Opinion: Empowering and investing in Pittsburgh’s communities of color helps the entire city

Image of Pittsburgh skyline.

Image of Pittsburgh skyline. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Khamil Bailey

June 25, 2024

In this op-ed, Khamil Bailey highlights her work supporting Black entrepreneurs and emphasizes the need for financial support and public-private partnerships to build economic independence and political power for communities of color in Pittsburgh.

I saw the whole spectrum of the Black experience growing up in East Orange, New Jersey; I saw people do well and I saw people struggle. In 2005, I left the majority Black suburb to attend the University of Pittsburgh. It was a big adjustment I wasn’t prepared for. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, I immediately saw the systemic disenfranchisement of Black people in this city, including lack of Black professors on campus and leaders across the city. 

The only places I truly felt supported and where I could see myself building a life was in Black communities off of Pitt’s campus. Finding Black communities, I began to feel real community and solidarity. I saw another side of Pittsburgh – a side I truly felt supported by and one where I could see myself building a life. I had a background in entrepreneurship and realized my work could actually help improve the economic realities of this community I was coming to love.

After years away, I moved back to the city in 2012 with my partner and decided that if I was going to plant roots and build a family in Pittsburgh, I’d have to change the city for the better. I became even more intentional about my presence in Black communities and built connections across the city. 

I began the Black business directory Cocoapreneur and started curating financial literacy courses and training for Black Pittsburghers. I believed this essential public education could begin to fill gaps left by systemic inequities and barriers to entry. 

I met my cofounder in that process and we put our heads together to formalize our programming as an official nonprofit, the Greenwood Plan, working to support and fill gaps for Black business owners in the city. Last year, we signed a long-term lease on the building that houses Emerald City, a co-working space for Black entrepreneurs in the region.

Our model and approach to entrepreneurship and generational wealth building are new to the region. We’re giving Black business owners and innovators affordable retail space, something entirely new to Pittsburgh. There were only a handful of people who got our idea and understood what we were trying to do. About five organizations got behind us and gave us technical assistance to secure our building and support our entrepreneurs. We still struggle with traditional financial institutions for support because the model and return on investment are atypical. We hope it revolutionizes the region. 

The return on investment is more than just money. We’re in a region struggling to retain its population, its tax base, and residents of color. Our return on investment is not only keeping people here, but actually attracting and incentivizing people to move here. We want to prompt a comeback. Not only are we Black entrepreneurs, we’re women and we’re young. All of those things make financial institutions skeptical of us. 

Without this traditional financial support, we’ve relied on community and political support to continue gaining momentum and hopefully obtain more funding to scale up. We have had amazing support from our state representatives, and we were awarded $1 million from the Pennsylvania State Redevelopment grant. Governor Josh Shapiro has used our Emerald City space to have conversations with Black voters and to answer particularly tough questions. Representative Summer Lee has utilized Emerald City for many events too, further raising our profile. Public-private partnerships have been essential in getting our idea off the ground, but it’s just the start.

This public support and patronage is great for raising awareness of our work but we need further tangible financial support beyond word-of-mouth amplification. Leaders are beginning to realize that in order to improve the economics of the region, we have to improve the conditions and economic realities of the communities of color at the heart of this city. 

Our work is growing a diverse middle class in Pittsburgh and building a viable economic future for generations to come. Investing in and supporting initiatives like the Greenwood Plan and the communities we serve is a great place to start. By building economic independence for communities of color, we are also building political power to influence our city for the better. This is just the beginning of so much more.

Author

  • Khamil Bailey

    Khamil Bailey is the co-Founder and Executive Director of the Greenwood Plan, a Pittsburgh based non-profit focused on supporting the communal health of Black communities.

CATEGORIES: MONEY AND JOBS
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