Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Getting to Know You Hoping to Boost Our Diversity, Locals and Transplants Create Ways to Make New Arrivals Feel Welcome

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Getting to Know You Hoping to Boost Our Diversity, Locals and Transplants Create Ways to Make New Arrivals Feel Welcome

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh can be a hard town to break into.

Granted, it's not Vermont where one has to be third generation not to be considered a "flatlander."

Still, Pittsburgh can be one of those places where even the most gregarious of people who move here feel like newcomers after 15 years. For members of minority groups, it can be even harder to find a footing in the region if they don't have friends and family as social supports.

William Generett Jr., CEO of Urban Innovation 21 in the Hill District, has seen newcomers struggle. He said African American executives and professionals have taken jobs and moved their families to Pittsburgh, but then moved on or gone "back home" when they found it hard to break into the community.

Mr. Generett, a Pittsburgh native, left home to attend college, but came back after law school and starting a business in Atlanta. When he arrived, he still had family and a network of people he had known growing up.

Cheryl Hall-Russell, CEO of the Hill House Association, moved to Squirrel Hill in 2011.

Ten months into her tenure, she published an op-ed in the Post- Gazette about coming to town: "If you've not tried to integrate into Pittsburgh as a newcomer, I have to tell you that it isn't for the faint of heart. As friendly as Pittsburgh can be, it is also a city of relationships that outweigh almost everything," she wrote.

In a recent interview she said there are a lot of social groups and organizations that do good works, but membership in some of those groups goes back two and three generations. They are all friendly, nice and polite, but they do not think to bring new people in.

"Of the people I have been friends with in the last 18 months, 90 percent of them are not native Pittsburghers," she said. "The transplants are the people who say 'want to take a walk' or want to go out to lunch or dinner."

That's a small group of people.

Of the 1.2 million residents of Allegheny County, 80 percent were born in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Census. The numbers in the city of Pittsburgh are roughly the same, with 81 percent born in the state.

On top of that, just 13 percent of the population of Allegheny County is African American -- in Pittsburgh it is 26 percent. Asians make up 3 percent of the population of the county, 1.1 percent of the entire county population is Indian by race and just 0.7 percent of the population is Chinese.

That lack of diversity in the population, and the small black middle class, makes it hard to build a diverse community.

Or as Mr. Generett said, "Diversity begets diversity," meaning that, for instance, black professionals are more likely to move to an area where they can hang out with other black professionals.

When he lived in Washington, D.C., Mr. Generett, an attorney, said it was not uncommon to meet someone new in a coffee shop and wind up having drinks with them later in the week. …

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