages on the importance of voting (and due to Ross’s quote – it was clear these messages are pro-Clinton) all of which set the stage for Williams to really put it down for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

To reiterate, everything Williams said was true and was quite poetic, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” However, it is impossible for me to not see his words inside the context of the Clinton advertisement that was running throughout the 2016 BET Awards. So, the current Democratic political climate has ostensibly embraced the rejection of bigotry – in fact, the rejection of bigotry has become profitable (Apple was sure to announce they would not sponsor the RNC due to Trump). Clinton, despite her own history of bigoted politics (which were on display in her last attempt to secure the Democratic nomination and the mass incarceration policies of the 90s), has somewhat successfully turned herself into the candidate whose bigotry is acceptable while running a campaign that argues Trump’s bigotry is not. BET’s endorsement of Clinton from Black Girls Rock to this BET Award show assists in that cause. Still, without Williams, the night’s endorsement is incomplete.

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Williams’s poetry legitimized the BET Awards as a “woke” platform as he bravely denounced whiteness and police brutality, gave deserved props to black women, and spoke against the appropriation of black culture. However, following Williams’s performance, Samuel L. Jackson, stated “That brother is right and he’s true.” He then added an interpretation Williams’ had not even remotely implied and said, “Make sure you vote and take eight more people with you. We gotta fix this. Don’t get tricked like they did in London.” So, who is the benefactor of the call to vote? What Jackson ignores (or doesn’t see) is that the whole Award show is part of the trick because by placing Williams’s spoken word in the context of this larger call to vote, Clinton benefits from Williams’ words without taking any of the risk or committing to any of what he offered. Williams made the BET Awards “woke,” and since BET is down with Clinton she is thus also “woke” or maybe more accurately “woke enough” or “not a Trump nightmare”. In case we had somehow missed the message, the show concluded with Usher dancing with an anti-Trump message on the back of his vest (i.e. a pro-Clinton one and since when is Usher making explicit political criticisms?) as social media pounced on Justin Timberlake’s cultural appropriation, I was also seeing the Clinton campaign’s appropriation of the evening, the kind of appropriation that Williams had just rebuked.