Research Policy Analyst at the Pittsburgh Transportation Equity Project
Topics: empowerment, decision making, community
Interviewed by Joan Walker Scott — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
Q: I know you work with various organizations and you are doing lots of good work, so lets define and hone in on which organization we are talking about and which hat you are wearing with it. Then we will go into the first question which is I would like you to tell me the nature of the problem that you are working with?
A: My history is quite like you indicated. I have approximately seventeen years working with at-risk populations. Currently my project that I am working on now is a major shift to what I was doing, but serving the same population, which is transportation equity. Now I am serving as an advocate for African American and poor people and looking at the divergent dynamics associated with transportation across the country and then how it filters down from the ??? state to local government.
Q: Excellent. What is the organizational structure in which you are working?
A: I am the Research Policy Analyst and there is an executive director. Then we have what we call community organizers and also some volunteers that I train and send out to do work.
Q: Your title is again?
A: Research Policy Analyst.
Q: Research Policy Analyst. And what is the name of your organization?
A: The Pittsburgh Transportation Equity Project. PTEP
Q: Tell me a little bit about the nature of the social problems on which you work?
A: The nature of the social problems that we are impacting or looking at is there is a disproportionate process occurring in the African American community with regards to decision-making and power with regards to transportation equity. For example, in the Eastern corridor, which we are currently studying, which constitutes twelve communities that are all utilizing diesel fuel buses. If we do a comparative analysis to another corridor, which is primarily white, they have light rail. Now, previously to this white community getting light rail, the black community was promised light rail and they didn't get it. So years have passed since that promise was made and now Port Authority at this particular time is remaking it and saying the promise was never made with this discussion. One of the things that I am doing as a research analyst is looking at the environmental impacts of that kind of decision making process with regard to health and also in one regard for example in the Eastern corridor we have higher rates of asthma and cancer. We are looking at the contributory factors associated with these fuel admissions and carcinogens. I've asked people can if we can start a survey and research process looking at diesel fuel admissions and learning disabilities.
Q: If you were to define the work you were doing how would you define that? We are doing what kinds of work?
A: I think we are doing paradigm-shifting work. I think it is paradigm-shifting work that creates change agents that become empowered. And basically we are trying to use a format of informing the community, taking a pulse from the community based upon what they have been informed on and look at their knowledge base. And also provide them with what I would call digestible components of the problem through volunteer base and then a lot of them become saturated with information and become more active in the advocacy role; decision-making role and what have you. One of the things we do to create a window to gage where we are is we met with the power structure here and tried to define why they have not selected African American or minorities to their boards where they make decisions. They first indicated that there were not any qualified minorities to fit that role. What we did over a ninety-day period is that we sent out approximately twelve thousand one hundred and seventeen documents through out the community and selected approximately two thousand two hundred and forty-seven respondents to surveys that we instituted. We instituted three surveys. We focused on eighty-seven communities in our region. What we tried to do was to look at a recent polling that came out of the Post, which is a paper here, because one of the issues that we are currently confronting now would be cuts. We have cuts in this region, in Pittsburgh, actually in Pennsylvania when the new government came in and there was a new deficit. He began cutting the money at the federal level, which is impacting us at the local level. As a result of those cuts, Port Authority, who is our transit provider, is indicating that they plan on raising the fares and cutting routes. Our surveys basically tried to identify whether or not African Americans felt that raising the rates was appropriate. The survey also had African Americans analyze the current services that were currently being provided and had them articulate if the rates went up what would their decision be involving the use of public transportation.
Q: I hear then that you have multiple ??? if you will, that you are looking at transportation equity but you are also looking at empowering people who are being impacted?
Q: If you were to look at the various strategies that you are taking and you had to identify one particular focus would it be more of the empowerment aspect or would it be ??? the means?
A: Actually, what I think it would be is a combination of both and I have actually created a model called the DMM. The DMM stands for Decision Making Matrix. Basically it works to alleviate the disproportionate decision making process. I am saying that would should occur in theory and in practiceis whenever you enter into a region and decide to do any type of work socially, economic, and what have you, is that you should invite decision makers at the grassroots level which we call micro, at the self --help group and community group level, which we call meso, and at the systems level which we call micro. We would create a model that has that as a triangulation in it that you would invite statistically per percentage of people in a population those same population variants to the table. For example, if there are ten people being invited to a decision making table around how we are going to invest forty million dollars in this region and it reflects transportation equity and enhancements, then if we look at our corridor in that region and it's twenty percent African American, ten percent Latino, and seventy percent Caucasian, then we should have seven Europeans at the table, two African Americans, and one Asian or whatever. This is so that it would be proportionate and then doing so you would invite people to make up the strata, not just the higher end but also people at the questions level who can speak intelligently about the issues. So as they move into making decisions they will be making it from more of an informed decision making process. Hopefully they would be using consensus building as their apparatus in the decision making process.
