A Brand New Library

For the citizens living in the Hazelwood area, the new library recently established gives them opportunities that they have never before had. Far more than just a place to hang out during cold days (like the day I visited), the new library allows individuals to better themselves in a variety of ways, some of which I was lucky to experience first hand.

After being greeted by an energetic and seemingly genuine librarian, I took in the room around me for the first time. The brightness and coziness of the space, without feeling too restrictive, made for a great space in which I felt that many things could be accomplished. I sat down at a nearby table and was approached by a man who had overheard my conversation with the librarian, wanting to know more about the project I was discussing with her.

The man introduced himself to me, and said that he was there using the library’s many resources to pursue a degree. I introduced myself, and a connection was made between the two of us when he found that I was likewise pursuing a degree in International Business. He told me that has traveled extensively, and this blew me away as I was entirely unprepared to meet someone like this at the Hazelwood library. His life experiences were incredibly interesting and inspiring to hear, as he explained that his greatest wish was to travel as much as he could. We talked for what seemed like nearly an hour before the library began to get much more crowded, and he decided it was time to leave. Shortly after I followed suit.

This experience was, I believe, not ordinary of the new Hazelwood library but the fact that it happened has made me actually want to return and see who else I can meet. In a place where I did not expect to meet anyone quite as remarkable as this man, I was blown away by his stories and experiences, something I could relate very well to because of mu studies over the past few years. The Hazelwood library surely seems a place where the community can come together to try and better themselves as a whole, a truly wonderful goal to pursue.

-Vinnie Fera

Wrapping up the Semester

This semester, the Community and University Honors Seminar at Duquesne University was charged with outlining business models for a nonprofit organization that will operate out of the August Wilson house in the Hill District. This experience required my fellow classmates and me to learn a lot about a neighborhood that many of us were unfamiliar with. While learning about the Hill District neighborhood, I came to realize that the needs of the community were much different than I had expected them to be. Only after becoming informed, active, critical, and questioning citizens were we able to uncover exactly what it was that the community needed. In addition to having to uncover what the needs of the Hill District Community were, our class also came to realize that we would also need to use the resources available to us in the most effective ways possible.

To introduce the notion that things are not always as they appear, Terry Baltimore, the Director of Community Engagement at the Hill House Association, spoke with our class on various occasions. At one of these events, Ms. Baltimore led a tour of the Hill District and stressed the importance of eliminating the negative stigma of the Hill District and getting to know the neighborhood for what it truly is. In order to do this, she suggested that we ask others to share their experiences and stories with us so that we might get to know them a little better. Ms. Baltimore also expressed that things are not always as they appear, and that you do not have the full story until you hear it for yourself first hand.

In order to determine the needs of the Hill District community, our class surveyed various community members and asked them about the general needs of the Hill District and how the August Wilson house could provide for these needs. Although we had originally thought that the Daisy Wilson Artist Community should establish a center for artistic expression, we soon discovered that a community center with more flexible utilities would be more appropriate. Additionally, in attending two Rice on the Road lectures I heard from community members how important their close relationships to each other were. For many, the Hill District community is a place in which they have been born and raised, and now are raising children of their own. Being a part of this neighborhood comes with a sense of pride that is unique to the residents of the Hill District. As students, we were outsiders of this community; we did not understand the dynamic amongst the community members and initially found it difficult to come up with plans for development within the Hill District. Although our seminar has many talents and resources to offer the community, it is important that we use these in the most efficient ways possible. In fact, using your talents to the best of your ability is a social duty.

As a student at a university, I have many resources accessible to me and I have gained many skills from my time spent here. However, I have realized that it is more important that I know what to do with these skills and resources than to actually have them. The work of the social justice seminar required constant reevaluation of our processes and our progress. Often times, we decided that reassignment of tasks was necessary based on experiences that fellow students have had as well as what resources were available to them. In this way, we were able to most effectively provide for the community that we were serving. Based on this experience, it is clear that coordination between various communities, such as our University and the Hill District, is necessary.

