3 Pittsburghers emerge as unsung champions in black community
They make a quiet difference in Western Pennsylvania, helping to shape the community in a positive way.
In honor of Black History Month, the Tribune-Review asked leaders to help find the unsung champions of the black community.
Three leaders emerged. Mae Carlisle, Fred Brown and Kiron Skinner are working for Pittsburgh’s future by keeping people safe, teaching people new skills or introducing them to world leaders.
Joining Pittsburgh’s all-male police force began as a litmus test.
Mae Carlisle, then in her 20s, wanted to prove to her little girl that a woman was strong and courageous enough to do anything a man could do. She was part of the second recruit class that included women and worked in the South Side station for 12 years.
“Sometimes, I could handle a situation better than my male colleagues,” said Carlisle, 62, of the Hill District. “I tried to make the neighborhood better just by being there.”
She remembers a young boy with a less-than-ideal home life. Whenever she saw him, she tried to encourage him, to infuse positivity in a child who likely wasn’t receiving it elsewhere.
“The first time he got a good report card, he ran to show it to me,” she said. “I was so proud of him. That young man was never incarcerated.”
Then-Mayor Richard Caliguiri honored her station in 1984 for catching a South Side arsonist who set 39 pre-dawn fires over a nine-month period. Carlisle called the rooftop stakeouts that led to his arrest “a great time.”
She brings that dedication and vigilance to her role as head of security for the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh, where she directs a team of 20 to greet guests and monitor people at locations all over the city.
Carlisle’s daughter, Sonya Toler, may be Mayor Bill Peduto’s interim communications manager, but she’s also her mother’s “greatest gift.”
“She is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Carlisle said. “I cry tears of joy.”
Curtiss Porter, Pittsburgh’s chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer, called Fred Brown a true leader.
“I don’t know about all that, but I try,” Brown, 50, of Homewood said from his office at the Kingsley Association in Larimer.
As associate director for program development, Brown’s projects include Imagine Larimer, a web-based program focused on educating people and communities about sustainability; the Urban Leadership Institute, a community sustainability program focused on preparing participants for careers in green technology; and the Junior Urban Leadership Institute, which trains youths in civic engagement and workforce development skills.
He teaches courses and presents workshops locally and nationally. More importantly, Porter said, he cares.
“There’s so much we can do to make a difference, and the people I work with — kids included — have amazing ideas,” Brown said. “All I do is bring people in the community together to hear those ideas and figure out how we can turn a dream into something real.”
With his youngest dreamers, Brown helps facilitate events for children and teens to present their ideas to groups of connected business leaders. He tells the kids, “Hey, this is a good idea. It could happen if you want to get serious about it.”
Since joining Carnegie Mellon University in 1999, Kiron Skinner has recruited scholars and thought leaders to speak and engage with Pittsburgh residents on the most pressing issues facing the nation.
As founding director of CMU’s Center for International Relations and Politics, Skinner, 52, of O’Hara said she hopes to foster conversations and open doors for those capable and willing to encourage positive change.
“I came for CMU, but I almost immediately fell in love with the city,” she said. “I get to open doors to a perspective my students and our faculty wouldn’t always get to hear.”
The Bay Area native brings in big names — then-World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Gen. Karl Eikenberry and Gen. David Petraeus in his first and last year as CIA director. They can argue high-profile, Beltway issues on Western Pennsylvania soil.
“I feel my greatest contribution lies in creating a more scientific understanding of U.S. foreign policy,” she said. “We’re promoting political awareness, not a particular ideology.”
Her lengthy resume includes the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel, the George W. Bush Oral History Project, Gov. Tom Corbett’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs and multiple presidential campaigns.
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or [email protected].