February 26, 2021
It has been a pleasure to share with you the stories of so many influential African Americans this month. I hope that you have enjoyed them as well, and you’ve taken the time to learn more whether through the links I’ve provided or your own research.
It seems to me that there is no better way to wrap up Black History Month than by spotlighting some of the individuals who have made an impact in their hometown of Pittsburgh and beyond. Please review and see if you can spot the PTC connection. Perhaps someday a PTC employee or graduate will be featured as a leader of significance on a list such as this.
Virginia Proctor Powell Florence (1897 – 1991)
Born in Wilkinsburg, east of the Pittsburgh, Florence moved to the city in high school when both of her parents died. She was an outstanding student at Oberlin College in Ohio earning a bachelor’s in English Literature. She returned to Pittsburgh to work in her aunt’s beauty salon as there were no teaching jobs for African Americans in the area, and later decided to follow her passion for children and books and enrolled in the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library School becoming the first African American woman to earn a Bachelor of Library Science degree. She overcame numerous racial obstacles and worked as a high school librarian in several cities across the East and Midwest. After retirement she and her husband committed themselves to the causes of social justice and racial equality.
Byrd Brown (1930 – 2001)
The son of Allegheny county’s first black judge, Byrd graduated from Schenley High School where he was the first black student to start at quarterback on the football team, before earning a bachelor’s and law degree from Yale. A successful trial lawyer, he fought for anyone who needed his help regardless if they could pay for his services. He was passionate about civil rights and organized marches seeking better jobs for African Americans at Duquesne Light, Mine Safety Appliances, Kaufmann’s, the Board of Education, and University of Pittsburgh among other locations. He contributed to the Pittsburgh Plan which became a national model for training blacks in construction. He was president of the Pittsburgh NAACP from 1958 – 1971 and was known for making generous donations to college scholarship and non-profit organizations.
August Wilson (1945 – 2005)
Born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Wilson spent much of his teen years changing schools before earning a diploma through independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. A poet and playwright, in 1968 he cofounded and directed the Black Horizons Theatre in Pittsburgh. He channeled the racism he experienced in his youth into his writing and he earned Pulitzer and Tony awards in 1987 for his play “Fences” which focused on race relations in the U.S. “Fences,” which starred James Earl Jones, is part of Wilson’s 10-part series known as “The Pittsburgh Cycle” and set a record for nonmusical Broadway productions grossing $11 million in one year, ultimately running 525 performances. After his death, a Broadway theater was renamed for him and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture was created in Pittsburgh.
Tony Dorsett (1954 – )
A four-time All American football running back with the University of Pittsburgh, Dorsett won the Heisman Trophy in 1976 and went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys for 11 seasons, ending his 12th and final NFL season with the Denver Broncos. From Aliquippa (Beaver County), Dorsett played in four Pro Bowls, five NFC championships, and two Super Bowls. In 1982 he scored a 99-yard touchdown and is currently 10th on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list. His hometown high school, Hopewell, has retired his #33 jersey and named the stadium Tony Dorsett Stadium. Pitt has also retired his jersey (the first time ever doing so) and the city of Pittsburgh named Tony Dorsett Dr. near Heinz Field. Off the field, Dorsett has promoted awareness of sleep apnea helping numerous current and former professional athletes.
Billy Porter (1969 – )
A singer and actor, Porter has appeared in many television and movie roles and won both Tony and Grammy awards for his performance in the Broadway play, “Kinky Boots.” Known for his red-carpet glamour, Porter attended the Tony Awards with his sister, and former PTC Resident Coordinator, Mary Martha Ford. In 2020, he became the first openly gay Black man to earn an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Porter was raised in Pittsburgh, spent his high school summers performing at Kennywood Park, and studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2019, Porter teamed with PayPal to encourage donations on Giving Tuesday with record-breaking results of over $106 million to charitable organizations.
Ayisha Morgan-Lee (1983 – )
A leader in the Hill District where she lives, Morgan-Lee grew up dancing but was often the only African American in her classes. She founded the Hill Dance Academy Theater (HDAT) nearly sixteen years ago at age 21 with the mission to teach Black dance traditions and prepare students for careers in dance, as well as allow black youth to work with instructors who looked like them. She continues to serve as the school’s CEO and Artistic Director while also teaching at the city’s Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) School, and sitting on the board of The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD). She got her undergrad in Dance from Howard University, holds a Masters in Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon, and last year earned a Doctorate of Education from Pitt.
As PTC’s first African American president and second female president, I believe in encouraging the strengths of individuals from all communities, particularly those who are so often underserved and underrepresented. Our strategic directions include expanding access to PTC education to specialized populations and promoting a culture of excellence and accountability in all that we do. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are important institutional assets and allows the tremendous benefit of bringing diverse perspectives together to innovatively provide solutions.
We are making strides at PTC to become more diverse and inclusive in both our student body and our employment practices. It is through open minds and hearts that we will further grow PTC Strong.