The Glimpse: The scars of a fire on a community center

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Nadine Masagara-Taylor, executive director of The Corner, assesses the damage to the community center from a Jan. 12 fire with a restoration specialist. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Nadine Masagara-Taylor, executive director of The Corner, assesses the damage to the community center from a Jan. 12 fire with a restoration specialist. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Our photojournalists experience the city and the Greater Pittsburgh region in a unique way. They're regularly sent out on assignments to take portraits, cover protests, document public meetings and envision people and places we talk about in our stories. But they see so much more.

That's why we're launching The Glimpse. Each week, we'll present our best feature photos of the week. Some weeks there will be only one photo, sometimes more. It all depends on where our conversations and curiosities take us.

Take a moment to see the scenes that we’ve been able to capture this week, and let us know which one is your favorite.


Starting over after a fire

Nadine Masagara-Taylor, executive director of The Corner, standing in a room of the community center damaged by a Jan. 12 fire. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Nadine Masagara-Taylor, executive director of The Corner, standing in a room of the community center damaged by a Jan. 12 fire. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Nadine Masagara-Taylor stood outside of her fire-damaged building in West Oakland as I walked up to her Tuesday morning last week. Restoration service trucks were parked in the front and back.

Nadine, the executive director of The Corner community center in West Oakland, said nearby residents started hearing “loud explosive sounds” between 3:30 and 4 a.m. on Jan. 12.

“That was the transformers pretty much exploding,” she said. “And a power line, due to the heavy winds, landed on the roof of our building.”

The resulting fire caused extreme damage to the apartments on the second floor of the two-story building, which houses the community center on its first floor.

Fire and water damage caused the ceiling of one of The Corner’s storage areas to fall. (photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Fire and water damage caused the ceiling of one of The Corner’s storage areas to fall. (photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Desirea Pate was the only one in the building during the fire. Desirea recently moved into an apartment upstairs after she and her son Ny’Air were displaced by an Aug. 17 fire on De Ruad Street. Ny’Air was staying with family at the time of the fire.

Desirea and Ny’Air were moved to a hotel before moving into an apartment in the Hill District.

The community center itself suffered water, fire and smoke damage.

“This is definitely a big blow,” said Nadine. The center had been closed during a recently completed 18-month renovation. The Corner is a hub for art events, a place for youth to go study and a resource center for the neighborhood.

“It really hurt our progress of our community programming,” said Nadine. “But at the end of the day, you know, it’s all material items, and no one was hurt.”


'At the pace of health'

woman holding scroll

Pittsburgh resident Lisa Haabestad holds a scroll with a list of air quality complaints submitted by users of the Smell PGH app. The scroll stretched more than the length of main entry to the City-County Building, where the protest was held. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

At the heart of the debate Friday between air quality advocates and regulators: How fast can the Pittsburgh region clean up its air?

The advocates organized a protest of about 100 people outside the City-County Building on Grant Street Friday morning prior to a scheduled meeting of the Allegheny County Board of Health. 

About four times as many people showed up to the protest, which began at 11 a.m., than the number of people who showed up to a similar protest in November. One of the primary reasons for the larger crowd was the fact that the air quality over the holidays was, for the second year in a row, among the worst in the nation.

Environmentalist and filmmaker Mark Dixon unfurled his increasingly large scroll of air quality complaints from the Smell PGH app along with Lisa Haabestad. Dixon told the crowd: “We need our regulators to work at the pace of health — not at the pace that is convenient for U.S. Steel.”

man at podium speaking to board members

Environmentalist and filmmaker Mark Dixon participated in the protest and then attended the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting, where, among other matters, he called on the board to listen to citizens’ concerns about the air quality. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Several protesters walked a couple blocks away to monthly Board of Health meeting, and several interrupted to complain. “People are disgusted with this board,” one person said; another kept interrupting with questions until a security guard intervened.

“Clean air doesn’t happen now,” responded Jim Kelly, the deputy director of environmental health for the Allegheny County Health Department. “It doesn’t happen immediately.”

