dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls-4By Matthew Santoni

Published: Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, 10:24 p.m.

For 96 years, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh has fought to advance and assist the region’s black community, and in a thunderous sermon at the annual Urban League Sunday service in the Hill District, the Rev. William Curtis said the group should not shy away from more fighting.

Jumping off from the passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus says, “I do not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Curtis preached about the value of using people’s tensions, disagreements and strongly held convictions to tackle tough issues and find resolutions. The alternative, he said, lets good ideas and necessary changes get buried by attempts to establish a consensus or suppress dissenting voices.

“The Urban League is designed to carry our dreams and goals to where it’s not welcome, to where it’s not accommodated,” Curtis, pastor at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer for the past 17 years, told several hundred gathered in Ebenezer Baptist Church on Wylie Avenue. “It can’t always be pleasant, polished and sanitized.

“In our not getting along, we can at least value human life and hear each other’s dissenting ideas,” Curtis said. “As long as we go around trying to get along, progress stagnates.”

Since its founding in 1918, the Pittsburgh area’s chapter of the Urban League has offered programs in employment, education, family support, health education and housing counseling, and has become one of the largest and most active of the national organization’s more than 100 local affiliates, said chapter President and CEO Esther Bush.

The annual gathering kicked off the league’s membership drive, and copies of their annual report outside the church sanctuary highlighted some of the group’s achievements from 2013: 2,265 people got help with job training; 220 children participated in science and technology programs; and 2,389 families got housing counseling in areas such as financial literacy or eviction and foreclosure prevention.

“There is so much happening in our town, so many things changing behind closed doors,” Bush said. “We have to come together as a community, on behalf of our children, to at least have a voice.”

Bush said the league was backing educational changes in city schools, including new teacher evaluations, curriculum changes and more volunteering from the black community.

“They go to bat for the underserved community,” said Crystaline Barger, 35, of Braddock Hills, who attended the service. “All the time, when they’re going into these meetings (with local officials), they’re going in with opposing ideas, not just to get along and have tea and crumpets.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

Read more: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/5529318-74/league-urban-community#ixzz2wKg4CjIp