Overcoming adversity in 2018
Typically, the holiday message from a community foundation’s leaders reports on the good that has come from its family of donors and grantees, and it celebrates all the ways in which life in the Pittsburgh region has been made better, especially for those who need it most.
But there is no getting around it: this has been a very tough year for Pittsburgh. Our spirits have been challenged repeatedly by adversity.
Eleven dead and six wounded in an attack on a synagogue in Squirrel Hill; a fractious mid-term election blotted nationally by package bombs and charges of voter suppression; an African American high school student shot in the back and killed despite being unarmed while fleeing police; a devastating grand jury report that found priests from six area Catholic dioceses had sexually abused children; the brutality of our regional opioid crisis brought home by the death of an internationally famous rapper; the struggles of Allegheny County communities hit hard by flooding; and increased worries over climate change.
Our point in running this list is not to send you into a holiday depression. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
In a year strained by man-made and natural calamities, Pittsburghers confronted, overcame and uplifted. They doubled down in giving their time and treasure to those in need. Residents tuned out divisive political and cultural background noise to commit intentional acts of kindness, courage and civic duty.
As binders of wounds and comforters of broken hearts, residents validated renowned historian and author David McCullough’s description of the Pittsburgh character: “. . .the natural friendliness, the pride taken in work, the dislike of hypocrisy and the willingness to respond quickly and quietly to a neighbor in need. Innovation, ingenuity, determination and humor are freely shared to get through adversity.”
Here are a few examples of the Pittsburgh Character that shone brightly in the dark periods of this year:
March 24: 30,000 people participated in March for Our Lives Pittsburgh, one of many city satellite rallies against gun violence across the country that coincided with the national event in Washington. The protests were planned by student survivors of the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. in which 14 students and three teachers were killed. Cory Stinedurf, 28, of Youngwood attended the rally with 15 Westmoreland County residents ranging in age from 14 to 70. He described it as a nonpartisan national youth movement with ". . . so many strong future leaders speaking for the change that my generation and the generation above me failed to bring them," he told the Tribune-Review.
July 5: Flash flooding damaged 400 homes in the Millvale area and dozens more in Etna, Sharpsburg, O’Hara and Fox Chapel. But within hours, nonprofit relief organizations were out in force with volunteers. Staffs from North Hills Community Outreach and St. Margaret’s Foundation provided cleaning supplies, non-perishable food, toiletries and gift cards, and members of Team Rubicon, a veteran-based nonprofit specializing in disaster relief, set up a command post.
July 12: less than a month after 17-year-old Antwon Rose was shot to death fleeing an East Pittsburgh police officer, after a series of public protests drew hundreds, and after the officer was charged in his death, neighbors in his home community of Rankin came together to celebrate what would have been Rose’s 18th birthday. “We’ve asked people not to protest,” Nathanial Carter, a pastor and community organizer told NEXTpittsburgh. “Just come and celebrate his life. Celebrate being together.”
Sept. 7: Pittsburgh native and internationally famous rapper Malcolm “Mac Miller” McCormick died at age 26 in his Los Angeles home. Following his death, his family established the Mac Miller Circles Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation with the goal of providing programming, resources and opportunities to youth from underserved communities and enabling them to explore community building and the arts. In announcing a benefit concert held in Los Angeles in October for the fund, McCormick’s mother, Karen Meyers, thanked his fans and fellow music artists. “He was caring and loving. . . with a smile that could light up the sky and a soul that was out to make the world a kinder place, and the Circles Fund will continue to do just that.”
Oct. 27: In response to the horrific shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue, millions of dollars were raised; celebrities, politicians and religious leaders offered condolences and made personal visits. Outside of the spotlight, though, was the art activism project undertaken by a Facebook group, Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh. Members crafted more than 2,000 Stars of David – crocheted, leather-sewn, knitted and embroidered – fitted with hearts in the middle and hung by a team of 40 volunteers in locations across the city.
Nov. 7: Despite one of the most mean-spirited and polarizing mid-term election seasons in modern history, at least 100 million American voters went to the polls, the highest turnout for a mid-term in more than a century. In Allegheny County, 58 percent of registered voters cast ballots, 18 points higher than for 2014. And youth voting surged past 2014 numbers: three times higher at the University of Pittsburgh and four times higher at Penn State’s main campus.
Dec. 3: Each year at the beginning of the holiday period, we at The Pittsburgh Foundation offer a giving opportunity exclusive to donors who have established funds with us. It is presented as “The Wish Book,” a 63-page catalogue that uses stories and photographs to feature 75 nonprofits chosen through a competitive process to list a “wish.” These can be fulfilled completely or partially by donors through grants ranging from a few hundred dollars to a maximum of $2,500. Joan Klein, who established with her late husband the Robert F. and Joan Marie Klein Fund in 2010, had focused on animals and faith-based institutions for donations – until she opened her Wish Book. She tells us she read every wish description, and was so moved, she granted $55,000 to ensure any unfilled wishes are fully funded. “When it comes down to it, we have to help as many people as we can in this world,” she told us.
In his brief remarks at a cold and rain-soaked rally for peace in Point State Park on Nov. 9, the actor Tom Hanks was referring to people like Joan Klein who demonstrate Pittsburgh character in trying times: “In these past weeks, America, and the world, has been a visitor to your Iron City. Pittsburgh has shown us what does come next [after times of struggle] – what good comes when the people of [the] Allegheny and the Monongahela show that they love their neighbors with no exceptions.”
We thank all of you – donors, grantees, board and staff – who give our Foundation its Pittsburgh character each day, and we wish everyone in the region we serve a wonderful and peaceful holiday season.
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