Award #44: Black Girls Do Bike

Lest you think that black girls can’t or don’t or won’t ride a bicycle, this project is here to educate you otherwise. Note: it helps, when pronouncing this project out loud, to stress the word “DO” because this group wants you to know that black girls and women really DO bike. Seriously.

Monica Garrison, founder of Black Girls Do Bike: Pittsburgh (BGDB) encourages all women to take up biking, but the project focuses on African-American women who are both under-represented in the larger cycling community and who are statistically more likely than their peers to be overweight and suffer from heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. BGDB also encourages women to pay it forward and bring friends, family, and coworkers along for the ride. Their mission is to foster a supportive environment for new bike riders with monthly “no drop” rides, which means that no one will get lost or drop behind on the route. The group provides constant support and encouragement to new riders, making sure that everyone gets back to the start.

Black Girls Do Bike

Ms. Garrison was born and raised in Pittsburgh, attending Schenley High School and Robert Morris University. Monica states:

“I learn, live, work, raise a family and ride my bike in Pittsburgh. I am very excited to see the positive changes happening with bike infrastructure. It is refreshing to see that Mayor Peduto, the county and Bike PGH have a clear plan to make Pittsburgh a world class bike-friendly city. We believe that it can and will happen.”

Awesome Pittsburgh Trustee Evelyn Castillo was as big supporter of this project:

“BGDB’s plan is to get more ladies on bikes, and studies show that riding bikes makes you more awesome. All kidding aside, this project creates a space for girls and women to explore, to commute, to exercise more often and to feel safe while doing so. They also provide an opportunity for newcomers to the city to join a community. BGDB: Pittsburgh is just more reason to love our city.”

BGDB is using the grant money to support supporting various biking events throughout this past biking season, which include the following: BikePGH Inaugural Cyclofemme Ride, Open Streets Pittsburgh, Bike Share Party Ride, PGH Fundamentals of Cycling Class, PedalPGH, and BikePGH’s Ladies Night at The Wheel Mill.

Award #43: Poetry Houses

Poetry Houses are bright, funky, fun, unexpected, Pittsburgh-specific, and in-your-face. Imagine as you walk through the city–on your way to work or during an evening out with friends—seeing a tiny wooden box on the sidewalk. Behind that box’s plexiglass door are four postcard-sized poems, free for the taking. Every two weeks, a brand new batch of four poems will arrive like magic.

This is the vision behind the public art project. Sarah Boyle, one of the project’s originators, explains:

The motivating factor behind Poetry Houses is to make poetry fun and accessible–both intellectually accessible and physically accessible. These days, poetry has a reputation for being impossible to understand and meaningless in everyday life. We want to show people that poems evoke everything from strange and mystifying to simple and sweet. By installing Poetry Houses alongside heavily-trafficked sidewalks, we physically make poetry a part of people’s everyday lives.

The Awesome Pittsburgh grant money covers the cost of building and maintaining two Poetry Houses. The project’s founders will use a “call for submissions” process to garner future poems, thereby engaging not only readers but writers and poets as well. The project is expressly designed to give local writers and young writers a platform, and of course there will be an online component so audiences outside of the city can access the poems.

Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Jeb Feldman loved that this project “involved people of all ages and experience levels, connected different neighborhoods by a common project, and was also able to reach a larger audience by being available online. Hopefully, this awesome idea will inspire people—who might not otherwise—write or think about poetry.”

The Pearl Club University Selected by Guest Panel at Awesome Pittsburgh’s Live Pitch Party

On a hot and muggy Monday night in June, a crowd gathered at The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company in Braddock to celebrate the awesomeness of Pittsburgh and to witness live project pitches in action. Projects were pitched to an esteemed guest panel comprised of Braddock residents Kevin Sousa, Gisele Fetterman, Phyllis Brown and Patrick Jordan. June’s winner, The Pearl Club University, was immediately selected following four outstanding presentations.

The goals of The Pearl Club are to enable and empower African-American young women toward self-sufficiency, to overcome poverty, and to foster contributing members of society via college preparation and life skills development. A real college experience is offered in collaboration with Carlow University, where high school students prepare to build their capacity to succeed, contribute to further increasing the viability of Pittsburgh, and expand the network of professional women as future mentors and contributors to the community.

Since 2013, The Pearl Club has empowered over 150 young women. With an 86% retention rate, the program has provided each participant with 80+ hours of college readiness programming and 50+ hours of gender-based mentoring. The programming teaches the definition of “college-ready” and provides oral presentation experience. Participants also learn to manage their time and develop networking skills. Founding director Tamasia Johnson explains the importance of this program:

“How can we expect students to succeed in an environment they are not prepared for? With 77% of our young women being first generation college-goers, our programming aids in solving the problem of minority young women lacking skills and preparation to overcome the challenges on a college campus.  Their aim is to graduate from a post-secondary institution, making Pittsburgh a more awesome place to build a future.”

At its core, the Pearl Club is a sisterhood based on college success. In one cohort, ten young women are given the opportunity to experience college life firsthand during a 6-day stay at Carlow University. During that week, they visualize themselves as college students. Upon hearing that her organization won, Tamasia exclaimed, “My heart was pounding and I was at a loss for words. The one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to share the moment with my student, Aricka. We were both super excited and emotional!”