Q: You have said a little bit about what your organization is seeking. If you were to protect the head and ideally you had accomplished what you want to accomplish what then would you say if I were to say what are you ultimately seeking? Is that a process or could we pick a snap shot of it?
A: We could definitely take a snap shot because in our strategic plan we are looking at a ten-year window. We are saying within a ten-year period we should be able to; educate people about their community, have them become active in the process, have them move up and understand the political process, and have them utilize our process to benefit them. One of the things we are doing to help jump start that process as a result of our initial analysis is for example in a recent election in Pittsburgh only ten percent of the black population voted. Therefore we saw right there that there is a disconnect with their understanding of policy and politics. A lot of disconnect is connecting to residual impacts from recent political decisions that get made in this region. I don't know how aware you are of what is going on here, but approximately five years ago the mayor decided that he thought we needed to have two new stadiums. He put out a referendum to get the support from the people and it was voted down. Yet, he went ahead and did the stadiums anyway. On the heels of that we also had the dynamic occur with the election of the President. Thus, minorities in particular in this region are disenfranchised with the political process and they have become apathetic with regards to their role in making policies and practices. So really looking at and analyzing how sometimes those things happen and educating them about that process and looking at what the outcomes are but also saying that we need to do something to jump start that. To do that what we have basically done is started a youth policy institute focusing on young people between the ages of fourteen and nineteen. We are taking them through a sixteen-week training apparatus and we are bringing in professionals from around the country to train them in policy and practice. At the end of this month, September 26 through the 29, we will be taking those young people to Washington to lobby. What we are trying to do is to respond to another dynamic that is taking place in Pittsburgh, which is the exodus of young people. What we are saying is do these practices both through Pittsburgh Transportation Equity Project and the Youth Policy Institute, create a community that cares about themselves, is informed about it's power, utilizes it's power, and acts in ???in accord with regard to community issues? If we took a snap shot that is what we would hope to see in the end.
Q: Where are you in the ten-year time frame that you are predicting?
A: We just finished year one.
Q: You are just getting started?
A: Yes, and one of our funders after she saw what we were putting together said, "What is your plan?" And we said, "This is what we see. We see ourselves as a project, not as an organization because at the end of that time we hope our efforts have created a synergy for the community to respond and to become responsible for their own actions."
Q: You have told me something about what your organization does, but what is unique about your organization?
A: What is unique about our organization is that and we need to check this, but so far we have been told that we are the only African American advocacy group in this region, in Pittsburgh. So we are the first of it's kind. Secondly, we are using the environmental justice movement as the construct to couch our argument. It is not just looking at it through discriminatory practices that maybe tossed under civil rights legislation but rather more we are looking at the fair housing act, it's looking at the civil rights legislation, it's looking at economic impacts, it's looking at environmental impacts that we are looking at as a problem holistically. And we are also looking at how governmental entities play a role in dismantling discriminatory practices.
Q: That is excellent. Can you tell me has your organization even though you are just getting started, has your project had successes and achievements already, that you are particularly proud of and can you talk about that a little bit?
A: Yes. I think that first of all the fact that we are making other people nervous is a success. We are on somebody's radar screen. The second thing is that we got in the face with the community and there is a sense from the community to gage us on our authenticity. I think that is a success because it means that our public is no longer blindly voting for people. Rather, they are asking questions, so we feel like we are pricking people's consciousness in a way that they are saying, "Look, who are you, what are you about, and what are you going to do different then other people?" One of the things we feel most proudly about is we haven't gotten in a bid with anybody who would subjugate our community residents with regards to what we are focused on. I think people see us as legitimate. They see us as being real and they see us as addressing real issues. Thirdly, as a result of going in and doing preliminary work and finding out what were some of the gaps and what other boards said was available wasn't, we created a volunteer base that is currently around 360 people. These 360 people were polled as well as interviewed. I think we also have about fifty people that want to have case studies done on them, to basically look at transportation equity, diesel fuel emissions, and asthma and cancer in their families. Thus we are creating a framework for doing serious research as well as educating people about a process and having them be active participants in that process. ???media does not like, we have got to wait six years and right away people are picking up literature. We have actually created what we call other sub-groups that are focused on specific areas of transportation equities and equities of environmental issues. Basically we see ourselves as playing a role in this technical support so that these things have a life cycle of their own but we serve as the ??? to it to educate them, provide them with resources and things of that nature. At the very beginning of these relationships it is empowerment driven. Those are things that we can say we have done. We recently had a press release about our findings over ninety days and those findings are causing other public officials to look at us as a resource. What we are actually doing now is setting up meetings with some of those politicians to create a relationship that is reciprocal with them from a power base, not power deficit. We are using that to say this is who we are, this is what we represent and these are the things that you need to be considerate of when you consider our community and our constituencies.