Kelly acknowledged the concerns of the crowd but said because “we are a nation of laws,”  it takes time. He unveiled a series of graphs that showed the amount of pollution across the county has been (largely) decreasing steadily for years, even though it’s still out of compliance. Kelly laid out plans to hire even more regulators and increase enforcement but said there was no magic wand to implement the changes immediately. 

The department did move much faster than last year: In 2019, it took two weeks for the department to acknowledge that a fire at Clairton Coke Works had destroyed pollution control equipment and months to fix the problem.

This year, the department announced a new plan on Jan. 2, within a week of this year’s holiday pollution problems: It plans to crack down with new limits on major industrial polluters when it anticipates bad weather that will prevent industrial pollution from dissipating.

woman laying down with mask

Plum Borough resident R. Neffshade, a member of Extinction Rebellion, demonstrates her frustration with the city’s air quality with a painted tombstone representing her death at the hands of the region’s polluted air. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Although air quality advocates have asked them to intervene during temperature inversions for years, they complained at the meeting that the department was “blaming the weather” for the problem rather than the polluters.

Rachel Fillipini, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, praised the department for its plan. But, she added, the regulations to address pollution during weather inversions already exist; they just haven’t been updated for 25 years.

During the Board of Health meeting, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald tweeted about the region’s air quality. He wrote: In the past 10 years, @Allegheny_Co industries have put out 88% less sulfur dioxide emissions, 50% less PM 2.5 emissions, and 80% less hazardous air pollutants. We have much further to go but we’ve made significant progress.”

Oliver Morrison is PublicSource’s environment and health reporter. He can be reached at oliver@publicsource.org or on Twitter @ORMorrison.


A resident's thoughts on firearms

Rich Murphy, a native Pittsburgher who lives in Bethel Park, sits along Fifth Avenue on Dec. 30, 2019 while his son stopped by the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office for a gun permit. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Rich Murphy, a native Pittsburgher who lives in Bethel Park, sits along Fifth Avenue on Dec. 30, 2019 while his son stopped by the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office for a gun permit. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Rich Murphy was waiting for his son on Fifth Avenue Downtown when I stopped for a conversation with him Monday morning. His son, who recently turned 21, was at the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office getting a license to carry a firearm.

A Pittsburgh native, Rich currently lives in Bethel Park and works for the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

“I don’t have many hobbies,” he said. “Just Downtown today with my son. He’s getting a gun permit.”

Because the family owns guns, Rich wanted to be sure that his son had the ability to handle them while being “safe and legal.”

“I don’t really fall too much on either [side] with the political part,” Rich said about the debate over gun control. “I do feel that you should have the right to bear arms.”

He hasn’t been in any situation where he said he felt “happy” to have his firearm. He said he views guns as a way to protect his family.

“I feel like I need to protect them,” he said, adding that he is less concerned with his own safety.
Rich summed up his views on gun ownership by saying he understands the importance of being able to own a firearm as well as the importance of the legal process to obtain a license.

“You should be able to get whatever gun legally,” Rich said. “Do I believe you should have to go through these kinds of processes? Yes.”


Catula's holiday adventure

Author Melissa Haas and Catula, a mostly hairless Cornish Rex cat, visit the display of gingerbread houses at Pittsburgh’s City-County Building on Dec. 20, 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Author Melissa Haas and Catula, a mostly hairless Cornish Rex cat, visit the display of gingerbread houses at Pittsburgh’s City-County Building on Dec. 20, 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Melissa Haas and her cat Catula were out admiring the holiday decorations in the City-County Building when I met them the Friday before Christmas.

“We wanted to see the gingerbread [houses] and put our Christmas sweaters on and just have a day,” Melissa said.

Catula, a mostly hairless Cornish Rex, got his name because of his uncanny resemblance to Dracula. He is a rescue animal from an organization in Rochester, New York.

Catula is also the main character in two illustrated children’s books. Melissa wrote the first book to submit to her writers group in Mt. Lebanon.

