Just Pittsburgh

Photo by Joshua Franzos Photo by Joshua Franzos


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” -- “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Early in 2016, The Heinz Endowments introduced the concept of a “Just Pittsburgh” to the public as a term to describe some of the major challenges and aspirations for the Pittsburgh region. An unexpectedly widespread conversation was sparked about what the concept represents and our community’s hopes and ambitions for the future.

From the Endowments’ perspective, a Just Pittsburgh would be a place that is unafraid of difference and embraces all with an open heart and mind. It would be intolerant of hiding behind one Pittsburgh that is celebrated in “best of” lists while letting a second Pittsburgh languish in poverty and discrimination. It would value creativity, care about public health, and be attentive to how its residents are faring regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual identity. And it would accept the pain and discomfort of difficult conversations with people whose emotions are raw and deep and real.

Since the concept was introduced, people across the region have been given opportunities to brainstorm more ideas about its meaning and how to put it into practice. Core to the notion of a just community is a willingness to listen and engage diverse voices, and so this process of engaging the community in an ongoing conversation about creating a more just future will continue.

Advancing a Just Pittsburgh also has been explicitly integrated into the Endowments’ grantmaking as a guiding principle for all our work, although a core ethical commitment to equity has always been at the heart of the foundation’s mission. We are working to create a just community, and we do that through our focus on the critical pathways of sustainability, creativity and learning.

A Just Pittsburgh is a long-term work in progress. As Endowments President Grant Oliphant said in a blog post, “If we are willing to dream of a Just Pittsburgh, we can create it — we simply have to want to try.”

Nonprofits and the Call to Moral Leadership: Courage to Act

Heeding the Call: What Does Courageous and Moral Leadership Look Like?

Endowments nonprofit grantees urged to stand for their values and a just society

By Carmen J. Lee

It was a story describing an all-too-familiar moment in today’s polarized America. Artist and MacArthur genius grant recipient Titus Kaphar told an audience of nearly 400 how an enjoyable day showing museum displays of his art to his younger brother turned sour when New York City police stopped and frisked them on the unfounded suspicion that they had stolen art from a gallery.

But Mr. Kaphar’s point was not just to express outrage over racial profiling. As keynote speaker on Nov. 14 for The Heinz Endowments-sponsored seminar “Nonprofits and the Call to Moral Leadership: Courage to Act,” he also was highlighting one of the many tasks before nonprofit leaders attending the event.

“How do we get a community to engage in democracy when they feel democracy is not working for them?” he asked the crowd at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Downtown Pittsburgh.  “We have to make this work. We will not be able to convince my brother to go vote when democracy is not working for him, when no matter who gets elected he feels his community doesn’t change…when it’s injustice for one, it’s injustice for everybody.”

For the second consecutive year, the Endowments invited foundation grantees to a Call to Moral Leadership gathering at the August Wilson Center. More than a dozen speakers and panelists encouraged attendees to use their skills, expertise and platforms to defend their organizations’ values and missions while supporting the individuals they serve. 

With divisions in the country growing deeper, the rhetoric more heated, and the consequences more violent, the seminar hit even closer to home than last year’s event because of local tragedies. These have included the Oct. 27 massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and the shooting death of Antwon Rose II, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a suburban Pittsburgh police officer. 

The national landscape has been no less grievous. Between the first Call to Moral Leadership gathering in October 2017 and the second this year, the country has been awash in alarming and often heart-wrenching events: other mass shootings, from a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; the cries of immigrant children torn from their families; and attempts to restrict marginalized populations from voting or being counted in the 2020 census. 

Throughout the day, seminar participants addressed the question: What can we do?

Speakers offered several recommendations that included common themes such as acknowledging and respecting the humanity of others, calling out wrongdoing regardless of the consequences, modeling the behavior desired for others, studying the past to correct current mistakes and avoid more in the future, and collaborating across differences for the common good.

Sharon Alpert, President of the New York-based Nathan Cummings Foundation, described the efforts her organization has made in these areas as “radical solidarity.”

“We join forces with those who see a better world, who have creative ways to motivate hearts and minds towards justice, and who know how to organize and mobilize so that we have the power when it comes time to push,” she said. “When we stand together, we are strong. And when we do that, when we decide we will not allow anyone to divide us with hate and fear, that is radical solidarity.”