Q: Wonderful. You mentioned a couple of things that particularly stand out to me; you are making people nervous which is an indicator that you are doing something right and something effective, how would you classify those with whom you are making nervous and how do they factor into you ultimately achieving your goals?
A: I would say that it is significant that they see us as a threat. I think our goal is to shift that adversarial dynamic from a "this or that" dynamic to a "this and that". Part of the dynamic that we see very clearly with regards to us being an advocacy group and supporting other initiatives, is that basically a lot of the other groups are supporting the maintenance of the current system's funding. Which we support but we find ourselves in a vicarious position because we support that in principle, but not in practice. We say that we support that the resources not only become reestablished but also enhanced yet we say that the allocation of those resources should be done differently. That is where we have fallen away from different groups and actually walked away from different collaboratives because people just want us to jump on the whole sale of what they are pushing as an agenda or in their agenda they have nothing that validates the equitable distribution of resources once they come in.
Q: So the people that you are talking about that you are making nervous are the people who in some ways have some of the same goals that you have but they are maybe going about it in a different way?
A: Some of those groups have our goals in mind. Some of these groups that we are talking about are the systems. Recently we weren't invited to a meeting. However, some other people who support us internally invited us. We were questioning, "Why weren't we invited? What is it that we are saying that is concerning them that they didn't want to hear from us?" Basically, what we have deduced is that we are speaking the issues at a much deeper level and they are speaking the issues at a peripheral level. When we start talking we represent not only some research but a constituency based at this time that constitutes in this particular dynamic forty percent of this port authorities overall ??? and forty percent of their gross revenues. We are talking about in just our corridor. We are not talking about African Americans overall in the city of Pittsburgh, this is just in the twelve communities that we have targeted. They constitute almost half of this organizations gross revenue and ???. So when we speak about the issues that these ??? have they are ??? in nature with regards to the issues. I think that is what is making people nervous because they have not done that and they don't know what we are going to say and they don't know what our constituency is thinking. We have a potential relationship that we want to develop with some of the political people and say, " We know what you are saying and we know what your interests are. What are you willing to do to meet them at a position where their needs are being met," and holding them accountable.
Q: How did you go about attracting these 360 volunteers that you have? How did you make yourself known to them? You were saying that you were being received as authentic and some of the suspicions that may have been there as you introduced yourself just without them having an idea of who you are and what you are about; how did you go about identifying those people and how did you go about developing those relationships?