In regard to the class, I believe that we could have accomplished much more work if we had known the problems that we were trying to solve earlier in the semester. However, learning by trial and error has provided valuable lessons in how to go about problem solving in the future. This class does not provide an isolated example of problem solving. Regardless of the career paths that my fellow classmates and I plan to pursue, we will encounter tasks in which we will need to satisfy the needs of an individual, community, company, etc. This will require the application of determining needs as was practiced in this class. Additionally, it will be useful to combine the resources of various people, institutions, etc. in order to meet these needs most effectively.


Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

The beauty of Pittsburgh lies in the city’s ability to reinvent itself. Over the last century, the city has taken advantage of opportunities to change. The third renaissance took place in the art community and was envisioned by H.J. Heinz II, a founder of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The vision included “the arts serving as a catalyst for economic, commercial and residential development of Downtown Pittsburgh, while enriching the quality of life for residents and visitors alike (About the Trust, 2012.)” The artistic community of Pittsburgh has grown tremendously over the 25 years thanks to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s mission is “the cultural and economic revitalization of a 14-block arts and entertainment/residential neighborhood called the cultural district (About the Trust, 2012.)” It is well established and its reach throughout the city sets the Trust as a model for urban redevelopment. Management of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is under the direction of a Board of Directors which consists of five officers and 49 additional members. Separate and smaller boards and committees are required to oversee each of the large events held by the Trust. The smaller boards in charge of each event ensure the communities needs and requests are satisfied as well as ensuring that the event is successful. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is a large organization with the leadership that allows the Pittsburgh artistic community presence to remain a vital part of the city. Its largest presence is within the Cultural District but it also supports programs throughout the rest of the city. The Cultural Trust’s massive operations and development in Pittsburgh are supported by not only its citizens, but also many foundations, corporations, and government agencies.

With these investments the Trust has restored historic theatres, including The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Byham Theater, and Theater Square Cabaret. Other major projects included the construction of the new Agnes R. Katz Plaza and the Allegheny Riverfront Park, as well as the introduction of the Wood Street Galleries, SPACE, and 707-709 Penn Galleries. The Trust also established performance venues, commissioned public art projects, developed urban parks, and established annual community events. These venues are used for the festivals, children’s theatre, dance councils and the over 1,500 events the Cultural Trust holds each year.

By creating annual events at the August Wilson house, the house could become a central part of the festival scene in Pittsburgh. Events could include weekly or monthly plays, local musician’s performances, as well as, community art and craft shows. The house could also become a place for family gatherings by hosting a Friday Family Fun night. The event could include music, food and fun activities for families to do together, such as crafts, games or a movie.

In addition to the organized events, the Trust utilizes their space by offering venues for rent. Uses for the spaces include professional concerts or shows, corporate events or meetings, galas or fundraisers, music release parties. The Trust also provides an outlet for the citizens of Pittsburgh with camps, workshops and early development programs. These programs offer an artistic outlet for students, educators and the community.

The August Wilson house could utilize gallery space in the house that local artists or college students could rent to display their art. The rentable wall space could be shared by multiple artists or the entire gallery could be rented to showcase an artist’s collection. In addition to planned events and showings, the gallery could be open during other events held at the house for visitors to view or purchase the artwork. Also, the available conference room in the August Wilson house could be rented for gatherings and meetings.


Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. 2012. “About the trust.”  Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.  Retrieved March

2, 2001 (http://www.trustarts.org/about)





Social Justice and Race Matters: Understanding White Privilege

Very early in the semester I began drawing connections between the social justice seminar and another class that I am taking, a global diversity class called Race Matters. Immediately, I began analyzing our actions within the Hill District under the microscope of race and white privilege. Almost all of the students in both classes are white; however, there is a clear distinction in the ways in which race is discussed in the two classes.

In Race Matters it has been well established that you can say “black people” without receiving a negative reaction or being assumed to be a racist. The class environment is a safe space in terms of discussing racism and the differences between races; the professor encourages students to share their opinions even if they come from a place of white privilege.

