Our 2019 Who’s Next: Community Leaders & Activists class is shaping Pittsburgh neighborhoods and driving the search for social justice here.
Today, we’re proud to introduce those 20 honorees, selected by our newsroom. They include advocates for prison reform, those working to end sexual and domestic violence, public transit aficionados, neighborhood association leaders, leaders in the push for police accountability, advocates for immigrants rights, food justice, and racial equity in Pittsburgh’s ballet scene.
And now, we present our Who’s Next: Community Leaders & Activists class. Learn about their work, then join us at this happy hour in their honor. Get your tickets here.
Join us at a happy hour in honor of The Incline's Who's Next: Community Leaders & Activists class. This event is for you if you're interested in activism and making your neighborhood better — or if you're trying to get started. Meet the class here: https://bit.ly/2GEtG2N At this celebration:
- Meet honorees who were nominated by their peers and selected by The Incline's newsroom.
- Enjoy food and beverages from Savasana Juice Company, Stateside Vodka, Blume Honey Water, Wigle Whiskey, and more!
Where:Union Project at 801 N. Negley Ave. (East Liberty)
When:February 27, 2019 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
How much:$25 for public | Free for Who's Next: Community Leaders & Activists honorees
Tiffany A. Babinsack, MPA, is a nonprofit professional who works with youth and community stakeholders to improve social determinants of health throughout the region. In her current position as program coordinator at Tobacco Free Allegheny, Babinsack works to change community norms surrounding tobacco, “making it uncommon to see, use, or be negatively affected by tobacco or tobacco smoke pollution,” she told The Incline. Babinsack is also a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and has facilitated a number of impactful events including the 2018 and 2019 Pennsylvania LGBTQA Health Conferences and Allegheny Quits for Life Smoking Cessation Awareness Week. Babinsack lives in Tarentum and attended La Roche College.
Corey Bourbonniere moved to Pittsburgh to train in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School's Pre-Professional Division. Now as a member of the Theatre's Equity Project Transition Team, he works to create a stronger presence of black ballet dancers and a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable space within the organization. “He is thoughtful and intersectional in his comments and firm in his positions,” Bourbonniere’s nominator said. “He's creating change from within the art form and within the organization.” Bourbonniere lives in East Liberty.
While pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, Kaitlyn Brennan served as the intern for the Higher Education Consortium for Special Education where she advocated on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of the House and Senate to develop legislation that best meets the needs of children with disabilities, their teachers and families. And she’s brought that experience into her role as president of the Stanton Heights Neighborhood Association, working toward community advocacy, development, and identity. Brennan lives in Stanton Heights and attended Pitt.
When protests gripped Pittsburgh in the wake of the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Antwon Rose II in East Pittsburgh last June, Christian Carter was a ubiquitous presence at those demonstrations. Carter said it wasn’t his first action. At just 19, he’s already organized a student protest against the confirmation of education Secretary Betsy Devos and a student walkout in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “It was important for us to lead as black students because when mass shootings happen, black youth are often left out of the conversation. Gun violence is nothing new to black people. We have been talking about it for years,” he told The Incline. He’s also been featured with the co-founder of his Youth Power collective in Dazed Magazine as an example of youth who were fighting for gun control. Carter lives in East Liberty.
Christina Acuna Castillo is a Peruvian artist and organizer in Pittsburgh working with Casa San José to ensure that human rights for immigrants are respected and honored. She has served as a translator to recently resettled Spanish-speaking refugees in Pittsburgh and co-teaches Latinx youth in Pittsburgh about ways to support, protect, and preserve memories and realities of their cultures and of each other. She also works as the digital organizer and artist for Pittsburgh United. She told The Incline that she believes that “our work and our liberation are interconnected” and does protest artwork for grassroots organizations in Pittsburgh. Castillo lives in Beechview.
In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities as an underwriter with the PNC Financial Services Group, Nelson Cooper IV has served as the vice president of the PNC African American Employee Business Resource Group for the past two years. He also helped launch and is the manager of the PNC Women Connect Male Ambassador Program, a group of men advocating on behalf of women in the workplace. Cooper is also a member of the Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education’s Board of Trustees and is active with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program. Cooper lives in Brookline and attended North Carolina Central University.
