Media Coverage | Presley Gillespie: Justice and Inclusion in Action in Pittsburgh

Jan 31, 2023

By: Stefan Revenboer| Local Today Pennsylvania News| January 26, 2023 | Read the full article

Equity and inclusion are ongoing efforts that are essential to the company’s success.

It is not a one-off activity or training. They are not afterthoughts or catchphrases.

They are more than just showing up or getting everyone involved.

Justice and inclusion forge stronger bonds and cultivate a greater sense of belonging in a divided culture like Pittsburgh, often referred to as the tale of two cities.

Neighborhood Allies is rewriting this story to include justice and inclusion in a broader storyline through our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) approach. Both managers and team members follow the anti-racist approach. Our dedicated RISE HIGH (Racially Inclusive Solutions for Equity, Healing, Impact, Growth & Health) team organizes training, improves policies and practices, and measures and monitors our impact.

JEDI is involved in every aspect of operations—from core values, people policies, and procurement processes to investments, equity frameworks, and continuous learning opportunities, such as vitamin C healing sessions.

Our numbers don’t lie. They reveal actual intentions. More than half of our leadership team, executive board and board of directors are people of color. Seventy percent of our employees are women. We don’t tick boxes and we don’t seek diversity for diversity’s sake. We use people’s strengths, create fair career paths and increase productivity.

Studies show that companies with diversified leadership outperform those with homogeneous teams. This unwavering commitment to JEDI leads to better outcomes for everyone. We go well beyond writing a plan. We act and measure the impact. Strategies extend beyond our office walls and into the community, where data comes to life.

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

Neighborhood Allies is committed to fighting unjust systems and maintaining funding for black-led grassroots organizations. Properly continued and scaled, this multi-pronged approach is positioning the Pittsburgh region to thrive. The region will embed justice in every experience – be it health, housing or entrepreneurship. Transformative change will attract a more diverse workforce and increase opportunities for all people in all communities.

RISE HIGH raises everyone involved. Scholarship recipients encourage entrepreneurs. Greenwood Week Pittsburgh offered co-working spaces and hosted a black business empowerment conference. Grantees connected community members with resources needed to make the transition from tenants to owners. Catapult of Greater Pittsburgh helps low-income families get mortgage preapproval. It is vital to pave a path to equitable housing and improve access to quality, affordable housing and economic growth.

Another key support comes from Neighborhood Allies’ Centralized Real Estate Accelerator. Since its inception in 2020, the organization has provided more than 2,700 hours of free technical assistance to 64 community development projects. Of these projects, 83% were owned or managed by minorities, in the case of non-profit organizations. We have invested $2.4 million directly in early-stage projects, resulting in more than $17.5 million in funding commitments. The goal of the program is to ensure that community developers achieve long-term results, such as: B. Community Ownership.

Our work on economic opportunity addresses racial, gender and geographic inequalities. As the recognized regional leader in financial empowerment for nearly a decade, we convene others to share knowledge and resources, who in turn report on the needs and priorities of the people they serve. To date, more than 1,700 households have benefited from our Financial Empowerment Center and achieved more than 2,700 financial health improvements, e.g. B. Credit repair, debt elimination and growth of savings accounts.

Achieving equity and inclusion occurs through external actions such as entrepreneurship, home ownership and wealth accumulation, 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 positive mental health service by 2030. They have provided more than 2,500 hours of free mental health support, and their Black Mental Health Fund has committed more than $300,000 to help offset treatment and support costs for community members.

From generating wealth and building businesses to breaking down racial barriers and improving mental health, Neighborhood Allies levels the playing field for those who have been benched by unjust systems. We need to scale up this effort and move the needle further and faster so everyone in the region can participate and win. This brings Neighborhood Allies and the region closer to our North Star goal of moving 100,000 low-income Pittsburgh residents up the socioeconomic 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