A: What we were able to do is I developed another model called the TM and that is called the Triangulation Model. The Triangulation Model basically looks at every community as a living entity and what is in that entity is a micro-meso operational system. We only had two part time staff and two full time staff that were able to execute this in ninety days. So what we were able to do is create a model that utilized that skill set or man power more efficiently. Basically what we did is we developed these things that we called Cultural Competency Capacity Building Surveys or a cultural competency survey where we interviewed pre-existing organizations in the community that were supposed to serve people. And based upon that interview we created a ten-point Likert type scale to determine whether or not an organization was costly competent or costly destructive. At that point we interviewed people and talk to them about our problem and our concern and partnership. At the same time we had our staff go out and walk the street, go door-to-door and canvas. At the same time we had our staff go to mediating service delivery units which are like self help groups and churches. Then we had them participate in formal service delivery units and systems such as actual bus routes, buses and things like that and major organizations. So we sat in and did power point presentations to boards. We went to community meetings and did presentations. We have attended council meetings and did presentations, passed out literature and did a question and answer period. We piggyback with other organizations when they have had community events and been out at those events. So what we try to do is to create a way to not recreate the world but work in harmony with other organizations and serve the people and create a win-win. How we do that on top of the model that I mentioned is we utilize Covey's Principle Center of Leadership as one methodology, and Kaplan's Capacity Building Model as another. So we utilize those methodologies as a way to engage the community and then we use Triangulation Model as the practice. Then we have a feedback list connected to that to see how we are doing and where we are falling short. We have weekly reports and staff meetings about how we have been able to give information out and how it has come back in and we basically create a rating system. This is probably the most important thing. As a result of the work we did we created this dynamic where we can gage how many pieces of literature get expended in an hour, how many surveys get completed in an hour and how much space you should cover in an hour. What we have been able to do now is go back and extrapolate from every community ???is ??? and take what we call our ten percent ratio and look at how can we at least touch ten percent of that, create a model for how many people or man power is needed to do that in a two to four hour period and then let recruits know how many volunteers we need from this town to this town to do x y and z. So we give them a very clear and concise agenda. You know for volunteers in the past you would say I need you to help me and come in at nine o'clock. Then they worked from nine to nine and they would say I would never do that again. That is why we said let's not do that. Rather lets create a window where people know they are going to work from ten to twelve and they are not going to be asked to do anymore. If they want to stay they can but we are only asking that they do this. What that helps us do is gage how many man-hours we need per project to meet our small end.
Q: Yes and it seems that you are in addition to being very specific to the amount of time that you are looking for from your volunteers, you are also giving them some ideas of what the specific goals would look like within that time frame so they are able to have a sense of accomplishment.
A: Exactly. And then we are so wide in the training to let them know that their participation can vary. We need people to mix Kool-Aid, take phone calls, and make copies. So if people aren't social, there's a role you could play. If you are social, here is a role you could play. If you are a planner and so on. So we really tried to open that up so that people didn't see that process as somebody else's process, but their own.
Q: Right, it sounds like you are focusing on the role perspective piece of it so that whatever the contribution is the person sees how it is related to your overall goal and whatever their contribution is contributing to the overall goal. That is wonderful. Let me ask you this. We talked about the successes, has your organization had any failures that have caused you to change something about the way you do your work?
A: I would never call it failure; I would call it learning. What we have learned is when we started off in this particular situation we first recruited college students because we thought they had flexible schedules and they would be able to get out there. What we learned quickly from them was that they were comfortable with the intellectual aspect but they got uncomfortable when they had to hit the street. We then recruited some people that had more of a street dynamic and were able to do outreach, but they needed more work in understanding the framework and in doing the paperwork. I would say that was a challenge. I would say the other challenge on the micro-level is that a lot of people call us and want to partner with us but there's often conflict in that a lot of organizations in this region think because they are white primarily they can call us and tell us whatever we are doing should be secondary, and whatever they say we should do should be primary. We've had that dynamic where people had been at the table and invited to the table, and then they left. We had a situation with one organization that had a large constituency base that was primarily white say, "We think you ought to do this."We said, "That is interesting and that is something that we may consider in the future but that is not something we are going to do right now." They responded to that with, "Well if you don't do this then we don't want to be part of your organization." We said, "Fine have a nice day." So we run into that dynamic where because we are African American run, African American focused, and African American driven, that other people from other persuasions feel like when they come to the table that their methodology and practices supercedes ours. We have this other dynamic occurring when we do presentations. We are usually pretty thorough and catching people off guard. The last dynamic we have, as I mentioned to you before, is that we support general themes, but when it comes to the specificity with regards to empowerment and accountability and things like that people have been reluctant to support that amendment to an agenda. We have said, "Okay, you want us to support this, but history shows us that your practices have already to date subjugated African Americans and made them second class citizens. Why should we, in good faith, continue to support a system that is basically destroying the inner-infrastructure of this community? We are not saying it doesn't need transportation."
Q: How do they specifically address you're clear focus of empowerment? How do they not address wishing to incorporate that in their strategy?
