Media Coverage | Presley Gillespie: Equity and inclusion in action in Pittsburgh

Jan 26, 2023

PRESLEY GILLESPIE | Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023 | Published by: Trib Live | Read the full article


Camerin “Camo” Nesbit’s “Homewood is Black Joy” mural at 531 N. Homewood Ave. was created as part of the Homewood is Home Positive Image Campaign by Neighborhood Allies and the Homewood Community Development Collaborative.

Equity and inclusion are ongoing efforts that are integral to organizational success.

They are not one-off activities or training. They are not afterthoughts or buzzwords.

They are more than simply showing up or involving everyone.

Equity and inclusion are forging more robust connections and cultivating a greater sense of belonging in a divided culture like Pittsburgh, often referred to as a Tale of Two Cities.

Neighborhood Allies is rewriting that tale to incorporate equity and inclusion in a broader storyline through our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) approach. Both leaders and team members adopt the anti-racist approach. Our dedicated RISE HIGH (Racially Inclusive Solutions for Equity, Healing, Impact, Growth & Health) team organizes training sessions, improves policies and practices, and measures and monitors our impact.

JEDI is infused in every aspect of operations — from core values, human resource policies and procurement processes to investments, equity frameworks and continuous learning opportunities, such as the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater program, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Training, and Compassion Fatigue Sessions with Vitamin C Healing.

Our numbers don’t lie. They reveal actual intentions. More than half of our executive team, senior leadership and board of directors are people of color. Seventy percent of our staff is women. We are not checking off boxes and seeking diversity for diversity’s sake. We are leveraging people’s strengths, creating equitable career paths and increasing productivity.

Studies show that companies with diverse leadership outperform those with homogenous teams. This unwavering commitment to JEDI results in better outcomes for all. We are moving far beyond penning a plan. We are taking action and measuring impact. The strategies stretch past our office walls and into the community, where the data comes to life.

We have the receipts to prove it. Since launching two years ago, our RISE HIGH Grant Partnership Program has injected three-quarters of a million dollars into the community, benefitting 21 partners. In addition, grantees received resources and technical assistance to enhance their organizational capacity, which is often underfunded despite being essential to long-term sustainability.

Neighborhood Allies is committed to confronting inequitable systems and sustaining funding for Black-led, grassroots organizations. When properly sustained and scaled, this multi-pronged approach positions the Pittsburgh region to prosper. The region will embed equity into every experience — be it health, housing or entrepreneurship. Transformational change will attract a more diverse workforce and increase opportunities for all people across all communities.

RISE HIGH elevates everyone involved. Grantees uplifted entrepreneurs. Greenwood Week Pittsburgh offered co-working spaces and held a conference to strengthen Black businesses. Grantees connected community members to resources necessary to move from renters to owners. Catapult of Greater Pittsburgh helps low-income families get pre-approved for mortgages. It is vital to forge a path to equitable housing and increase access to quality, affordable housing and economic growth.

Another critical support comes through Neighborhood Allies’ Centralized Real Estate Accelerator. Since launching in 2020, the organization has provided more than 2,700 hours of technical assistance at no cost to 64 community development projects. Of those projects, 83% were minority-owned or minority-led, in the case of nonprofits. We invested $2.4 million directly into early-stage projects, which has fueled more than $17.5 million in funding commitments. The program’s goal is to ensure community developers produce long-term outcomes, such as community ownership.

Our Economic Opportunity work addresses racial, gender and geographic inequities. As the recognized regional leader in the financial empowerment field for nearly a decade, we convene others to share knowledge and resources, which in turn report back about the needs and priorities of the people they serve. Thus far, more than 1,700 households have benefited from our Financial Empowerment Center, achieving more than 2,700 financial health improvements such as credit repair, debt elimination and growth of savings accounts.

Achieving equity and inclusion is done through external measures, such as entrepreneurship, home ownership, and wealth building, and internal activities, such as positive mental health. Steel Smiling, our unique Organization-In-Residence, aims to connect every Black person in Allegheny County to a positive mental health service by2030. They have delivered more than 2,500 hours of free mental health support, and their Black Mental Health Fund has provided more than $300,000 to offset treatment and support costs for community members.

From generating wealth and building businesses to removing racial barriers and improving mental health, Neighborhood Allies levels the playing field for those who have been benched by inequitable systems. We must expand these efforts and move the needle further and faster for everyone in the region to participate and win. This pushes Neighborhood Allies and the region closer to our North Star goal of moving 100,000 low-income Pittsburgh-area residents up the social-economic ladder over the next 10 years.

Presley L. Gillespie is president and chief executive officer of Neighborhood Allies, a community development organization in Pittsburgh.

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA