From the Desk of the President/CEO
Dr. Erin R. Houston, Ph.D.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. has experienced a packed year of educational programming. The Urban League’s been working to prepare and equip students with the tools to be successful in college, work, and life. The Urban League recognizes that the need for education is great and the necessity to break the chains that link students and adults to poverty is greater. Such components include the lack of employment, job skills, underemployment and the lack of education or access to a quality education. From the programs and activities offered throughout the year, it is evident the education department has made great effort to not only expose students to higher education, experienced professionals and careers, but also provided opportunities for students to participate in service learning activities that help impoverished individuals and families in Mercer County. Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. will continue to provide programming that builds skillsets and educates the community’s underserved.
-President/CEO Erin R. Houston, Ph.D.
June 2016-Dr. Houston's response to the passing of the legendary Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay, Icon, Activist, The Greatest. There are many names for the greatest boxer in the world.
As Muhammad Ali’s 1993 visit to the Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. vividly crossed my mind upon hearing of his passing, I immediately recalled my encounter with him. At eleven years old, care-free with no major responsibilities, I did not even know Ali was coming to Farrell, PA and that he was only going to be a block away from my childhood home at that. I remembered reading about Muhammad Ali in the black history book I received from the Shenango Valley Urban League just a few months prior. On the day he was to arrive in town, I thought to myself, maybe I can get him to sign it, but then I thought that would never happen because there was just going to be too many people with the same goal of trying to meet him. As the massive crowd swarmed him as he arrived in the parking lot, I thought if I stood on the steps of the Urban League I could catch a glimpse of him. As cameras flashed and the roar of the crowd became increasingly deafening, Ali approached the front door and was coming directly towards me. Frozen on the top step, I did not wave or yell his name like many others were doing. Maybe my sudden urge to blend into the crowd was because I did not think he would notice me anyway or maybe I just did not fully understand the magnitude of his visit or who he was. I was just a kid enjoying the excitement. Then the most unscripted thing happened-he kissed me on my left cheek. Cameras flashed capturing that once in a lifetime moment-I wish I had that picture today. Now inside the building and with a refreshed sense of confidence, I pushed my way through the crowd on the hunt for an autograph. This time I was able to muster the courage to say hello while he signed my black history book.
Today, as I lead the Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. as Interim President/CEO I walk up those same set of steps that I encountered Muhammad Ali on and think of the memories that will be carried with me forever. I also think about all the civil rights heroes who have paved the way and those who are still fighting the good fight.
One can appreciate Mr. Ali’s confidence and back bone on social justice issues. He stood for fairness and equality at the height of racism during the civil rights movement. The mission of the Urban League is to advocate for fairness among all people and that is what Mr. Ali did. The Urban League Movement greatly feels the impact of Muhammad Ali’s passing not only because he was a great boxer, but because he has impacted many people of all races around the world. Champ, we thank you and bid you farewell.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on Charlottesville, Virginia
Pennsylvania (August 14, 2017) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia:
Racism still exists. I stand in agreement with the Urban League Movement and condemn the violence, bigotry and racism of the white supremacists that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. There is no place in society for this awful hate speech rhetoric. Everything about the violence and rioting that ensued is disheartening and misfortunate as it resulted in not only several injuries, but loss of precious life. For far too long in this country people lived in fear of white supremacists, but I am here to tell you that we refuse to go back to that part of history. This will not be the new normal nor will it be considered acceptable. To rally and demonstrate unmasked with such rage shows that brazen overt racism is alive and well and has once again publicly reared its head in the most callous of ways. This generation will not be intimidated; not today, not tomorrow. We will stand up. Period.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination
Pennsylvania (April 4, 2018) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination:
Where were you 50 years ago? Some may remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the assassination and untimely passing of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while others, like me, were not born yet. Although we may have been in different places or not yet a twinkle in our parents’ eyes, today we as a nation and the world will remember where we were and what we were doing on this day, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of a great man, leader, and activist. As we remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s not only remember him as a husband and father or as one of the most influential and powerful leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, but a man who had a dream. Dr. King had a dream for us to be treated fairly and not judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. In a time where standing up against discrimination and Jim Crow was taboo, it took a very determined person to keep the end goal in mind, which was acquiring equal rights for all, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.
What I have learned from Dr. King and other civil rights leaders of that era is that giving up is not an option. Dr. King faced opposition from many directions, however, he and other civil rights leaders pressed on and continued to work toward shifting the mindsets of individuals who did not want to see change or accept the change that was inevitably on its way.
Dr. King said “we may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now,” which is a call for unity. So, as we reflect today and remember his untimely death, let us also remember his bravery, life, legacy, and the great impact he has had on the world that will inspire future generations to come.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2019
Pennsylvania (January 21, 2019) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2019:
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been 51 years since Dr. King was assassinated, but we are living in a time that grimly mirrors the civil rights era of the 1960’s. When it comes to occurrences of blatant acts of racism across the nation, the current racial climate is at a point that will make you ask whether we are moving forward or going backwards. Dr. King said, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is of utmost importance that we stand up and call out covert/overt acts of racism that still exist in America. Some progress has been made on this journey to equality and the elimination of discrimination, but there is still quite a way to go.
As we honor and remember a great leader of the civil rights movement, we must also remember the blood that was shed and the lives that were lost during the fight for social justice. As a very charismatic, powerful, and influential leader, he did not advocate alone, nor did he march or boycott by himself. There were other leaders and community members who could see the dream that Dr. King had not only for themselves, but for their families and together in unified fashion challenged the system. As a great organizer and mobilizer, Dr. King called on other leaders to join him and said that “we need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.” We must continue his legacy by remaining steadfast in changing systems that work against us and not for us. We must boldly speak up and not be afraid to support our brothers and sisters of other races and ethnicities when injustice is occurring because as Dr. King said, “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” Let’s be the friend who is not silent.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement COVID-19 Pandemic
Pennsylvania (March 24, 2020) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO, Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on COVID-19 Pandemic:
We have not been given a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Remembering this very important scripture, we must not be paralyzed with fear, but rise above it and take necessary action. Everyone will determine what actions are necessary for themselves and their families while anticipating additional challenges that may come along the way. In the wake of COVID-19 there have been many things left uncertain whether it be related to health, employment, or education. Cicely Tyson once said, “challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew.” Right now, we are discovering how well we cope and even our level of resiliency. The current situation is a test of strength and perseverance during trying times.
In a time like this, leadership is tested and so is teamwork. As the saying goes, there’s no “I” in team, however, we must keep in mind that there is an “I” in win. Together as a team, we will win. There is an African Proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It will take each of us, working together to be able to win this fight against COVID-19. Our lives and the lives of others are directly impacted by how well we work as a team and how closely we adhere to the guidelines that have been given to us.
This is an opportunity not only to re-connect with family members, but also an opportunity to re-assure them that you are right there with them even if you are miles away. Although social distancing separates us, it brings our friends and loved ones closer to our hearts. If there was ever a time to step in the gap or lend support to someone else who may need help, now is that time. It is the time for checking on your neighbor or supporting a local business that had to close its doors.
While fear of the unknown coupled with an unexpected change to life and our daily routines may scare us, we must remain calm. It will not be easy, and it is better said than done, but we have every bit of confidence that the community will work together to do our part and get it done. We support everyone on the front lines who are rising to the occasion. Although it may seem dark right now, there are brighter days ahead. We’ll get through this together.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on Protests and Unrest
Pennsylvania (June 2, 2020) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO,
Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the protests and unrest:
Do you hear that? Do you hear the cries for justice? The protests locally and nationally are without a doubt indicative of the fact that things need to be changed. The black community continues to feel unheard when it comes to social justice and has now had to get everyone’s attention by walking the streets in protest. This brings to mind the expression, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” I want to be clear that I do not condone or promote violence or destruction, but peaceful protests occurring in the Shenango Valley and across the nation indicates that the same hurt and pain is felt collectively across the black community and others who share the same sentiment. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would refer to this as “the language of the unheard…And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.” The streets are filled because we are tired of seeing a pattern of black and brown people being killed and there being no one held accountable for it.
The history of social justice goes back many decades, however, the need for the continued fight for fairness, equality, and bringing attention to racism, whether covert or over remains the same. From the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the black community has continued to cry out for social justice and change, however, there is still a significant void that needs addressed with race relations.
The question “When will things change?” should be followed up with the response - “NOW.” The volume of the cries of outrage are at a decibel so high, it is really hard not to hear them even if you tried. The unrest signifies the last straw. I am speaking out for change and call for police reform and increased accountability, in addition to preventative measures being put in place to keep lives from being taken with no accountability in the future. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. still have meaning and are evidenced by the outrage being witnessed throughout the nation today when he said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on Recent Passing of Civil Rights Leaders
Pennsylvania (July 29, 2020) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO,
Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the passing of civil rights leaders Congressman John Lewis, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Mr. Charles Evers:
Congressman John Lewis once said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” These words describe the current situation and state of America right now. The Black community and our supporters are speaking out against what is unfair and unjust. In the midst of challenging systemic racism, we mourn the losses of civil rights icons, Congressman John Lewis, Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Mr. Charles Evers. Their dedication to the civil rights movement is very much respected and we will be forever grateful for the fearless stances they each have taken all in the name of social justice. Organizing marches, sit-ins, and freedom rides at a time when African Americans knew that bodily harm or even death could come to them for being so bold and brazen, these unwavering men of the movement staunchly stood their ground and held to the belief that equal rights and treatment would be achieved one day. By going toe to toe with those who resisted change and purposely lined the road to equality with a litany of hurdles and obstacles, even their greatest adversaries have to acknowledge the intensity and relentlessness of these civil rights legends.