A: We have one or two dynamics that occur. We have people that say, "Yeah, sure, right. We will get to that next time we go there. There is no next time if it doesn't happen this time." Then we have people who go, "Yeah, I really appreciate your honesty, integrity and sincerity, but I need you to consider that your foot is already in the door. To make change you at least need to be in the door and although I hear what you are saying I need you to recognize that we are in the door." Our response is the same, "We are in the door to what? To signing on to this again and getting half way down the road and having our constituency base say 'You sold us out', no we are not doing that either." The third dynamic that is occurring is on the national level. A lot of these national organizations that have networks established on this particular issue recognize that they look pretty bad because they don't have the large minority base that they are supposed to be representing present. So now you have got people calling us saying, "Hey we need you at this meeting," and we take the same stance and say "What's in it for us? How do we reciprocate? Is it in black or white?" No pun intended. There hasn't been any organization to date that has withstood that. Now we got one organization that we are working with called STPP and they indicated to us in several meetings that they are pushing the equity piece. They strongly support what we are doing, such as we have been trying to publish stuff in their article, in their newsletter and things like that, and we haven't been able to get in the door. They promised us that they were going to create this special committee and have us co-chair it or be board members of it; that hasn't happened. Then lastly they were supposed to support financially a couple thousand dollars to support our Youth Policy Institute, which ???. They said, "Well we can't respond to that until next year, and I said, "Well we put the request in several months ago, it's a sixteen week project, it is over with, so any further you see you utilizing us as a partner ??? because we are not partners." We are not going to be pimped and prostituted like that. There is a lot of back door to conversation and I think there is a lot of sincerity by the people at the front line to make stuff happen, but like I told the person this past week, it hasn't happened and from where I sit we are getting screwed and ??? to participate in that. Basically in many ways we are touching different dynamics and a lot of people don't know how to handle what we are bringing to the table. We are trying to create a framework for them to intelligently have discussions about equity. For example, we got invited to a Smart Growth Conference, and they were especially looking at how we can grow in this region with some level of intelligence. We asked them to define what they saw as equity. It was all a white panel with three of them there. They had basically not decided as a group what was equity, so when I posed the question they gave me three different answers, which was interesting. We ended up spending forty-five minutes deciding that we didn't have any idea what equity was and that equity for some of the white people that were present was that theyhave a choice to drive to work or catch a bus. They thought that was equity. On our extreme, eighty-seven percent of our population that we interviewed is one hundred percent transit dependent. Equity wasn't that they had a choice to take the bus or drive the car. They have to catch the bus and they don't have a choice. So they didn't really put their mind around what equity was and how transportation impacted different regions. We also looked at the national trend, which the average person is spending $6,331 dollars annually on transportation. In our communities, that would make that the largest expenditure in a household on a yearly basis. So when you talk about increases in fares and cutting routes to people that barely can get to work now and afford transportation, you are talking about crippling any economic growth process that you put in mind. Therefore we just see these dynamics as dynamics that at it's root have danger written across it and also they are impacting on the law of diminishing returns.
Q: I want to go back to one of the questions that I asked earlier about how you would define your work. We use this term in the field intractable conflict, a term that is debatable, intractable in one sense meaning there is no solution and another connotation there is seemingly no solution to the conflict. On the matter of how one defines equity to see any light with regard to coming closer to a shared definition of equity with the various people are at the table working on this?
A: That is a good question. I believe that our role and our constituent's role are going to push the envelope??? so that a shared definition of equity emerges. I think what is occurring right now is that we are pricking people's consciousness about looking at other ways of knowing and I think it is our responsibility as a result of the perpetuator to provide them with saline empirical data that supports our hypothesis. And in doing so we would hope that through that new knowledge base they can gain a greater insight that their perception of equity is a dichotomy compared to other poor people and African Americans what we call, what do we call that term, something about livable communities or something about healthy living or something like that, where we are basically saying people's lifestyles are being dramatically effected by decisions being made by people who have a choice for transportation and it is just not fair to continue to sit at that table and make decisions when you know when you leave this meeting you are getting in your car and you don't have to consider twice how you are going to get home to see your kids or if your child is sick at school how you are going to go and pick your kid up. We are saying that there is a large population here that has to deal with that everyday in climate weather and as a result of that they are being ostracized with regards to their input and how they are being affected by the decisions that are getting made.
Q: Let me do a little spin off on that as well. Have you addressed how your perspective and your definition of equity has an impact on the broader community even though who would not equity in the same way that you do at this point?
