After decades of hard work from countless community partners, we are proud to say that East Liberty’s community plans are close to full realization. It has been a challenging and rewarding road, and we are grateful for all the lessons we have learned along the way. As East Liberty enters a new phase, we believe it is time for us to expand our scope at ELDI. To best serve the community, we are recognizing that our expertise and energy is best focused on making more homes in the area available for homeownership and by sharing our lessons learned with other Pittsburgh neighborhoods—so that they too can realize their visions of community justice. This means that we will be transitioning some of our community planning and development duties to a new organization called the Village Collaborative of East Liberty.
What is the Village Collaborative of East Liberty?
This group was founded in 2018 by representatives from three East Liberty churches (Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, and Kingdom Light Ministries International) with support from the HELP Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group advocating for mixed-use, resident-driven development in the East End. The Village Collaborative was created to engage more community members, particularly East Liberty’s faith-based community, in the equitable development of the neighborhood. With strong roots in the neighborhood and a passionate interest in its members, we are confident that it is the ideal entity to shepherd future development.
As of November 2021, the collaborative is now the Registered Community Organization (RCO) for East Liberty. RCOs are an official designation granted by the City of Pittsburgh to community groups that ensures their formal role in current development projects and neighborhood planning processes. As such, the Village Collaborative will take a leading role in guiding and shaping the future of the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean we are going anywhere at ELDI. We will still be as busy as ever serving the needs of East Liberty and surrounding areas, but it does mean that, over time, the Village Collaborative will assume the duties of East Liberty’s Community Planning Committee, counseling developers, businesses, and individuals who want to come into the neighborhood on their plans. They will also create strategic community planning documents in partnership with residents, community groups, and the business community to outline new visions for the neighborhood. For the time being, ELDI will serve as the collaborative’s partner, helping them learn the ropes and ensuring they have everything they need to succeed.
To learn more about East Liberty’s new RCO, we sat down with Pastor Darryl Canady, senior pastor at Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church in East Liberty and the president of the Village Collaborative of East Liberty. Discover what this change means for the neighborhood, including the collaborative’s main priority areas and what they see as the key to successful community development in East Liberty moving forward.
Why was the Village Collaborative of East Liberty founded?
Back in the spring of 2018, representatives from Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, and Kingdom Light Ministries International came together as the founding organizations of the collaborative. We met to mark the beginning of a joint effort to increase faith-based community engagement in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood. In the African American community in particular the church plays a major role. It is a place where we can gather. The civil rights movement and a lot of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded in churches. Oftentimes, the pastor did not work for people outside of the church, therefore, he could stand up to injustices and not have to worry about losing his job—not saying that he might not lose his life—but he wouldn’t have to worry about losing his job. So, in our communities, the church is a main go-to. That’s why we wanted to join forces with the City to help people who have been displaced, people who are voiceless, and those who do not have a seat at the table.
What are the main goals of the Village Collaborative of East Liberty?
Pittsburgh brags about being the most livable city for all, but livable for who? What we want to do is to achieve outcomes that will enhance the life experiences of all East Liberty residents, organizations, and businesses, as well as align the talents, skills, and resources of the faith-based organizations in the East Liberty community. We want to be actively involved in everything that’s going on with our members and with members of our community. My church has been in East Liberty for over 135 years, so we have a vested interest in what takes place in the neighborhood, as well as the other churches and organizations that are part of this community.
Can you talk about the Village Collaborative’s transition into becoming East Liberty’s RCO and what that means for the collaborative?
ELDI has made a major impact—Maelene and her staff have worked some miracles, taking East Liberty from blight to where it is today. Now that they have completed that aspect of their mission, they are transitioning to do other things. We feel that our work will supplement the great work of ELDI. The community plan that ELDI created with the assistance of community residents was completed in 2020, so we will supplement that plan with a strategic community planning document that will outline the vision for the next few years for East Liberty. As the RCO, we are committed to continuously engaging diverse sectors of the East Liberty community to ensure diverse perspectives are surfaced and reconciled. We really want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, but we want to stand on the shoulders of what ELDI has done. We are not here to try to reinvent the wheel, but I believe that we can build upon it and take it further.