When discussing the Hill District in the social justice seminar, the topic of race is often avoided, as is typical in most classes. It is well known that the majority of people who live in the Hill District are black, yet the social justice seminar tries to avoid this subject at what seems like all costs. Needless to say, I was very interested in attending the Rice on the Road discussion of race and white privilege, analyzing discussion with the lens of Race Matters, but attending with fellow classmates from social justice.

Unfortunately, I was utterly disappointed with the discussion that took place at the Ujaama Collective. This particular event was to be a dialogue with a panel heading the conversation. The panel was comprised of four black women who had some involvement with the collective. In preparation for the event, attendees were asked to read an article entitled, “There are no black people in my yoga classes and I’m uncomfortable with it.”

Honestly, I skimmed the article and felt as though the author made valid points concerning her reaction to a heavy-set black woman who was not able to complete the majority of the yoga class. The author described an experience in which she felt as though race got in the way of her interactions with another person in her yoga class.

The dialogue at the collective began as being centered on this article and people were asked to share their reactions. I was caught off guard by the reaction of two white women who pointed out that the author was clearly naïve and writing from a place of white privilege. Needless to say, I have never felt more unprepared or unintelligent than in that moment. However, having had this perspective pointed out to me, I understand that the author was incorrect in her assumptions.

From this point, the conversation quickly shifted focus from topics of white privilege to a lecture based on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Personally, I had nothing to add to this conversation and quickly lost focus. Despite the lack of progress that came from the event, I feel as though the dialogue was a learning experience for all people in the sense that it heightened awareness about racism and white privilege in our everyday lives.




  A popular response spoken to students when they ask why they need to learn about history is “If you don’t learn it, you won’t know it. If you don’t know it, you won’t realize it is happening and history will repeat itself.” This statement proves true when learning history from a textbook but also from current events. Being aware of current events happening within the community is not an easy task. Naturally, it is easier to relax in a comfort zone we have chosen and to let situations progress to disorder, so it requires a conscious effort from the members of the human community to stay informed, critical and active. I have learned that people tend to isolate themselves in an environment where they feel comfortable and chose to ignore what makes them uncomfortable, even if it is taking place right across the street. As people we cannot exist alone or secluded in groups because doing so allows for people to forget that others, who may not be a part of their group, are struggling. Forgetting or choosing to not acknowledge that others are struggling leads to social injustice.

      I learned this when I secluded myself into the safety net of Duquesne’s campus. People I had just met, such as my roommates, as well as family and friends I have known for years, cautioned me about what parts of the city of Pittsburgh to avoid. “When you leave campus, don’t go to the right” or “Don’t go into the Hill” were some of the more common comments I heard, so naturally I was afraid of this ominous place known as the Hill. Then through the opportunities of the Honors University and Community Seminar I had to step out of my comfort zone. I was introduced to the Hill with the rest of the class, which help relieve any anxiety I was feeling prior to the trip, and was able to visit a few prominent businesses in the community for an assignment. I also became a part of the planning and research for the August Wilson House project. Learning about August Wilson, his life and his success, opened the door to learning about the history of the Hill as well as the current struggles and potential of the Hill.

     This learning matters because learning about my neighborhood and surrounding communities through this class has made me aware of what is happening around me. I have extended my comfort zone further than just my campus. Being educated and cautious is always a better route than being ignorant and fearful. Learning to become an active member of the surrounding community is important for the growth and progress of the area. Understanding the history is crucial to understanding the area’s current state and potential for growth. I plan on continuing my education in graduate school and don’t plan on staying in the area. Moving to a new area will be difficult but removing myself from my comfort zone immediately and becoming an aware community member could be as beneficial as becoming comfortable here on campus.   

       In light of this learning I hope to embrace a more active role in not only in the University community but also the surrounding areas. In addition to the mainstream newspapers available in my area, I will begin reading other sources of news that provide different perspectives on the same current events. I would like to find opportunities to volunteer my time to an organization in the Pittsburgh area. By volunteering, I am hoping that more opportunities to become involved in my community will arise. Overcoming my fears and taking an interest in the wellbeing of others has become more of a priority now that I have done so during this class.