A: Yeah, I think in our mission statement and in our goals, we see basically and this is a real quick synopsis, we see that when you create a condition to help the most oppressed among you, all people succeed in that environment because if you pick up the most down trotted individual their capacity contributes to society as well as enhances already what you are delivering to society. So suppose you are paying for their deficiencies, they can pay for themselves and when you create what we have now cancers that activity in the communities that we sort of neglect in ignorance; you are paying for that whether you think you are going to pay for it up front, in the middle or at the end; you are paying for it. What we are saying is there is a clear picture here and let's look at this picture; and you can decide when you want to pay. We come to the table with a position of power and enlightenment and change. We didn't come to the table to ask people to support us financially as, "Oh we need your help". We are saying to people that we have some solutions, we have a methodology, and we have a practice that by its nature changes the whole dynamic. It makes it a healthier more livable community for everybody. Supporting our issue is supporting a whole region. It is not just that you are helping this set of people and it is not going to help the other set. We see it as all interconnected.
Q: Do you believe that is being heard? Do you believe that message is getting out there in ways that people are beginning to rethink how they might define equity?
A: I think there are a few people who are listening to that and hear it. I think some people are just astounded when we show them statistics and show them the pictures we have taken of the difference of a suburban bus versus an urban bus and see the drastic difference. It is just like a picture is worth a thousand words. And we say that there is psychological ramification to day after day people getting on a bus that is dirty, filthy, run down, versus other people who get on a clean bus and you know there is just a different psychological impact. I think people who know that are sensitive to the points that we are making and they are also concerned because they hear it but in their own minds they have not figured out what their response can be. Because it's like, " I hear what you are saying and you are right, this dynamic is so big, wow what you are saying makes a lot of sense but based upon how I understand the system I am not sure how we can change it." And what we are saying is that one of the key changes that needs to occur is there needs to be people sitting at the table making the decisions that look like the people from these communities. Until you get that you will never have a sincere understanding of equity, even from our perspective or from theirs because it has to merge. There has to be an emersion point on what people value. I am teaching a class and I am watching my students struggle with a question that I posed to them this last week on paradigms. I had them research the practices of Afro-centric paradigms versus Euro-centric paradigms and I was very interested by their responses. It was basically a microcosm of how the world thinks. That microcosm has basically been that slavery has been over for over 150 years and black people need to stop being lazy, "You all have just as much opportunity as we do and in fact when you all get a job you are taking it from a white person so you all need to shut up and step up to the plate." This is really interesting to hear young kids in college make those statements and write them down. It really shows the depth of this issue is so far reaching and systemic in nature that the objectification occurs in the dominant culture and the hegemony further perpetuates the illusion of progress. What we are trying to do is hold the mirror up and say where is the progress? For real, where is it at, put the smoke down lets look at what is right here. That is hard and I think that has been the hardest thing. So when you say are people listening. I think they hear us. I think we are very clear and articulate about it. I think it just scares the crap out of them because if people operate from a zero sum equation, which most people do, they think if I give you some of mine that is less that I will have for me.
Q: I am losing something in the process?
A: Right. And we are saying if you share in the equitable fashion how you get it then it will be reciprocated. But that is a non-Western ideology.
Q: There is much to be gained with an equitable approach but then again how one defines even slants how you...
A: What approach you take, who you are looking at, what is valuable and what is not. I agree.
Q: Are their others who are doing work in the field that you believe is effective and innovative that are working along with you or that you know of as we do follow up with this project? Are there people who you think would be important for us to talk to?
A: Hold on; let me ask my colleague that because I am kind of stubborn. I am thinking that we are the only ones doing this. She is looking at it from I guess a micro perspective. She is saying that each of our projects are set up individually, so there are some people that we partner with that we work with well, but they are only a fraction of our overall project. So if we look at it holistically I would say no. If we look at it from, if we are just going to focus on this piece of transportation yeah, if we are going to focus beautification, yeah, if we are going to focus on ??? ??? trackment allotment, yeah. But when you put all that stuff together which we said the bigger picture, the eco-system, no.
Q: One of the things that makes you unique is the fact that you are pulling the pieces together. Do you have resistance as you attempt to bridge the various disciplines and the various individual efforts at getting at pieces, components of what you would identify as the problem?
A: We have been trying to work hard on that and in particular with universities and we haven't gotten any response from them. They have been non-respondent to our invites to different functions, to our information, so we are restructuring our approach strategically and actually that is what I am setting up now with political officials that I think send a different message about the organization and our findings.
Q: But what kind of message had you been sending and what does that different approach look like?