Kiandra Foster has spent years focusing on providing emergency food, housing, healthcare, educational resources, and access to economic opportunities to low-income families, women at times of crisis, veterans, and unaccompanied youth. As programs director for United for Families at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, her passion is working to provide needed supports for women and girls experiencing violence. This led to her engagement in the Southwest PA Says NO MORE initiative, where she now works to prevent gender violence before it occurs. Foster lives in Brookline and attended the University of Denver and the University of Pittsburgh.
After a few years of working with the Squirrel Hill Business Association, Heather Graham was elected president of Uncover Squirrel Hill, a group working to boost the neighborhood and its business district. Graham's nominator called her “a tireless organizer of the Squirrel Hill Night Markets, the Squirrel Hill Happening, Squirrel Hill Halloween in the business district, and most recently, the lead organizer of Squirrel Hill CommUNITY Day following the October 27th at Tree of Life.” The nominator added, “She is a selfless leader in both the community and among her fellow business owners in Squirrel Hill.” Graham lives in Wilkinsburg and attended Ramapo College of New Jersey.
Alisa Grishman is a disability rights advocate and founder of Access Mob, a group committed to making Pittsburgh more accessible. Grishman focuses her efforts on city officials and the business owners she says sometimes don’t know what’s required of them under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Grishman says Access Mob seeks to encourage businesses to change with education and economic incentives. “And if they keep fighting changes, that’s when we get more drastic and send people over for a proper protest,” Grishman told The Incline. Grishman has been arrested multiples times at protests as a member of ADAPT, a national disability rights organization. “My disability is not that something’s wrong with me, it’s that the world has not adapted to me,” Grishman said. Grishman lives in Uptown and attended Carnegie Mellon University.
Robert Hamilton is the director of operations at Veterans Place of Washington Blvd., a Pittsburgh nonprofit whose mission is to combat veteran homelessness. Hamilton is an Army veteran who served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He’s currently the chairperson of the leadership portion of the Allegheny County/Pittsburgh Boot Camp, which has the stated goal of “creating and sustaining the systems, processes and infrastructure necessary to ensure all veterans will live in a permanent home and that his or her homelessness will always be rare, brief and non-recurring.” Hamilton lives in Lower Burrell and attended the University of Pittsburgh.
Jeimy Ibarra was born in Mexico City and has been living in Pittsburgh for 19 years. She currently is the youth community outreach coordinator at Casa San José in Beechview. After noticing a lack of services for Latino youth and noting how hard it was to maintain her own culture in the U.S. after coming here, Ibarra created and led Puentes Hacia el Futuro, a Saturday program for 7-14 year olds. The program allowed students to have a safe space while building community. In 2017, Ibarra created a second program, Jóvenes con Propósito, for high-school students, where she worked to guide youth activists to become leaders in their communities and provide them with peer-based training that promotes youth power and community organizing. Ibarra lives in Mount Washington and attended Carlow University.
A survivor herself, Kristine Irwin is the founder of Voices of Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence. Irwin is the public face of the group’s effort to raise awareness around this issue and to educate the public, speaking at universities, colleges and organizations and spearheading a continuing raft of outreach campaigns. This winter, the group’s Be a Voice this Holiday Season saw Irwin partner with more than 30 organizations and individuals to create and send about 1,400 holiday cards to domestic and sexual violence shelters. “Kristine truly is an inspiration and shows that you can take something horrible and turn it into something positive,” her Who’s Next nominator told The Incline. Irwin lives in South Park and attended Penn State.
As assistant director of the Office of PittServes at the University of Pittsburgh, Shenay Jeffrey is responsible for establishing strategic frameworks that serve students and community. These frameworks embody the office's focus on education, sustainability, community development and increasing community service by students, Jeffrey told The Incline. Jeffrey is currently enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh EdD program with a focus on reproductive justice framework as it relates to students of color in higher education. Jeffrey holds leadership positions in organizations such as the Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Pittsburgh, PUMP and New Voices for Reproductive Justice. Jeffrey lives in Highland Park.