The resurgence of the civil rights movement in the 21st century shows that it is time to pick up the torch and carry it forward. Previous generations have paved the way for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today, so now it is our turn to stand up and continue the fight for change and see it through. Congressman Lewis said “I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.” The burden is heavy, but it must continue to be carried in honor of the legacies of these civil rights giants who have worked tirelessly on our behalf. Their journeys here with us may physically be over, but their legacies will live on forever. There are many ways that we can honor the abovementioned civil rights leaders who have gone on to glory, but the greatest tribute to their legacies is to vote because according to Congressman Lewis, “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.”
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Observance
Pennsylvania (January 15, 2021) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO,
Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The sunlit path to racial justice is in front of us. Stay the course. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated for racial justice and labored alongside other civil rights leaders and supporters in hopes of getting America to understand “the fierce urgency of now.” Fifty-eight years have passed since Dr. King gave his I Have a Dream Speech, but the urgency still remains.
We may not all know each other, but we know the dream that Dr. King had for us and collectively understand what the “urgency of now” means and why it is important to stay on the sunlit path Dr. King spoke of.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Dr. King’s legacy is that because he was assassinated his dream died with him. It did not. His dream is still alive and is the driving force behind social justice advocates who continue fighting to achieve the dream that belovedly lives in our hearts. Dr. King’s dream and staying the course of the sunlit path is what is remembered when the black community continues to demand change while others fight to keep things the same.
It would behoove us to heed the words of Dr. King when he said, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality." These words remind us that it will take each and every one of us, regardless of race, background, or socioeconomic status to turn the dream into reality. Dr. King’s dream wasn’t to do it alone, but to do it together, so “now is the time to rise from the dark…to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.” – Dr. King.
Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. Statement on the Impact of African American Buying Power
Pennsylvania (October 8, 2021) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO, Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the Impact of African American Buying Power- We will shop where we are wanted
As the saying goes, “you don’t miss a good thing until it’s gone.” The Montgomery Bus Boycott is one of the best examples of how organizing can make a change. Rosa Parks will forever be associated with the infamous Montgomery Bus Boycott due to her refusal to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested and fined for her noncompliance, which sparked the organizing of the boycott that took place from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956 (381 days). The economic impact this had on public transportation in the city was great, but the loss of African-American support was greater as they coordinated and found other means to get to and from work and other places.
Today, African Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually, so to lose support of the black community and its buying power would be detrimental to any business. It is important to acknowledge and understand the value of having a diverse consumer base and appreciating the revenue that comes from it. When it was recently reported that a business owner told a customer they do not want black people in their business, this was disappointing to learn and was especially hurtful that it was a local business. There were instances over the past year where a few local businesses had protests happen at their establishments because of racially insensitive words that were said either verbally or via social media. It is time to demand for the insensitivity to stop. We may all be different colors, but American money is green and should be valued the same regardless of who it comes from.
As we continue to recover and rebuild locally from the impact of the pandemic, be mindful that offensive speech, non-inclusive and inequitable business practices, can be catalysts for a movement such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would further hinder growth and revitalization and most importantly cause undue strain and tension among the community. The bottom line is, we will shop where we are wanted, so hopefully that is at every business.
Pennsylvania (January 14, 2022) - Shenango Valley Urban League, Inc. President/CEO,
Dr. Erin Houston issued the following statement on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The phrase “let me rest my eyes” is often said when one is tired or needs to take a break. In the face of injustice, it is not the time for rest, it is the time to press. “This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” stated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1963 I Have a Dream Speech. Something so simple and necessary as getting rest comes at a cost. Unfortunately, we, the black community, cannot afford the luxury of rest right now even though it may be free. In our private moments we can dream like Dr. King that one day the justice system can truly become an equal system that is not automatically the birthplace of family separation or the resting place of freedom for black men. It is time to turn our dreams into reality. We can work now and rest later.
Many civil rights leaders and activists including Dr. King worked tirelessly fighting for people of all races, creeds, and nationalities in the fight for social justice until they reached their eternal resting place. It is important that we continue the work of those civil rights leaders so that we do not become content or satisfied with only accepting a portion of fairness and justice but get used to expecting and demanding the whole. While we may applaud the guilty verdicts in the Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd cases, let’s be clear that we are not satisfied until the complete victory is won and that is a fair and equal justice system for all, regardless of race. Although fighting for civil rights may seem like a continuous uphill battle, Dr. King reminds us that, “… we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” We look forward to the day we can bask in water of the stream that Dr. King so vividly spoke of. Until then, it is important to press forward, lifting each other up and encouraging those who grow weary along the way as the implications for settling for a portion of justice and not the whole are far too great.