For Dr. Rich Benjamin, anthropologist and author of “Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America,” the work of nonprofits could be energized if they viewed it as a calling. Using other religious allusions, he said moral leadership means serving others in practical ways to create “the beloved community” and employing what he termed “a ministry of presence,” which he described as “a way of being as well as a way of doing, showing up for one another.”

Challenging the group to commitment and accountability was Dr. RaShall Brackney. The Pittsburgh native became Chief of Police in Charlottesville, Va., this summer after a national search for a new top law enforcement officer in the wake of a violent white nationalist rally in the community last year.

“You hold the power, you can reshape and contour the narrative of Pittsburgh, Charlottesville and the nation through your courageous and moral leadership,” she said. “When you leave this space, are you willing to stand for something, protest for something, kneel for something, and, more importantly, believe in something even when it means sacrificing everything?” 

Rev. Tim Smith, Founder, President and Executive Director of the community organization Center of Life and pastor of Keystone Church of Hazelwood, led a panel of local faith leaders who offered both religiously influenced and pragmatically motivated advice. Mr. Smith joined Rabbi Ronald B.B. Symons, Senior Director of Jewish Life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, and Rev. Dr. John C. Welch, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Vice President for Student Services and Community Engagement, and Dean of Students, in urging audience members to not only be involved in social justice efforts, but also to learn from different communities now about addressing trauma rather than waiting for the next tragedy.

Four Pittsburgh youth activists inspired the audience with both their appreciation for the adults and older peers who have been role models and their earnest enthusiasm for making a difference in the world. 

“Youth are not just future leaders, we are leaders today,” said Peyton Klein, who led the discussion. Peyton is a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School and Founder and Executive Director of the Global Minds Initiative, a student-led movement to combat cultural intolerance and discrimination in schools. “Moral leadership must be inclusive of those of all ages.”

Other seminar speakers included Jamaica Johnson, a junior at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts 6-12 (CAPA); Marina Godley-Fisher, a Pittsburgh Allderdice student; Javin Lee-Lobel, a Pittsburgh CAPA student; Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto; Endowments Director of Equity and Social Justice Carmen Anderson; and Endowments President Grant Oliphant.

In closing out the event, Mr. Oliphant noted a well-known admonition of the late children’s television personality Fred Rogers. In a brief video clip, the host of the iconic “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was shown encouraging individuals and the media “to look for the helpers.”

“You are society’s first responders. You are the helpers that society is turning to in this moment,” Mr. Oliphant told participants. “It’s up to us to be the model that Fred Rogers was talking about by actually personifying the notion that we want a society that bridges these divides, that will not tolerate hate, that will stand up for those who are vulnerable among us, and that believes in the sort of community that this neighborhood is now sadly but also wonderfully famous for.”

Just Discipline and the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Greater Pittsburgh

A Heinz Endowments-funded study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems reveals severe racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions at Allegheny County schools. The report, “Just Discipline and the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Greater Pittsburgh: Local Challenges and Promising Solutions,” found that countywide the suspension rate for black students was more than seven times the rate for their non-black peers. The study also offers solutions, including reforms that are being used successfully in the Woodland Hills School District.  Read the full report.

Pittsburgh Equity Indicators

A Baseline Measurement for Enhancing Equity in Pittsburgh

In July 2018, the City of Pittsburgh released its first annual Pittsburgh Equity Indicators report, an evaluation of disparities among local residents by race, gender or income in four domains. Using a set of 80 measures, the assessment looked at the broad areas of Health, Food, and Safety; Education, Workforce Development and Entrepreneurship; Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Environment; and Civic Engagement and Communications. The report, which provides a baseline for further study, reveals that Pittsburgh residents of different races, genders and incomes experience vastly different health, social, and economic outcomes and access to resources and opportunities.

The Equity Indicators project is part of the city’s ONEPGH Resilience Strategy, which aims to dedicate about one-quarter of its initiatives to creating equal opportunity for all residents. The assessment tool was developed by Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning and the Rand Corporation in partnership with the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program.

Read the report.

American Heroes: The Homewood Project

The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation’s “American Heroes: The Homewood Project” connects African American men’s involvement in one Pittsburgh neighborhood to the larger American story. The multimedia initiative uses photography, videography and narrative storytelling to highlight individuals who, despite the odds, contribute to the spiritual, economic and social uplift of a community. The 20 men honored represent the heroes not always recognized but always present in Homewood.

“American Heroes” was produced in conjunction with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and its Black Male Media Project, a 2017 initiative to help address the way black men are portrayed in stories and images in the news media and elsewhere in society. The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation is a NABJ affiliate, and its project was supported by The Heinz Endowments, the University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Center and Pitt’s Humanities Center.