A force within Allegheny County’s Black Lives Matter movement and protests against medical neglect and abuse at the Allegheny County Jail, Julia Johnson is a young but potent presence within local movements for criminal justice reform and social equity. Johnson was born and raised on the North Side and has spent 10 years as an activist and community organizer on issues ranging from racial justice, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice to prison abolition. She has also worked for New Voices Pittsburgh as a community organizer helping to build a local reproductive justice movement. Johnson lives in Point Breeze and attended the University of Pittsburgh.
Alyssa Lyon believes that neighborhoods function best when they’re provided with equal resourcing opportunities, contain economically thriving businesses and organizations, and are successful at producing and retaining inhabitants who are prideful of their living spaces and fellow residents. In her current role as manager of community outreach and membership engagement at the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Lyon works to make this happen in communities in and around Pittsburgh. Lyon is also a national board member and volunteer for the African American Alumni Council at the University of Pittsburgh and holds a leadership position with the New Leaders Council of Pittsburgh. Lyon lives on the North Side and attended Pitt.
While working as a journalist in Pittsburgh, Heather McClain said she was connected to various community groups and newsmakers and that this fueled her interest in community relations and organizing. She’s currently working to ensure equitable access to Bike Share in Pittsburgh's communities through her work with Healthy Ride. “I'm a transit rider and advocate, a gardener, involved in Beechview's community beautification efforts, and a proponent of equitable growth in the neighborhood and city at large,” McClain told The Incline. McClain lives in Beechview and attended the University of Pittsburgh.
Leland E. Scales founded the Swissvale Community Action Committee in 2013 and Swissvale's community garden in 2015. “I have been working tirelessly to give the community a voice and force transparency within local government,” Scales told The Incline. “I also continue to work toward making sure fresh fruits and vegetables are more accessible to those who need them the most.” Scales also works as a food recoverer and field operations associate for 412 Food Rescue, an organization dedicated to rerouting good food from landfills to those in need. Scales lives in Swissvale and attended the University of Central Florida.
Dismantling systems of inequity within public schools is one of the motivators behind Rachel Schwartz’s community work in Pittsburgh. After volunteering and working in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and the Pittsburgh Public School systems, Schwartz stepped into her role as program manager for Repair the World. She now forges relationships and recruits volunteers for partner organizations that work in the areas of food and education justice, “in turn amplifying their ability to create a more equitable community for all Pittsburghers,” Schwartz told The Incline. She lives in Lawrenceville and attended Tulane University.
Terrell Thomas is a senior field organizer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, working to reduce Pennsylvania’s jail and prison population while combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Thomas is also the executive director of The Isaiah Project youth development program, which caters to the needs of Pittsburgh-area teenagers, placing an emphasis “on critical thinking, crisis intervention, life skills, trauma related rehabilitation, gang prevention and mediation.” And he’s spearheaded Project LOVE, a group of business professionals, nonprofit services providers, executive directors, Pittsburgh residents, artists, real estate agents, developers and community activist. “This collaborative team of individuals participate in social lab-based processes that allow the team to identify and address root causes to issues rather than the symptoms of issues that have a systematic effect in our environment,” Thomas explained. Thomas lives in Beltzhoover and attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Daniel Yablonsky wears many hats and has been an active and visible presence in the advocacy world of Pittsburgh since he moved here almost a decade ago. Yablonsky is currently a staff advocate with Pittsburghers for Public Transit where he leads campaigns for equitable public transit. Prior to this, he worked with BikePGH as the associate director of development, bringing transit advocacy to businesses and institutions in the Pittsburgh region. “Transit advocacy is a small but critical part of the overall social justice which Dan has recognized and worked toward,” his nominator said. Yablonsky has also been an active volunteer organizer with Penn Plaza Support and Action, advocating for displaced residents and East Liberty neighbors, and he’s on the board of the Bloomfield Development Corporation, the neighborhood organization fighting for responsible development and safety in Bloomfield. Yablonsky lives in Bloomfield and went to the University of Vermont.