A: I think we are sending the same message but I just think that because in this city if you are not, let me see how I want to put this, when somebody sponsors you if you are not being sponsored by one of the in people then you are out people and we recognize that and we are a threat to the in black people because we represent the truth in a way that they don't even see the truth. And for white people, they have grown comfortable with looking to the gatekeepers as the mechanism for gaging what is going on in the black community, but none of the gatekeepers live in the community. You know what I mean? SO there is a disconnect with reality and then we live in the community and we are from the community and we have been here twenty years plus so we know dirt, we know bones in the closet and we know isms. So we don't get invited to stuff like that where we might shine against the gatekeepers. At the same time when other white organizations hear about us they go back and check what the gatekeepers say who are these people, are they authenticate and their response is stay away from them because basically we can't be controlled by them. SO I don't think it is so much that we are saying the same things sometimes, it's just that we may say something a little harder with a little more conviction and it might expose a relationship here or there that people don't want to expose.
Q: What you are saying is not ??? in maybe something where we are looking for an acquired taste?
Q: You mentioned I think some news releases, do you have written information about your organization?
A: We have a website that is www.ptep.org, and I am trying to publish the DMM and TM, but have not been successful on getting it out the door like we want. We have a couple other what we call a series of things that we are writing essay, like 600 words or less on what we are doing.
Q: Where are you publishing and distributing that work?
A: We haven't been able to get it out the door the way we want to. We have been trying to get it in the door with the School of Social Work at PIT??? , with National Groups, STPP, and we have been trying to get it out with newspapers.
Q: What is STPP?
A: STPP, stands for Service Transportation Policy Project. That is the national piece. So if you could help us find some place where we could get some stuff published that would be great, and I can shoot you an email of the stuff we have done.
Q: That would be fantastic. There is so much that you are doing and I am just really impressed of what you have been able to accomplish in such a short time. Obviously you have passed into a real needed??? Is there anything such as services that you have been doing that we haven't gotten at that you might want to share?
A: I think the only thing that hasn't surfaced that I think is a conflict that we need to address to and I am not sure this is the venue, is black philanthropy. I think black philanthropy changes the whole scope of this; true black philanthropy. Because if we generate 500 to 600 billion dollars a year we could begin and do a little bit more to take care of ourselves and not ask other people who do not have our best interests in mind to support us. So I think the dynamic of obtaining resources is due to work we do, only can go so far because at the root of what we are saying is we want true change and it is not profitable for everybody to create a dynamic that constitutes true change somebody in this system sees that as deficit or a zero sum equation which is taking away from their pie.
Q: So at the very least as you say the??? It is not perceived as profitable.
A: So I think that is one of the major things and I think that the second one and more important or just as important is we are educating people in the community for many times they have heard for the first time for us. So we need to control our educational systems and we haven't created a dynamic that we have gained respect, what are we producing; we are producing images of other's people and their likeness??? That we are beholding to those images as a manifestation of our skills. So when I started working on my PhD and I tell them I want to do Afro-centric research and I wanted to look at non-western ideologies and methodologies to resolve social phenomena, they were like this isn't the place for you. So I am in a quandary with regards to the highest level of academia where you get a terminal degree, you mean to tell me we can't have dialogue about other ways of knowing and thinking? Basically my response has been not unless you use a white person's perspective or some of these methodologies we like and I am saying what about the other hundreds of thousand black authors, doctors, philosophers, psychologists that have a written books and talked about these experiences from a different paradigm and need to shift it so that people's needs can be met, doesn't that have validity. Basically, I was told no. So those types of experiences really cause me to question what is truth.
Q: Which then takes you right back to your focus of empowerment.
A: Right. So it is a full circle and I am saying until we can control how that happens if we still have to keep asking people like we got to go back and give funding again you know we run a risk of losing our credibility and an impact is ??? they enough for that we aren't interested in that project anymore. So we need to be able to find things that generate self-sufficiency and empowerment for ourselves so we are not at the whim of some organization that decides that made a string that once you start getting to the point where you are having success they say we are not interested in that anymore.
Q: I appreciate this tremendously as we are talking with others obviously we will be analyzing at what we are getting and looking at particular things that do pop up and very often sometimes it feels like we are isolated but I think there are pockets of people who are approaching this from the same direction that you are and I think you sharing and as others share some of those salient things will surface so I will definitely look forward to continuing our discussions....???
A: I appreciate your intrigue and interest in what we are doing. It has been very helpful to me and re-inspired me to do some other thinking and writing, so I don't know about other people but it is very helpful to have somebody else ask about what you are doing and be concerned about it and look at it...