“Maelene and her staff have mentored us as we’ve grown in preparation for the RCO role. However, ELDI will be a solid partner to help us stay focused on our mission.”
What will that look like in practice? Will developers now come to the Village Collaborative for input?
Absolutely. We have monthly meetings, and developers and others in the community have to come to us. ELDI has employed professional community development, whereas we are a group of committed volunteers. Maelene and her staff have mentored us as we’ve grown in preparation for the RCO role. However, ELDI will be a solid partner to help us stay focused on our mission. That’s what I really like about our partnership. It’s not that they just handed it all over, or we just took over. We want to keep them involved as much as possible, to gain their expertise and connections, and to know how to do it, because this is new for all of us. Some of the people who are trying to come into East Liberty might not be used to this format, but we believe that it will help them get a better understanding of what’s going on in the community, instead of just being an outsider without any involvement or social responsibility.
What perspective do the collaborative’s faith-based roots bring to the organization?
For me, “faith-based” is more than just spiritual. It’s more than just Sunday. At my church, for instance, we believe in taking a holistic approach based on six pillars: spiritual, of course, but also physical, recreational, educational, social, economic and employment, and health and wellness. We believe that if a person has those six areas of their lives in order, then they can live. They can live the American dream. They can live the dream here in East Liberty, and they can help the City become the most livable for all its residents.
How is the Village Collaborative related to the HELP initiative and how do the two organizations work together?
Our consultants in this work have been Pam Collier and Ron Porter, who are representatives of the HELP initiative. They have supported our efforts since our founding, helping us create our bylaws and assisting with creating an organizational structure. They are partners in the work that we do. They have really been the ones who have connected us with the various entities throughout the City, including the URA, the mayor’s office, city council, as well as all the developers that are coming into the area. We will continue to work with the HELP initiative to solidify our RCO standing as well as the other things that we want to try and do in the community.
“East Liberty has been built up, but there are some other communities around us that are waiting to be built up, and we want to be able to use our collective successes to help each other do that.”
Now that East Liberty’s community plans are coming close to full realization, what will be the main priority areas that the collaborative will be addressing in East Liberty?
- We are very passionate about continuing equitable development in East Liberty.
That’s one of the challenges. It is fertile ground, so a lot of people want to be here. We want to intentionally create a space for people who are normally not vocal and not able to sit at the table when the decisions are being made. We are trying to get on the front end, recognizing of course, that with such a diverse group of people you’re not going to please everybody.
- We also want to make sure that we will have mixed-use affordable housing, with emphasis on the mixed-use part.
It’s important that people from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds can live in the same community. We don’t want to isolate the elite or isolate people who live in poverty. I believe that people who do have can learn a lot from people who don’t have, and people who don’t have can learn a lot from those who do have. If we can bring people together, then the rising tide will lift all boats.
- One last aspect we will focus on is workforce development.
Pittsburgh has done a great job of reinventing itself from a steel town to now being known for education, medicine, and technology. However, there’s a large segment of the population who are not involved. I go to meetings all the time with different corporate sectors, and they say that they have the jobs available, but we don’t have the workforce that’s prepared. According to a recent ACT STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Survey, 40 percent of Pennsylvania students display STEM college/career readiness, but only 10 percent of African American students possess STEM college/career readiness skills. So, one of the things that we want to do with the Village Collaborative of East Liberty, as well as with our churches and various other institutions, is to be able to provide workforce development opportunities, so that businesses coming into East Liberty will be able to hire some of the residents and people of color. To that end, we recently started a school for boys centered around STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) education at my church. We believe that a STEAM-focused curriculum will equip students with the academic skills to compete globally in the 21st-century job market.
What do you think will be key to successful community development in East Liberty and surrounding neighborhoods moving forward?
We have to be able to come together across neighborhoods and communities. We want to make sure that we can connect the East End—East Liberty, Homewood, Larimer, the East Hills, Lincoln-Lemington, Highland Park, Garfield, and others—to convene and identify common challenges as well as opportunities. East Liberty has been built up, but there are some other communities around us that are waiting to be built up, and we want to be able to use our collective successes to help each other do that. That’s why we will be focused on ensuring our outreach extends beyond the borders of East Liberty so that we get people out of their silos. With the Village Collaborative, we realize that we cannot do this alone.