Vincentian is honoring Black History Month 2021 by taking a look at some of the notable Black Pittsburghers whose influence is making a difference today. Plus, we’ve included a list of Black history events happening this month in our area!
Jessica Brooks – Co-founder of EARN
A resident of East Liberty, Jessica Brooks is CEO and executive director of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health. She also is a co-founder of the new Pittsburgh-based group, called Executive Action & Response Network (EARN). Launched by a group of Black business executives, EARN is calling on calling on CEOs of corporations, academia and nonprofits to emphasize the recruitment and hiring of African American executives for C-suite and top executive roles and to expand bias and cultural sensitivity training.
Janel Young – Artist
Pittsburgh-based artist Janel Young designed Yahoo’s 2021 Black History Month logo as part of Yahoo’s “Make Space for Black Voices” campaign featuring a video series, livestream events, and spotlights on Black-owned businesses.
Young is currently the artist in residence at the UrbanKind Institute, which helps under-served Pittsburgh communities. In 2019, she created the “Home Court Advantage Project,” where she painted a design on the McKinley Park basketball court in Beltzhoover, where she grew up.
Deesha Philyaw – American author
Pittsburgh-based author Deesha Philyaw is an author, columnist, and public speaker. Her debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, a finalist for The Story Prize (2020/2021), and longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The nine stories in The Secret Lives of Church Ladies feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.
She also is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband.
Read more about Philyaw and her career.
Damon Young – Writer, critic, humorist, satirist, and professional black person
Born in Pittsburgh in 1979, Damon Young is the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com and one of the most read writers on race and culture. In 2019, he released his first book, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the absurdities and anxieties of being Black in America.
Charlie Batch – Football quarterback
In addition to his career as a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh native Charlie Batch founded the Best of the Batch Foundation to provide year-round educational programming to children in western Pennsylvania. The programs provide kids with a place to go, an ear to listen, and the guidance to help them see and work toward the greater potential in themselves.
Black History Events Around Pittsburgh
Here are a few of the events in Pittsburgh that celebrate Black History Month:
- August Wilson African American Cultural Center is presenting a month-long focus on “Pittsburgh’s Black Art Scene: Past, Present and Future.” For more details, visit aacc-awc.org/events.
- Heinz History Center has curated a series of free virtual programs featuring talks, screenings, exhibitions, including:
- Thursday, Feb. 11: “The Bonds of Family and Legacy,” an exploration of the Black family
- Friday, Feb. 12: “(Re)Making History: Memory, Mythmaking, and the Civil Rights Movement”
- From Slavery to Freedom exhibit, which explores more than 250 years of African American history in Western Pennsylvania.
For more information and to register for events, visit heinzhistorycenter.org/events
- Arcade Comedy Theater will present a virtual staged reading series and a stand-up comedy roast, as well as storytelling, improv, and sketch shows. All programming will be available for free on Arcade’s website and YouTube channel.