How is the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition Helping to Create Multicultural Communities?
Jan 30, 2015 04:05PM
By Jack Etzel
February is the shortest month of the year and celebrates groundhogs, valentines, grapefruits, Mardi Gras and more. On the more serious side, February also features Presidents’ Day, Veterans Day, and Black History Month. February is also an important month in our area as it is the anniversary of the founding of the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition, which was established 19 years ago in 1996. The organization is still active and fighting racism today, and is led by long-time activist and coalition president, Theresa Orlando.
North Hills Monthly Magazine (NHMM): Theresa, what does the coalition do?
Theresa Orlando: First, we identify instances or elements of racism in North Hills’ communities and neighborhoods. Racism can exist in schools or in school districts, police departments, businesses—anywhere. We address and respond to whatever incident, problem or attitude that occurs. Second, we continue to educate ourselves in terms of ‘white privilege.’ I use the term ‘white privilege’ because in one way or another, it is basically the fault of racism. We must always check ourselves as to how we continue to contribute to ongoing racism, and do whatever we can to eliminate or eradicate it in our communities, either programmatically or through personal contact. We want our communities to be diverse and to be allies with people of color.
NHMM: When you speak of neighborhoods and communities in the North Hills, you’re talking about one big and diverse area.
Theresa Orlando: That’s right. I think today it involves 11 or 12 different school districts. We started with North Allegheny School District in the mid-1990s, where some racial incidents were going on. At that first meeting, we were not much of an organization. Both black and white people met in the Northland Public Library, and it nearly overflowed with us. Some black families were talking about moving because of racism, but after that meeting, it became evident that we should stick together. The original problems at North Allegheny turned into subsequent meetings, which in turn, changed the curriculum. Big, important strides have been made because of an understanding and cooperative school board and faculty. That was the grassroots beginning of the coalition some 20 years ago, and we’re still at it today.
NHMM: Do you also go into workplaces, or have federal and state laws taken care of those problems?
Theresa Orlando: For many years, we worked hard to promote employment for people of color. Because of regulations and laws, it’s become somewhat better, but there’s another problem. Today’s transportation makes it very difficult; that’s especially true in the North Hills. How do you get to Ross Park Mall? Even here where I live in Glenshaw, I can’t get a bus. So, if I were to get a job out here, there would be no way to get to it, or pretty much any way to get anywhere, unless I had a car. North Hills isn’t transportation friendly.
NHMM: You deal with a lot of negative issues; can you tell us about some positive results?
Theresa Orlando: I’m going to correct you for using the word negative. The phrase “anti-racism” is not negative; it’s positive because it’s an action. To be ‘anti’ something that is wrong is to make it better.
But I know where you were going—you want to talk about our diversity awards, right? I think that we should be proud of not only facing and causing change whenever and wherever racism is rising up, but be more preemptive. Our diversity awards, which are not done on any schedule, are as important to us as to the recipient. The recipient could be one person or several, or an organization in the community that has demonstrated an effort toward this kind of anti-racism, or the promotion of diversity or promotion of minorities. Sometimes the award is presented in the wake of a company creating a diverse workforce, or to someone who has made a life commitment to working for peace. Over the years, I think that we have honored 11 recipients with our diversity awards.
NHMM: With everything that’s been in the news lately in Ferguson, Missouri, and in other places, do you believe that times have really changed?
Theresa Orlando: They have to some extent. It’s especially evident among our young people. But discrimination and racism continues, not only against African-Americans, but currently against more immigrants from more countries, cultures and religions.
NHMM: The coalition appears successful, but how is that success measured?
Theresa Orlando: It cannot be measured. That’s because you can’t see what is in people’s hearts.
To learn more about the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition, visit www.arc.northpgh.org or visit them on Facebook.