The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh is celebrating its centennial. Founded in 1918, part of its mission has been to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance.
President and CEO Esther Bush, sat down with 90.5 WESA’s Maria Scapellato to talk about how the Urban League’s mission remains relevant as the organization embarks on its second century.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
ESTHER BUSH: We still have a very long way to go. The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh was founded so that we could equalize opportunity. I would just ask people to do your own personal survey. Open your eyes and look in your workplace. See who is in what positions doing what. How long have they been there? I would ask you to look at who’s getting promoted. Who’s getting laid off? Who’s getting encouraged to move forward and progress upwardly within corporations? So there’s a lot more that we need to do. I love being a Pittsburgher. I love being in America and I often say to people: we’re not leaving, meaning black people. So you might as well decide to embrace us; work with us. Let us work collaboratively so that our quality of living is outstanding.
MARIA SCAPELLATO: Pittsburgh, as you know, has been making this transformation from the steel-producing powerhouse that it was to the center of high-tech innovation. From your perspective, is the African American community poised to reap the benefits of this tech revolution that we’re seeing in Pittsburgh?
BUSH: Technology is here to stay, and I’m so proud that Pittsburgh is one of the leaders. But can we make sure that our entire population can embrace it take advantage of it and our kids that urban school let them come out with a full background and knowledge of it. We need to make sure that they know their opportunities are broad.
SCAPELLATO: Do you think schools are doing a better job of preparing young people for the future economy? Especially here, where we also have an emphasis on the meds and eds.
BUSH: No, I don’t. I don’t think so because I think there needs to be more active involvement engagement from business and industry. There needs to be a smoother pipeline for the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the other school systems to have the expertise that’s necessary to promote this.
SCAPELLATO: How is the Urban League evolving to help meet these needs?
BUSH: The Urban League is evolving by doing more and more outreach and collaborative relationships and partnerships that are very meaningful. I can name not just what we’re doing with Robert Morris University, but with the University of Pittsburgh with CTSI: Clinical Technician Science Institute at Pitt and working with UPMC. Our partnerships make us more impactful and more powerful in what we can achieve in the community.
SCAPELLATO: Are you hopeful that the next generation of African-Americans will thrive or will stay here in Pittsburgh for years to come?
BUSH: We are extremely hopeful about the millennial generation and everything that’s going on here with change in Pittsburgh. As we talk about technology, as we talk about even everything from Marcellus Shale, there are just so many different opportunities that were not here when I grew up. We need everybody to take full advantage of that. I ask the African-American community not to shy away from any career. Pursue what you want to pursue and be the best at it.