In summer 2020, Pittsburgh City Council approved, and former Mayor Bill Peduto signed into existence, the Commission on Racial Equity. According to the city code, the commission was meant to provide support for “reducing institutional racism and increasing racial equity in the City of Pittsburgh.”

But the commission and its members never met.

Jam Hammond, one of the appointed commission members and director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, said the city needs to evaluate whether it is needed or not.

“Is the racial equity commission the right vehicle to promote racial equity in the City of Pittsburgh? If it is, then we should be more active,” Hammond told PublicSource. “If it isn’t, then we should maybe be a little bit more transparent with the public and say, this looked like it was going to work, but we have some other ideas.”

The Commission on Racial Equity arose out of a landmark evaluation of the city’s disparities.

According to a 2019 gender equity report by the University of Pittsburgh, 40% of Pittsburgh’s Black adult women lived in poverty, compared to 27% of Black men and 8% for white men. 

The following year, councilmen Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle introduced legislation creating the commission as one of two bills that also included a 10-point plan in which according to city code, the city “commits to eliminate race-based disparities.”

Pittsburgh City Council members R. Daniel Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess (left to right) stand together at a press conference in Larimer on Oct. 14, 2020. Lavelle and Burgess were sponsors of the bill creating the Commission on Racial Equity. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

“I’m hoping maybe now in 2020 this is our time,” Burgess told TribLIVE.com then. “This is the time that we move forward as a city to begin to say that Black Pittsburgh matters. Four hundred years and we still have these inequities. Four hundred years and we see this pain. Now moving forward I will endeavor to take the first step toward harmony and take the first step toward reconciliation.”

PublicSource requested comment regarding the commission’s inactivity from Burgess and Lavelle, but they were not responsive. 

The commission has seven appointed members but most of them no longer meet the requirements to stay on.

The commission was meant to be filled with members meeting the following criteria:

  • Chief equity officer of the city
  • Two members of city council whose districts have large numbers of racial minorities 
  • One Allegheny County Council member whose district has a large number of racial minorities
  • One member of the state House of Representatives
  • A representative of the office of the U.S. House member whose district contains the largest part of the city’s population
  • Executive director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations.

“As it stands now, a lot of the members who were named would no longer be eligible to serve on the commission, given their new roles, since seats were fairly strictly defined,” said Maria Montaño, Mayor Ed Gainey’s press secretary.

For instance, Jake Wheatley was named to the commission as a state House member, but is now the mayor’s chief of staff.

Montaño added that the Gainey administration is considering phasing out the chief equity officer position from city government. The administration’s proposed 2023 operating budget eliminates funding for that position, though it creates a new inclusion, diversity, equity and access manager.

“Our vision from the previous administration, and their idea of equity is considerably different,” Montaño said.  “So our budget — and I think there’s been a variety of conversations around this —  it doesn’t have a specific one office, sort of one director of equity for the city.”

What happens next in Pittsburgh’s quest for equity?

Montaño said the administration had noticed that the Commission on Racial Equity was inactive and never met but added that they are still evaluating the panel’s future.

According to Montaño, the mayor’s office is hoping to improve equity in other ways, like meeting with Black mayors from across the region and forming a group of Black female leaders to address issues that Black women face in the region.

Miracle Jones is the director of policy and advocacy at 1Hood Media Academy. (Courtesy photo by Emmai Aliquiva)

“The administration’s vision is, equity and justice work isn’t the responsibility of one person or one office but all 3,300-plus members of the city workforce. So we’re really focusing on what we need to do to make equity something citywide,” said Montaño.

Miracle Jones, 1Hood Media Academy’s director of advocacy and policy, hopes the Gainey administration will reactivate the commission but understands other issues might be involved.

“So I do think that the commission would be a good idea,” said Jones. “I understand that there’s budgets and everything, sometimes it’s difficult to have people meet. As you’re doing administration changes, people have to take time to get reacclimated to the new people who are now decision makers.”

Ladimir Garcia is a PublicSource editorial intern and he can be reached at ladimir@publicsource.org or on Twitter @TheLadimirGarci

This story was fact-checked by Terryaun Bell. 

Do you feel more informed?

Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.

Ladimir is a fall intern at PublicSource. He is a native of Beckley, West Virginia, and a senior at West Virginia University, studying toward a bachelor's degree in journalism with minors in political...