2017 Nonprofits and the Call to Moral Leadership

Photo by Joshua Franzos

Nearly 400 grantee partners of The Heinz Endowments gathered for a seminar hosted by the foundation, ‘Nonprofits and the Call to Moral Leadership’ at the August Wilson Center.

In the wake of Charlottesville, Pittsburgh regional nonprofits explored how to make their voices heard in defense of their organizations’ values and missions, and in support of the individuals they serve. The event addressed critical issues of racial, social and economic equity in our region.

The seminar was introduced with a video, including interviews with and reflections by local nonprofit leaders. The video can be seen here.


Presenter bios

Presentations & Resources


Highlighted Grantee
Photo of a young immigrant boy holding up a small sign that says, "Future Scientist." Allegheny County Department of Human Services Report, "A Community Blueprint - Helping Immigrants Thrive in Allegheny County."
Immigrant Community Blueprint

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services has developed an Immigrant Community Blueprint, which is a comprehensive strategy for helping immigrants become acclimated to the Pittsburgh region. The action plan provides guidance to organizations and institutions on offering programs that address issues such as language access, health and well-being, education, economic development, family support, and civic engagement.

Learn more about the Immigrant Community Blueprint

h Magazine - Just Pittsburgh

When The Heinz Endowments rolled out the concept of a Just Pittsburgh in 2016, it opened the door to conversations about the many ways in which commitments to equity and justice can enhance the quality of life for all local residents. We devoted an entire issue of h magazine to highlighting examples of what already is being done to help create a more just community.

Just Pittsburgh Blogs

We must remain an inclusive and welcoming city for all   Endowments President Grant Oliphant describes how H. J. Heinz achieved the dream of many children of immigrants, founding a company that bore his name and creating wealth that benefitted the Pittsburgh region as well as later generations who endowed this foundation. Not every immigrant story is similar to that of the Heinz family, but Mr. Oliphant explains that many immigrants have achieved success not only for themselves but also for our country.

What does a Just Pittsburgh mean to you?  The Heinz Endowments asks residents of the region this question and provides individuals with the chance to post their responses on social media using #justpgh. As part of the request, Endowments President Grant Oliphant elaborates on how a Just Pittsburgh — one that is open, inclusive and equitable — is a concept whose time has come.

Just Pittsburgh  Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant introduces the idea of a “Just Pittsburgh” and asserts that the city has reached a “moment in time” when it can be a leader and model of inclusion, fairness, innovation and creativity. He gives his wish list of what Just Pittsburgh could be and urges others to envision the possibilities and help to make them a reality.

Just Pittsburgh Interviews

Grant Oliphant “The Business of Giving” interview
Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant has talked about the concept of a Just Pittsburgh in a variety of forums, including local and national media outlets such as “The Business of Giving” podcast, hosted in New York City by radio broadcaster Denver Frederick. During the conversation, Mr. Oliphant explained how Just Pittsburgh includes themes such as equity, justice and civility. He also described the Endowments’ efforts to support these ideas through grantmaking in our three strategic areas and communications initiatives featuring opportunities to achieve these goals and encouraging others to get involved.

Grant Oliphant interview with Jon Delano
As part of The Heinz Endowments’ efforts to promote the concept of a Just Pittsburgh, Endowments President Grant Oliphant talks with Jon Delano, host of KDKA-TV’s Sunday Business Page, about expanding access to the city’s promising future and helping Pittsburgh become more open, inclusive and equitable for all.

The Heinz Endowments pledges $10 million toward local criminal justice reform
Heinz Endowments will commit nearly $10 million to criminal justice system reforms
Nicky Goren, President and CEO, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation: Doing Racial Equity Work 'Authentically'
Controversy as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom confronts its publisher
Pittsburgh Foundations Condemn Newspaper for Excusing Racism
Family that owns Post-Gazette denounces Trump editorial
Foundations put out a call for honesty regarding America's sore of racism
Post-Gazette Editorial Board Criticized Over 'Reason As Racism' Argument
Pittsburgh Public Safety starts Multicultural Liaison Unit to help immigrants
Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth Celebration to be held at Point State Park in 2018
Opinion: Grant Oliphant on Charlottesville, racism and the beast
4 Pittsburgh leaders on inclusion, and not leaving anyone behind
BMe Community Genius Awards held at the Heinz History Center

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