Convict Leasing in the Modern North


Boy Willie, the “brash and impulsive” brother to the main character in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson spends three years on Parchman Farm, a prison-turned-plantation in Mississippi, before meeting the audience in 1936 Pittsburgh. Boy Willie is a victim of convict leasing. This barbaric misuse of government power was a ploy to minimize the costs of keeping prisoners and of labor for privately-owned farms and businesses in the South. Convicts in the South would be sent to private farms where they would be forced to perform manual labor. Convicts were not paid for this labor, but the prisons that leased them were. Not only did this practice cut down on the cost of maintaining prisoners, who would spend most of their days away from the prison, but it generated revenue for prisons and created an incentive to incarcerate.

When it occurs now, as it does in Pennsylvania, convict leasing is known as “Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition,” or ARD. ARD is a pre-trial intervention program for non-violent offenders. The majority of these offenders is accused of drug-related crimes, meaning that they are predominately black. The drug war has incriminated more blacks than any other race. ARD requires those convicted to undergo substance abuse treatment provided by private professionals, “eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming trials or other court proceedings.”

These eliminated proceedings are most costly to the state, which has found a sinister way around them. Not only does the state escape the costs of trial, but it gleans the support of the private professionals to whom the state assigns non-violent offenders. The state is choosing to support certain private entities by mandating that convicts essentially give money to these entities. The farmers and railroaders of the 1930s South were essentially given money by the state in the form of cheap labor, mandated for convicts by the state. Just as these farmers and railroaders had an incentive to support the state and its incarceration laws for the support of their own livelihoods, the rehabilitative professionals of today have these incentives.

The drug war is the modern Jim Crowe law, imprisoning exponentially more blacks than any other race, and ARD is modernized convict leasing. If Boy Willie were arrested today, he would not be sent to a farm to work for a private business supported by convicts, but would likely be billed for his mandatory “rehabilitation” by a private business, also supported by convicts.











“The Cycle of August Wilson’s Life” –A Critique

The prize-winning playwright had a gift for authentic characters and dialogue.

“The prize-winning playwright had a gift for authentic characters and dialogue.” - Ted S. Warren — Associated Press

I believe that it is interesting to investigate the influences behind famous works and artists, for it is never without inspiration that some work is born. A few weeks ago, we were given the task to find some sort of published work that concerned August Wilson and conduct a review. I happened to stumble upon Washington Post staff writer Peter Marks’ appreciative article titled, “The Cycle of August Wilson’s Life.” Marks raises several truthful points regarding the life and legacy of August Wilson that often times are overlooked. I particularly favored the comparison between Wilson and Anton Chekhov, who was Wilson’s favorite writer.

Like Wilson, Chekhov is considered one of the most renowned writers of all time. Often thought of as the father of the modern short story and of the modern play, he, like Wilson, was familiar with the struggles of lower-middle class citizens. Moreover, Chekhov, struggled with and often dismissed restrictions on length in his works. Wilson also had difficulty with maintaining a presentable length play. Specifically, according to Marks, “he was, in fact, legendary for writing one overlong draft after another” (2005).

I personally noticed a striking similarity between Chekhov’s style of writing and Wilson’s. Specifically, Wilson is known for his characters rather than his plot. His plots are never exceedingly riveting nor do they tell extremely unique stories. Instead, the characters of his plays make the stories unique. They are stories of everyday life, with the realistic dialect of the time and location. His plays aren’t too flashy either; rather they help to paint realistic scenarios of life in the Hill. Take Fences for instance. Fences tells the story of an everyday family living in the Hill in the 1950’s. Each character is dynamic yet they all face challenges common from that time. When reading the play, I could easily imagine Troy and Bono, two of the main characters, being real people.

Chekhov’s writing is very similar. Rather than make up riveting plots that just aren’t realistic, he uses everyday people to tell the stories of Russian life. In one of his works, “A Play,” he tells the story of a playwright’s interactions with a lady, Mme, who is in the process of writing a play. The plot is simply their interactions and while it is simple, I feel that nothing else is needed. The characters are plain people, yet they have characteristics very realistic to the late 19th century, which is when the story takes place.

