today in black history

September 29, 2020

Journalist Gwen Ifill, host of the PBS program "Washington Week," is born in 1955 in Queens, New York.

Pittsburgh celebrates Black girls

POSTED: September 14, 2020, 12:00 pm

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Pittsburgh is known for a lot of things. It has a great sports tradition with a legacy of championships won by the football Steelers, baseball Pirates and hockey Penguins. It is the home of the legendary playwright August Wilson from the famous Hill District and home to jazz artists and the historic Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. It is the place where public television’s Mr. Rogers launched his iconic children’s program. Pittsburgh is also known for its stellar institutions of higher learning, including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

This month though, the city of steel bridges is focusing on Black girls and young women. The Black Girls Equity Alliance has deemed September Black Girls Equity Month in Pittsburgh. As Dr. Kathi Elliott, CEO of Gwen’s Girls, a local not-for-profit organization, noted, “Pittsburgh has been in the spotlight as a city where racism impacts the health, safety, educational, and employment for Black Americans. This is not news; Black women have been working to address these disparities for decades.” The mission of Gwen’s Girls is to empower girls and young women to have productive lives through holistic, gender-specific programs, education, and experiences. The Black Girls Equity Alliance was formed in 2016 following the first Equity Summit and the release of the report Snapshot: Inequities Affecting Black Girls in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, authored by University of Pittsburgh scholar Dr. Sara Goodkind.

Gwen’s Girls started convening the Black Girls Equity Alliance five years ago by inviting a diverse group of civic stakeholders – nonprofits, advocates, academics, healthcare professionals, educators, child welfare professionals, representatives of the criminal justice system and funders – together to make Pittsburgh a city where Black girls can thrive. Dr. Elliott reflected, “The Black Girls Equity Alliance was formed because we believe in Black girls’ strength, resiliency, and leadership skills when nurtured. It is important to uplift and include them, their voices and brilliance in this work of reforming systems and undo the legacy of racism and sexism to create a community where Black girls, and thus all young people, can feel safe, supported, and realize their potential.”

The work of the Alliance came into sharper focus last year when the Gender Equity Commission of the city of Pittsburgh released the report, Pittsburgh Inequality across Gender and Race, in September as the Black Lives Matter movement started gaining steam across the nation. The unjust murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others put a spotlight on police violence against Black people. Yet, the nature of how racism impacts is experienced differently for men and women, and other marginalized groups. This is the message that was delivered by noted scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in her work on ‘intersectionality’ and during her keynote address at the 2019 Black Girls Equity Alliance Summit.

There has already been a number of activities underway tied to Black Girls Equity Month. Throughout the month the Alliance has launched the See the Best in Me campaign on social media, daily profiling Black girls and young women making a difference in the city. Awards will be presented at the 5th annual Summit at the end of the month. A She Matters Webinar on Black girls and gender-based violence was held on September 10th. On September 14, the Black Girls Equity Alliance will release a report, Understanding and Addressing Institutionalized Inequity: Disrupting Pathways to Juvenile Justice for Black Youth in Allegheny County. The release will be followed by a virtual Town Hall Meeting on September 17, from 3pm to 5pm, on the subject Disrupting Pathways to Juvenile Justice for Black Youth in Allegheny County. The Town Hall will feature advocates, educators, and criminal justice professionals discussing the report and opportunities to address institutionalized racism to make schools and communities fairer to Black girls.

Black Girls Equity Month culminate with the 5th Annual Black Girls Equity Summit & Awards Ceremony on September 24 and 25. The keynote speaker for the event is criminal justice reform advocate Cyntoia Brown Long, author of Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System. Brown, the recipient of an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Biography/Autobiography, was a victim of sex trafficking and was sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing the man who had paid her for sex. She served 15 years in prison until her sentence was granted clemency by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. She now writes and speaks extensively about the treatment of Black girls in the criminal justice system. The Equity Summit will also feature other notable local and national speakers, focused on sex trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence.





Summit sponsors include the FISA Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny Health Network, PNC Bank, UPMC and Gateway Health.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated President Obama granted Cyntoia Brown clemency.

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