Pearl Club

As trustee Melanie Harrington points out, “It is simply inspiring to see young people who are doing it for themselves. The Pearl Club includes young African American women who aspire to do great things and are mentoring younger African American women who are seeking guidance to successfully transition from high school to college. Now how important and awesome is that?”

The Pearl Club has a volunteer board consisting of 5 professional women from diverse disciplines. This year’s cohort experience began on June 21 and concluded on June 26 with a graduation ceremony. Learn how you can support the awesome work of The Pearl Club.

Artisan Leaves a Mark on Awesome Pittsburgh Trustees

ArtisanIn 2011, in an empty store front on Penn Avenue in Garfield, artists Meliora and Jason Angst opened Artisan, a tattoo shop and art gallery. Artisan has since grown into a community of artists whose renowned abilities are considered “sophisticatedly stylish.” Plans were in place to open a café and a hostel hosting global artists and to continue using the renovated, vintage-inspired first floor to showcase local and global artists. However, these dreams were deflated upon receiving news that their building needed to comply with city code, which would require ADA-accessible bathrooms, a 3-story fire escape, and other small projects. Artisan, along with other businesses, suffered because of the recent Penn Avenue re-construction project and this news made their future that much more bleak.

Enter their indiegogo campaign, Mellora explains:

“Our story is one of passion and of pursuit of beauty in the face of obstacles. Artisan’s community is dedicated to creating beauty – on the body, in the building, and in the city of Pittsburgh. We have done well so far, but the difficulty has been in maintaining the momentum.”

Awesome Pittsburgh’s $1000 grant will be added to funds from their recent campaign to help Artisan complete the required rehabbing of 5001 Penn Avenue.

Longtime Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Leah Helou was impressed with Artisan’s dedication, persistence, and potential:

“We liked Artisan’s project not just because of what they have already done for the community, but also because of their potential to do so much more. And they want to do more. They are a unique group of people with fantastic ideas and a wealth of talent. Artisan has struggled a bit recently and this grant signifies a moment for us, as community members, to show that we value Artisan and its contributions.”

Awesome in Braddock: Our Live Pitch Night Happens June 15th!


Every month, Awesome Pittsburgh trustees award one $1,000 grant to a project that will make Pittsburgh a more awesome place. The selection process has always happened behind closed doors… until now!

Please join us for a Live Pitch event at The Brew Gentleman in Braddock on June 15th from 6:00 to 8:30 PM. Four Awesome Pittsburgh finalists will pitch their ideas to the crowd and our panel of superstar Braddock judges:

  • Phyllis Brown, lifelong Braddock resident and community advocate
  • Gisele Fetterman, founder of The Free Store in Braddock and cofounder of Food Rescue 412
  • Kevin Sousa, celebrated serial chef and founder of Superior Motors

Food and beer will be available for purchase from the PGH Taco Truck and (of course) the Brew Gentleman themselves.

Let us know you’re coming by registering here.

May 25th! Special deadline this month for upcoming Live Pitch event

new deadline

Planning to apply for an Awesome Pittsburgh grant for June? Apply by May 25 and you will be considered for a chance to pitch in front of a live audience and panel of judges at our next party on June 15th.

Award #40: Pittonkatonk Collaborative Educational Workshop

Pittonkatonk crowd 2“Pittonkatonk” does not roll off the tongue easily. It sounds like an unfamiliar Native American tribe or perhaps a mechanical part to repair an obscure instrument. But it is neither. What it is, however, is worthy of an Awesome Pittsburgh grant.

So what is it? Pittonkatonk is a first-of-its-kind brass festival which is completely volunteer run.The event itself has no stages, no vending, and there is no admissions fee. The festival is supported by crowdfunding, on-site donations, and CMU’s Center for the Arts in Society. Also missing are food trucks or catering; instead attendees are encouraged to contribute a dish to the potluck. This year’s event will include over 100 performers, including national and local bands and takes place this upcoming Saturday, May 2 in Schenley Park.

Pittonkatonk is the brainchild of Pete Spynda and Rich Randall. Pete is one of the city’s most prominent event producers and DJs who is responsible for Pandemic, Weather Permitting and has served as the Director of Operations for the Bayardstown Social Club. Rich works as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and works with the Listening Spaces Project to understand how music can be used at grassroots levels for positive social change.

The inaugural festival first took place in May 2014 and this year hopes to be just as free and family-friendly but attract larger crowds. Pittonkatonk is more than a musical festival; its focus is on community. “It’s about bringing together people who might otherwise never convene, and blurring the line between performer and spectator,” says Spynda.

Awesome Pittsburgh’s grant supports a youth workshop component to the festival. On April 20, students learned how street music has been used to send a message for change and discussed the strengths and limitations of an acoustic mobile band.  On Friday, May 1st, one of the visiting bands will meet with students and rehearse for a collaborative performance to take place as part of Saturday’s festivities.  This educational component has been a longtime goal of Mr. Spynda’s and he’s thrilled to see this goal materialize.

To learn more, visit