When Ervin Dyer arrived in Pittsburgh greater than 30 years in the past as a reporter on the Pittsburgh Publish-Gazette, he realized there have been many tales left untold in regards to the metropolis’s Black communities. As he started to inform them, he rapidly acknowledged the “spirit of independence” in communities like Hazelwood, East Liberty and the Hill District that pushed residents to combat for higher lives.
For instance, the Hill District, Pittsburgh’s oldest Black neighborhood, was as soon as referred to as “Little Hayti,” to align itself with the independence of Haiti in 1804.
“Within the Hill District, you see individuals combating for higher schooling and for having a say in what occurs of their neighborhood. That advocacy is a direct legacy of Haiti’s independence. It’s one thing Hill residents haven’t given up on,” Dyer stated.
Quick ahead to right now, and that very same spirit could be seen within the “communiversity” pilot sequence taught by Dyer and hosted by the College of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Center (CEC) in the Hill District.
“It offers Pitt a option to go to the individuals,” stated Dyer, an adjunct professor within the Kenneth P. Dietrich College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Africana Studies and senior editor within the Workplace of College Communications and Advertising and marketing. “We have been pondering of a approach the place the schooling and information generated at Pitt turns into a bridge to the neighborhood.”
The digital, six-part grasp class begins Jan. 27 and runs via early March, connecting college students in Dyer’s Pitt course, Introduction to Africana Research, with neighborhood members in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
It spans matters starting from historical Africa, the Center Passage and the lifetime of Frederick Douglass.
The roots of this system
The preliminary pilot of the sequence, held from September to October 2020, resulted in creativity and connections, Dyer stated, in addition to a starvation and thirst for information for members to be taught extra about themselves.
Madison Faizon, who’s pursuing majors in history and Africana research for her pre-law observe, attended the course within the fall 2020 semester due to her curiosity in social sciences and stated one huge takeaway was having the ability to perceive individuals from a customized perspective.
“It was extraordinarily enriching to listen to from individuals who have been doing work we have been studying about in the neighborhood,” she stated. “It provides a brand new dimension to the fabric we’re studying. Studying about narratives slightly than simply statistics is necessary in any discipline, however particularly in social sciences.”
Pittsburgh resident Jahqwahn Watson, who registered for the sequence within the fall as a neighborhood member, agreed. They work as a venture coordinator on the environmental justice group, Grounded Methods.
“There’s loads of shifting dynamics with households and revisionist historical past, so it’s necessary to look to elders and generations earlier than us, as a result of they’re dwelling archives,” Watson stated.
The community-university method itself has its origins in Pitt historical past. Hill District CEC director Kirk Holbrook met with Yolanda Covington-Ward, chair of Pitt’s Division of Africana Research, and the latter introduced up the thought of revamping a “floating college” mannequin the place residents and college students, school and workers can be taught collectively, aspect by aspect.
“When the Division of Africana Research was based after the student takeover of the computer center in 1969, the division was actually about making an attempt to be concerned in the neighborhood. In truth, it was a part of the mission,” Covington-Ward stated. “This ‘floating college’ idea was one thing the division did within the ’70s and ’80s, bringing experience from the division into the neighborhood.”
Covington-Ward stated via the brand new communiversity sequence, college students can see the actual implications and problems of historic occasions and the way modifications over the many years have affected communities.
It offers Pitt a option to go to the individuals. We have been pondering of a approach the place the schooling and information generated at Pitt turns into a bridge to the neighborhood.
“Bringing college students and neighborhood members collectively permits each to mutually profit,” she stated. “The neighborhood is ready to entry a set of expertise and experience that they maybe they didn’t have entry to, however on the identical time, the scholars profit from seeing past the classroom.”
Holbrook additionally met with Dyer to debate the latter’s course, which ties in thematically to a venture on Black Family Storytelling led by August Wilson Home, the place Dyer is a board member, and with whom the Hill District CEC partnered with in early 2020. This venture centered on gathering oral histories within the Hill District.
“August Wilson instructed tales of abnormal individuals, and he thought these tales had worth as a result of they linked Black tales to bigger world occasions, from battle to migration to political and social change,” Dyer stated. “I assumed the household storytelling that was occurring on the August Wilson Home might simply merge with what I used to be instructing at school.”
After the communiversity pilot program was given the go-ahead, Dyer recruited members of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation to steer a sequence of workshops on native matters comparable to family tree, analysis and multimedia. Federation members have been advocating for strengthening protection of native Black neighborhoods and amplifying voices of marginalized communities. Dyer beforehand served as president of the federation.
“Sitting in on a number of the courses, it was nice to see the wealth of knowledge shared by neighborhood members throughout the lifespan after which having dialogue with Pitt college students in Dr. Dyer’s class,” Holbrook stated. “That’s an ideal instance of one of many methods we hope to construct relationships via the CECs, bringing neighborhood and College side-by-side to be taught from and interact with each other.”
Organizers stated the communiversity sequence could also be held on a everlasting foundation, pending suggestions from this 12 months’s members and organizers.
“The Division of Africana Research, previously the Division of Black Research, has had such a wealthy historical past with the Hill District neighborhood. Dr. Barbara Sizemore, Vernell Lillie and Professor Rob Penny particularly, have been interwoven into the material of the neighborhood and had nice impacts on Black schooling and Black arts actions within the Hill District. They grew to become members of the neighborhood,” Holbrook stated. “Their involvement and that of the division years in the past is among the best examples of the longstanding College and neighborhood collaborations Pitt has had within the Hill. It’s a legacy and connection that we wish to revitalize via this new partnership with the CEC.”