To read the entire article, visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/03/AR2005100301734.html


Teamwork, Friendship, and Change, Oh My!


Mr. Paul Ellis talking to our class within our first month of classes outside of the August Wilson House.


Finals week is upon us. As anticipation and stress run rampant throughout the campus, I find myself swept up in the rush to study and finish my preparations for final presentations. However, finals week also presents a unique opportunity to reflect upon each semester’s classes and gauge their success. I have had many difficult classes this semester, but none of them compared to the challenges and rewards I have felt in this class.

If you ever find yourself in a classroom full of control-freaks at Duquesne University, chances are, you’ve just entered into a classroom of Honors College students. We started this class as students of different majors and years of schooling without a clue as to how this class would progress. When we first got down to business, we found ourselves alone in our classroom with only one command, “Discuss!” As we are all very intelligent students, we all immediately began voicing ideas and disregarding others. Tensions rose and heads butted. It took us a while, but we all found our niches. One of our best accomplishments was learning how to work together as a team. As I am used to being very take-charge, one of my struggles was allowing others to be in control of the work. However, I know that learning to work with others is an asset I will carry with me throughout life.

I am also very happy with the friendships I have developed through this class. I believe that your education is what you make of it, and I think friendships are intertwined with the educational experience. I know the people in this class will go far in life and I very much enjoyed getting to know them and converse with them. They’re all good people and I feel blessed to know them.

Finally, I am really impressed with what we have pulled together and accomplished. We all found our strengths and pursued the knowledge we knew best. The DWAC has great intentions and great potential. I am proud to be part of working towards bettering a community, as is the social justice perspective. I think this organization and seminar will become something spectacular and it gives me immense satisfaction to know that our collective effort contributed to the overall project. Overall, the stress and hard work was worth it. I look forward to giving the final presentation of our work to the board members of the DWAC.


“August Wilson, Theater’s Poet of Black America, Is Dead at 60”


This obituary provides a clear summary of August Wilson’s life and the impact he has had through his writing. The article focuses on Wilson’s life and the footprint he left behind. The following are the topics discussed: Wilson’s plays, his partnerships, and his early life and education. There are details regarding the success of individual plays as well as the background behind Wilson’s 10-play cycle. During his lifetime, Wilson was awarded seven New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards, a Tony Award for “Fences,” and two Pulitzer Prizes for “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson.” His plays were featured in 1,800 performances on Broadway over a twenty-year time span and have been done in over 2,000 separate productions. Broadway’s Virginia Theater is to be renamed in his honor.

August Wilson worked with Lloyd Richards, the first black director on Broadway. The relationship between Wilson and Richards “was the most artistically fruitful in American theatrical history since Elia Kazan’s association with Arthur Miller and Williams.”

The last segment of the article discusses August Wilson’s education and personal life. Wilson was named after his father who was a baker with alcoholic tendencies. When he set out to become a writer, Wilson legally adopted his mother’s last name. Growing up, Wilson was the only black student in his class; it was there that he encountered racism in its truest form. He had an affinity for sketching his stories out on cocktail napkins in public places such as bars. This obituary gives a more insightful look into the life and success of August Wilson than I had previously.

This obituary did August Wilson justice. The article paints a portrait of August Wilson as both a celebrity and as a man. I was amazed to read about all the accomplishments Wilson has made in his life. Prior to reading this article, I was unaware of the vast success Wilson’s plays have had. In the description of his ten-play cycle, I felt that the author went into too much detail about the plots of some of the plays. To someone that is not very familiar with Wilson’s works, the descriptions were just the right amount.

The segment of the article that held the most interest to me was the one about his childhood and education. I felt that I was able to get a glimpse into his childhood in a more genuine way than by just reading facts. The article caused me to dislike his father, love his mother, Daisy, and empathize with his daily struggles in achieving an education. As the author discussed the hardships Wilson faced, I felt myself wanting to stand up and fight for his rights and oppose some of the cruelty he faced. I think this is telling as August Wilson’s mission was to increase awareness and education within the community towards black culture.

