by Soleil Meade
Neighborhood Allies and the Homewood Community Development Collaborative presented a strong message in their RFP, a branding and messaging campaign that would call Homewood to be recognized and reinvigorated as an African American cultural destination, a community that celebrates the neighborhood assets and pride with a focus on retaining and uplifting long-term residents. This request couldn’t merely be responded to with a list of deliverables nor the normal response for rebranding like a website and marketing materials. This project called for connection, passion, and service for the community, especially the black community.
When asked why this project was important to the project managers, Soleil and Sadik, here is how they responded:
“In life, we are only given a handful of opportunities to make a monumental difference in the lives of those around us, especially considering the countless instances where the ambitions of the few seem to overpower the sustainability and balance of the communities that we love, live and serve. I am invested in this project because in communities across Pittsburgh, this experience is no anomaly, and for many, the loss of a school is swiftly followed by the loss of homes, businesses, places of worship, and identity. I want to lead the charge for the preservation of Homewood through its timeless history, innovation, stories, and people in order to cultivate a fresh, polished, and authentic image to a community that has been left severely unattended but is in the midst of an incredible transformation. As my home away from home, I spend considerable time in Homewood visiting my in-laws, supporting the events of fellow business owners, and catching up with friends from school, while experiencing the world in which their lives and families are so deeply rooted. Growing up across town in Beltzhoover (another community that has also been neglected for the better part of the last 30 years), I see the potential in this opportunity to show the City of Pittsburgh and the country at large, the value that still lies within our incredible communities. These hubs of culture, character, creativity, and potential merely need a new window through which the world can admire the great prosperity and sustainability that sits on the horizon.” Sadik Roberts - founder of Pyramid PGH LLC
“I know what it feels like when someone looks past your potential and accomplishments just because of where you’re from. I have been found numerous times defending my hometown because all people see is the negative news the media portrays, never concerned let alone aware of what positivity and greatness are within the city walls. Born and raised in Mckeesport, I connect with Homewood where were viewed merely by the poverty, crime, and other disproportionalities served to residents as opposed to the rich history and potential promising future. As a black business owner and one who has defied the stigma and stereotypes ascribed, this project serves as an opportunity to reframe perceptions, shift the narrative, and highlight the positivity that lives within the city of Homewood. When I think of Homewood, I think of a strong community of servant leaders who execute vision precisely yet always leave a footprint in the community along with a light to lead others to similar success. From my lens, this campaign not only elevates Homewood in the light they deserve but also has the power to encourage and empower others to shift the narrative in their own city. It’s truly a win for all of us, history and future we can all delight in celebrating.”
The Vision/ Creation Process
Just 5 days before the RFP was released, we met to discuss working together. The scope of work changed quickly after we both received the RFP from Neighborhood Allies. Given the synergy and excitement we shared during our initial meeting, we knew joining forces and applying for this RFP would be a great move. The creation process was intense yet a creative storm. We met multiple times to dissect the RFP, step into the shoes of residents and stakeholders and imagine what would get them excited, make them feel heard and recognized as the drivers of the vision. We allowed ourselves to dream big, even beyond the scope within the RFP, into the possibility of phase 2 and continued pulse of excitement, hope, commitment, and dedication leading this vision even beyond our contract terms. Every meeting, text exchange, email, and phone call surged with this vibrant energy and excitement. Although we were unaware of the other firms also applying, we felt we had an edge that would set us apart… that edge was our passion for the black community! We understood the privilege that we had before us, to be able to stand confidently and intentionally shift the narrative for a deserving community.
Working Through A Pandemic
We were thrilled when we got the news that we were chosen! We were ready to get to work and watch the vision come to life. We started immediately by planning a press release to invite the community and media to learn about the plan. The community packed out the conference room at the Homewood library and came with their feedback, questions, and concerns. We distinctly remember the numerous conversations and connections made with various residents at the close of the press release--they were engaged, eager to see this change, and maskless because we began this pre-pandemic process.
It was just a week after the press release that the novel Coronavirus shut down our lives. We had plans to heavily engage the community by visiting the senior care plazas, churches, non-profits, and businesses as well as launching a door-knocking campaign. We were excited to have these moments over coffee at Everyday Cafe where we’re lost in a Homewood native’s reflections of the past and hope for the future. Quickly yet strategically we had to shift gears and find various ways to engage with residents. Our community engagement phase was up and due to COVID, we couldn’t even execute our plan. Just like so many of us adjusted to work for home plans, virtual meetings, etc. we decided to do the same. We connected with Westinghouse to launch an Essay Contest for students giving them some incentive while they were adjusting to homeschooling and allowing us to tap into the voice of the youth. It was a great project. We came across two impressionable young men, Nelson Morris and Sean Russell, who wanted to see Homewood more unified and as a new black wall street. During this time the community survey was launched and mailer had been sent out in place of door-knocking to reach residents for input. It was challenging trying to stay sane and safe during the pandemic yet execute the deliverables for the project. After completing our community engagement phase, in our hearts, we were ready to go and start visually embodying the community voice. We were ready to work with the artwalk team and selected artists to paint murals, the banner team to select the honorees and design of the banner, the Lighthouse Project to create our audio soundtrack, the community influencers to interview with our media team for the docs-short but all of that was put on hold while the restrictions were in play. Slowly we began to gain momentum as our first mural went up at the Oasis Farm & Fishery. From there things started to move more fluidly - more murals went up, community influencers felt more comfortable to meet and interview with our media team, video and photography footage for the docu-short emerged as more people were bustling about the community, and interest in The Homewood Experience was buzzing. In spite of a pandemic, we were making it happen and even folding in key memories into the vision like honoring essential workers. Our team made the most of it every step of the way.
Delivering on Our Promise
Due to the pandemic, a 7-8 month project has now turned into almost 2 years but we’ve been able to deliver on our promise! For Black History Month in February, we began to introduce the Homewood Experience to the community through a robust social media campaign. It filled us up to be able to unveil the work to date with a fresh website, Homewood is Home audio soundtrack, several completed mural projects, introduction to the Walk of Fame, and our community influencers. We reignited the interest and excitement of the community and we’re thrilled to finally have reached a culminating point where we can gather and collectively take in the mark “The Homewood Experience” is leaving in Homewood. It is our hope that the community will carry this vision in their hearts and spirits and continue this work. We have been honored to bring their vision to life and hope to see more of what they envision like gardens, a vibrant and full business district, kids playing freely and safely, and most importantly a place that will always be HOME.