“It ended up being really fun,” she said. “I figured that even if I didn’t get it published, if I spent hundreds of hours drawing my cat, then that would be totally worth it.”

Melissa and Catula have since traveled to CatCon in California and visited schools to interact with children. The latest book is a retelling of “The Night Before Christmas.”

“The books are written for parents to read with their kids so they can do something that they’ll both enjoy together,” Melissa said.

Sporting a pair of Christmas-themed cat ears to complement the sweaters she and Catula wore, Melissa was all in with the holiday spirit.

“You’ve got to Christmas,” she said with a smile.


Behind the scenes

Keyada Kirkland (left) and Kianna Cameron, known as Ki+Kay on stage, performing at Spirit Sessions open mic at Spirit in Lawrenceville on Nov. 20, 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

This is a story of two Rust Belt musicians who serendipitously met in China. 

“I was teaching English in Japan,” Keyada Kirkland said.

“I was overseas doing a gig in China,” Kianna Cameron chimed in. Keyada “had a friend in China, so she came and we happened to meet.”

They are now together as not only a musical duo, but also as partners.

Kianna and Keyada, known on stage as Ki+Kay, hit the stage at a monthly open mic event on Wednesday evening at Spirit in Lawrenceville.

Keyada, a Pittsburgh native, played guitar alongside Kianna, originally from Ohio, who also sang vocals. 

“We just started making music,” Kianna said. “She expressed an interest in wanting to play guitar. I was like, ‘I play guitar obviously. I’ll teach you.’ And [Keyada is] a really awesome writer. That’s her thing. So we just found that bond.”

“We just work on music all the time, that’s what we do,” Keyada added.

The dynamic of sharing the stage as a band and as a couple helps to build their chemistry as musicians.

“Well, it’s a lot of bickering behind the scenes, obviously,” Keyada said, laughing. “But the thing is that we know exactly how each other thinks, so there’s no guessing.”

They’ve gotten their performances to a point where they can communicate nonverbally during a show.

“Music is medication … It’s not about anything except sharing the music,” Keyada said. “That’s all it’s about and sharing the best version of the art that we have."


'An extension of family'

Aliya Durham and her 13-year-old son, Deacon, talk at the "Black Families in the Fight" event on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Roughly 150 people attended the “Black Families in the Fight” event Wednesday evening about civil rights and community support, featuring Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson. 

There were noticeably few young people in the crowd, so when I spotted Aliya Durham and her son, 13-year-old Deacon, I wanted to know what drew them to the event held at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Aliya is an assistant professor and director of community engagement for the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work.

“I came to the event because raising a Black male in this day and age, I think it’s very important for him to hear scholarship from intellects like Dr. Dyson,” Aliya said.  “I think it’s important for him to see our community and members of our community coming together to talk about real issues that impact Black families.”

Though Deacon lives with both of his parents and attends private school, his mother said she wants him to understand the complexities and different struggles that other Black youth his age may encounter in life.

It’s different than his experience, but Aliya wants her son to understand “that doesn’t mean that other families are dysfunctional or that they’re any less important or valuable to the sustainability of our communities.”

The event did take place on a school night, and Deacon mentioned he had a science test to study for, but he also said he understands the importance of the discussion.

“I am looking forward to learning some things,” he said, “like how the older [generation] views racism and the stuff we’re dealing with today and how I can use that to help myself and gain an advantage.”

The event was time well spent in Aliya’s view:

“This is an extension of family. This is our village. We need for [Deacon] to hear and see people that are positively contributing to Black culture here in the city of Pittsburgh.”


The polls and a protest

Kumiko Yakicic and her 5-year-old son, Noah, outside a Pittsburgh polling station on Election Day 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Some Pittsburgh families made voting a family affair this week.

Kumiko Yakicic and her 5-year-old son, Noah, braved the rainy and cold weather on Tuesday morning to join husband and father, Dan, on his trip to the polls at the Lynn William Apartments near their neighborhood in Brighton Heights.

