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Raising hope: Pittsburgh women seek peace through activism

By Brandon M. Flournoy, Point Park News Service:

Jamilah Lahijuddin, a woman who is deeply involved in teaching even though she does not have a degree, makes it her duty to educate troubled Pittsburgh youth who struggle passing classes.

Nazura Asaseyeduru, a community organizer and activist, strives to organize urban communities to establish social and economic unity.

Candice Walker, an artist, gathers up individuals by planning showcase events for other inspiring artists.

These women are examples of young African-American women in Pittsburgh, who are taking personal responsibility in moving young inner city children past the lost generation of gang-addled neighborhoods in favor of education, unity and inspiration and the arts.

They all seek methods to increase education to raise hope and reason in young people. They said their common goal is to help put an end to black-0n-black violence and seek peace through activism.

“Young people are more willing to learn, especially when you start to mold their minds, and get them to ask the right questions,” Lahijuddin said.

ACTIVISM THROUGH EDUCATION

Few African-American women have accepted the responsibility of teaching Pittsburgh’s inner-city youth in history, mathematics and other subjects that are essential to their education inside and outside of the classroom.

According to reports from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), “African American students are more likely to attend a school that does not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and are less likely to graduate from high school, especially in Pittsburgh.”

Lahijuddin is an independent educator and self-proclaimed humanist who teaches and personally tutors children that are being deprived of education because of negative circumstances, such as poverty, abuse and lack of support from family, she said.

Lahijuddin grew up in a learning environment led by her mother. She was homeschooled after being removed from a free school that was dedicated to Islamic teachings in California. As she began to grow older, she began to tutor her brothers and sisters in math as well as other children that she babysat.

Now 23, she recalled times in which she would sit outside and notice that children would get off the school bus with their homework in their hands. Also, Lahijuddin would mentor and tutor the “little girls that were wandering the street around in the neighborhood.”

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Flournoy.
Jamilah Lahijuddin is helping Pittsburgh’s youth by tutoring underprivileged children. Photo by Brandon Flournoy.

“We would talk,” Lahijuddin said. “They’d bring their homework. They’d bring their friends. They’d bring their little siblings. If they were babysitting, they would bring them to the porch.”

As she began to establish a bond with these children, Lahijuddin would take it upon herself to go to these children’s homes in order to meet their parents or guardians. Lahijuddin would make a request to the parents and guardians for her to be the children’s tutor, especially after finding out that the children were having issues with subjects, such as math and reading.

“I would go and knock on their door. I would introduce myself to their parents. I wanted the family to know who I was,” Lahijuddin said.

Later on, the kids that she was tutoring ended up being her students at the Community Empowerment Association, which was her previous place of employment. While at the Association, which offers educational and social services to endangered youth, Lahijuddin allowed her students, ranging from ages 6 to 13, to learn in their own ways.

Lahijuddin said she believes that the youth and elders of African-American communities are no longer connected when it comes to education. The older generation of activists aren’t investing enough time in understanding the outcry of the younger generation, she said. She recalled a time in which an older activist was upset at the fact that she connects with more of the youth rather than the older generation of activists.

“I feel like there aren’t enough people fighting for education and justice, neither are there enough people fighting for youth organizers,” Lahijuddin said. “A lot of youths try to organize, but they don’t have adult allies in order to help them in the system to insure that adults understand exactly what these youth are trying to say.”

Lahijuddin said that she helped four high school children get into colleges by tutoring them in math and science at her house. They started at their junior year, and eventually were able to be enrolled into Penn State University, the Community College of Allegheny County and other schools.

According to Lahijuddin, math and science are the two subjects that most African-Americans do not focus on or put much emphasis on.

“I love math. I love science, and I love history, and I love reading,” Lahijuddin said. “I always try in enforce kids to build in that area, only because I know that nobody else is, and only because I know those are difficult areas for children.”

Lahijuddin continues to teach and tutor students of all ages, but her primary focus is on high school students that are striving to attend college to further their studies. She figures she has worked with 1,000 students, both kids and young adults.

“If kids need help with something, I’m there,” Lahijuddin said. “I will go over and beyond to help a child.”

AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN ARE UNIFYING THE PEOPLE

For Nazura Asaseyeduru, a new age community activist, the way to develop unity, peace and trust among African-Americans in Pittsburgh is by teaching grass roots social survival techniques such as creating community businesses to provide jobs for community members. Also, teaching the importance of ending black-on-black violence and many other things that are negatively affecting communities in Pittsburgh.

She is a native of South Carolina and received her education at Point Park University. While past civil rights activists influenced Asaseyeduru to become an activist and community organizer, she believes that today’s community organizations are more theatrical than active, and they only last for a short period of time.

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Flournoy.
Nazura Asaseyeduru is a community organizer who spends her time teaching grass roots social survival techniques for communities. Photo by Brandon Flournoy.

“Right now, when it comes to the battle and the front, we have very inconsistent movements when it comes to our generation,” Asaseyeduru said. “A lot of times, you see movements, and there just flash movements, like flash mobs. They’re here today, and they’re gone tomorrow.”

Asaseyeduru organizes Pittsburgh urban communities of the Hill District and East End, for the purpose of developing brotherhoods, sisterhoods and all-around partnership in Pittsburgh by using workshops on the importance of unity, community development and other fundraising events that are dedicated to serving neighborhoods.

Currently, Asaseyeduru is focused on uniting communities socially and economically for a long term of success to reestablish the pride, and power of African-American people in Pittsburgh inner cities. Even though the older generation of organizers and activists have criticized her ways of planning and networking, Asaseyeduru said she uses that criticism to enhance her tactics, and  better understand what the older generation, or “elders”, as she put it, went through to establish their movements.

“I look at the criticism that the elders give us, and I just try to build according to things that they didn’t have,” Asaseyeduru said. “Social media is really taking our activism to the next level.”

SPREADING AWARENESS THROUGH MUSIC AND ART

Walker, who calls herself “Hotep The Artist,” is a member of the Garden of Peace project and the Urban League. Walker’s artistic expressions led her to receiving a nomination for “Best Actress” at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival in the theatrical performance, “Sophie’s 2nd Law: At the Speed of Life.”

Being born and raised in Pittsburgh, Walker said she was always involved in artistic expression, and during her journey of creativity, she noticed that people began to unite and network with each other after talent showcase events. That’s why she wanted to become an art event planner.

“I believe that people are the power, and when we gather people, something magical happens,” Walker said. “We give each other ideas just by walking past one another. Human interaction is healing.”

Walker has been hosting artist parties and performance events at venues in Lawrenceville, areas in the East End and venues on the North Side of Pittsburgh – such as The New Bohemian – for poets, musicians, dancers, painters and other types of performers. She believes art plays a role in raising awareness around the city and that it is a definite calling for her.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Flournoy.
Candice Walker is an artist and actress who hosts various events to promote artistic expression around Pittsburgh. Photo by Brandon Flournoy.

“Everybody has their different avenue of how they help, but I know that the healing, and artistic and creative realm is where I’ve been assigned,” Walker said.

Walker recalled a night in which she was on the bus when she learned what happened to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  She protested along with others by painting her face white, putting on white gloves and going out in the middle of the protest to express the anger of the people through miming.

“I went out, and I embodied so many of us who are mad,” Walker said. “I walked around frustrated. I wanted to pull my hair out. I had clinched fists. It was really emotional for me to embody those people that were really, really mad.”

Walker continues to have talent showcase events in the city for up-an-coming performers that are in search of a platform and in search for business networks with other performers.

To read the full version of Brandon’s story, follow this link.

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