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Identity & Community

Majestic Lane Discusses City's Increase In Diversity, What It Means For Talks On Equity

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Julia Zenkevich
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90.5 WESA

Majestic Lane, a deputy chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto, has served as the first head of the city's Office of Equity for the past two years. There he has helped spearhead the administration's efforts to achieve equity within city government. But earlier this month, he will join the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a key player in Pittsburgh's Renaissance efforts and long the region's leading business- and civic-leadership group. There he will reprise his duties as chief equity officer, focusing on equity issues across a 10-county region around Pittsburgh.

Lane spoke with WESA's Ariel Worthy about what that work entails, and what newly released census data — which shows both growing regional diversity and a 13 percent percent drop in the city's Black population — says about the challenges and opportunities ahead. Ariel Worthy's questions will be bolded, and Majestic Lane's will be below them.

The census last week confirmed what a lot of people suspected: Black households have moved across city lines over the past decade. What do you think should be done to reverse that trend, and what prevented the city government from doing it?

So to your first point, what you see with the strides of creating financial empowerment centers, what you see with unprecedented investments in affordable housing, attainable housing, for-sale, housing in communities are examples of what we have been doing to make neighborhoods in our city neighborhoods of choice, where everyone can function and everyone can flourish.

The second part of it is thinking about what we could have done to prevent it. We have to be very careful that we don't take away people's agency to move. While it is undeniable that rising costs in housing have contributed to people leaving the city, the two places that had the largest increase in Black population are places that are homeownership destinations for black people: Penn Hills and Monroeville. I think we have to have a nuanced conversation about what equity looks like and even the lens of how we perceive what is happening to Black people and be careful to not take away people's agency.

People for generations have lived the "American dream." And so if people want more space and people have the ability to do that, they may do that. What we want to do is create [a] neighborhood of choice. We want to create opportunity in the city. And also some of the conversations we're having or national dialogs. You know, Black flight from cities is a national conversation. So we need to have both of those dialogs together.

The census also showed that the Hispanic population grew by about two-thirds and the Asian population grew by half and [the population of] some other races doubled. And we also saw that the county had big jumps in those categories. What implications does that have for the work of equity?

I think it shows that the conversation around equity needs to be a county and a regional conversation, because what we see is that, again, people are moving to the county for a variety of reasons. I think it shows that this region is becoming a destination for a variety of people, is becoming more diverse.

Diverse regions do better. Diverse regions create a higher quality of life. So I think it's indicative that we are making strides because now we know that there's going to be a more diverse workforce, that people will be able to see folks from all backgrounds and walks of life.

What will you be doing at the Allegheny Conference?

So in many senses, what I'll be doing there is really a scaling of sorts of the work that we've been doing at the city. We know that it's important to look at the outcomes for people of color from a regional perspective. And this will give me the ability to partner with folks in the city, folks in the county, and folks in the 10-county area to really see what's happening where Black people from an economic equity perspective and a quality-of-life perspective. And how can the Allegheny Conference work with partners to enhance those things and lead where we're uniquely suited to lead?

In a lot of people's minds, the Conference has a lot of white men in it. How do you think your presence there will justify what is going on?

So I think what we see from the idea or impetus to hire a chief equity officer is a acknowledgment and reality of the fact that our region is shifting and that economic racial equity is central to a healthy, functional region, which I think is in a really, really big step, right. To me, the conference is now saying we need to be explicit about what's happening with all of our residents in the entire area for quality of life. So I think it shows a shift. And I think that our entire region is making a need to continue to make the shift around equity and what that looks like and what it means for all of our residents.