Kumiko is not eligible to vote because she is not a U.S. citizen. She would like to vote in the U.S. elections but because her family still lives in Japan, she decided to keep her Japanese citizenship. Still, she wanted to join her husband at the polls and bring their son along so he could gain an early experience of Election Day.

Jennie Canning and daughter, Cleo Joseph, 3, after Canning voted on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at the Lynn William Apartments polling station in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

The Yakicic family wasn’t the only one to go to the polls together. Jennie Canning brought her 3-year-old daughter, Cleo Joseph, to the Lynn William Apartments polling station as well. They flashed smiles from under the hoods of their raincoats as Cleo held up her voting stickers.

Melanie Meade spoke at a Nov. 6, 2019, rally for clean air in downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

On Wednesday at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh, the Group Against Smog and Pollution [GASP] held a protest, demanding action be taken to clean the air of the rotten egg smell that is especially strong in the Mon Valley. According to GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini, the 24-hour standard for hydrogen sulfide has been violated 37 times this year as recorded by an air monitor in the Mon Valley.

About a dozen people participated in the protest. Melanie Meade was one of them. She delivered an emotional speech about how her two sons have been affected by U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. She spoke about how Black children are more affected by asthma and other conditions that could be worsened by this year’s fires at the Clairton Coke Works and the resulting pollution. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that: “Black children are two times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma and four times as likely to die from asthma as White children.”

PublicSource reporter Oliver Morrison live-tweeted from the protest. Check out that tweet thread here.


Halloween, football & protests

Avery and Max Grubbs (foreground, left to right) out trick or treating with friends and family for Millvale's Trick or Treat on Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/ PublicSource)

Dozens of municipalities in Allegheny County postponed trick or treat times because of the forecast of widespread rain and damaging wind gusts Thursday evening. But most areas soldiered on, including Millvale where many little ghouls, wizards, superheroes and other fantastical creatures took to the streets.

Max and Avery Grubbs caught my attention as they peered into Scott’s Barber Shop on Grant Avenue. They were in awe over a rabbit in the front window. Chaperoned by their mother, Catie Grubbs, and joined by their friends, it was just a quick stop before seeking more candy to fill their bags.

Max dressed as Spider-Man for the evening with a Captain America shield attached to his arm. Avery donned a sparkly number and struck a pose the second she saw the camera. 

Nearby, the Millvale Community Library was decorated in cobwebs and a wall full of pumpkins. Its game section was the real attraction.

Owen, (pictured below) dressed as a Slytherin from the “Harry Potter” franchise, naturally gravitated to the Table Quidditch game, where you had to throw small balls through the hoops on the other side of the table. In the photo, Owen had just scored a goal and was looking toward his mother in celebration before going for another one.

The weather may have stopped a few from enjoying Halloween, but the eerie skies seemed only fitting for this spooky and eventful evening.

Owen, dressed as a Slytherin from the Harry Potter book series, plays Table Quidditch at Millvale Community Library's Halloween party on Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Two more feature photos from the past week and a half:

Ty Bray runs the Hill District Rebels youth football at Kennard Park in the Hill District. Bray, 33, started playing football at Kennard when he was 10, and as an adult, he started coaching. Four years ago, he became director. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Ty Bray was featured in a story as voters in the city of Pittsburgh are considering a tax increase to support area parks. The story explores how parks can improve the health of people and communities, but also skepticism over if parks should be a priority in a city with other pressing needs.

Native American elder Guy Jones. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

Native American elder Guy Jones co-led a water ceremony and rally under the charge, "Defend our water," at Point State Park on Oct. 23. The event was held leading up to President Donald Trump's appearance at the Shale Insight Conference.

“When you look at what’s happening in this country, especially in regards to corporations and their abuse of the resources … we are at that crucial point where we need to take action now,” Jones said. “If there’s going to be a future, something needs to be done.”

Jones is a Hunkpapa Lakota elder and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. To read the story about Trump's visit and what both his supporters and opponents had to say, go here.

Jay Manning is a visual storyteller and producer for PublicSource. He can be reached at jay@publicsource.org.

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