To read the full article visit the following link: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/03/theater/newsandfeatures/03wilson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


August Wilson’s Social Commentary


Cleared Lower Hill with footprint of Civic Arena under construction, c February 1958. The architectural firm of Mitchell & Ritchey and the engineering firm of Ammann & Whitney and Robert Zern designed the structure. Source: Archives Service Center, Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, 1892-1981, MSP 285, Library and Archives Division, Senator John Heinz History Center. (1)

“OLD JOE: Lots of men died under that flag. That American flag was everywhere. Joe Mott carried it into battle but it was everywhere. In the mess hall. In the dance hall. We had a great big mess hall ad they would bring women in from the town and we’d have a great big old dance. You look up and there would be that flag hanging behind the bandstand. They had two. One behind the bandstand and another one on the other side of the hall. They look nice. That flag was everywhere. You saw it in the morning when you woke up and you saw it at night before you went to bed. Sometimes you saw it in your sleep. When the time come and I saw Joe Mott fall with that flag…shot right through the head…bullet went in one end and come out the other…I don’t know where it went after that. When I saw him fall I said, “No I ain’t gonna let you get away with nothing like that.” That’s what I said when I picked up that flag. This the flag on this side of the battle. That’s what side I’m on. Joe Mott ain’t died for nothing. If his life don’t mean nothing then my life don’t mean nothing. I had sense enough to see that. A lot of people can’t see that. I can’t let him die and let the flag lay there. I was the closest one to it. I didn’t even think about it. I just picked it up and carried it right up to the day I got discharged. December 4, 1945. I got out the army and went and saw Joe Mott’s mother. She live down in Georgia. I went down there and saw her. Walking down the street a white fellow stopped me. Reached up and tore my flag off my coat. Told me I ain’t had no right to walk around with an American flag. I hope they let you keep yours.”

The American flag is a symbol of freedom. It has been equated with freedom since it first waved its colors in 1776, during America’s Revolutionary War against Britain. It has continued to wave for freedom, war after war, inspiring patriotism and valor in the men who fought for its right to wave. But for whom does it represent freedom? Through his Radio Golf character, Old Joe, August Wilson makes a social commentary on the inequalities the black man still suffers, in spite of being part of the human race.

For Old Joe, the enemy holds a different flag. He saw himself an integral citizen of the United States, fighting for his country that his flag represented. That flag was the reason he was fighting, and was the reason his fellow countrymen stood alongside him. He knew that if the flag fell, he would be fighting a meaningless war. It would not be a war between nations, but a war amongst men. He knew that in war, no man was more important than the other, no life had more meaning than any other—they all fought for the same cause. And besides that, death was colorblind. He had to carry that flag so that he could carry on with the war, so that his fight had reason and the lives of every man who died for that flag were not lost in vain.

December 4, 1945, the day the Senate approved the U.S.’s participation in the United Nations, Old Joe was dismissed from the army back into the real world. A world of hatred, ignorance, and racial discrimination greeted him with hostility. In 1945 Georgia, he was now just a black man. America was not colorblind. He had fought for the freedom of his country but was not allowed to sit in the same theatre as some of his fellow soldiers. He fought for the freedom of his country but was not allowed to venture wherever he pleased. He was not free. He was a slave to discrimination and ignorance, being stripped of his pride and basic human rights when he was stripped of the flag he had carried into battle.

Although the United States has made great advancement since the 1940s and 50s, August Wilson still saw unjustness. It had already demolished the homes of many African-Americans in the Hill District for the new Civic Arena. Did their rights to their homes not matter? When would Pittsburgh be ready for a black mayor? Who qualifies for freedom? These are problems that the Hill is still currently addressing. Old Joe’s monologue is one that speaks of resentment, but sees equality in all human beings. It seeks to eradicate racism in search for equality and freedom. August Wilson skillfully makes a statement that resonates across communities and cultures, hoping to invoke change.


Photo Credit: http://historicaldilettante.blogspot.com/2012/08/things-that-arent-there-any-more-lower.html