City of Pittsburgh is now Certified Welcoming
Written by Feyisola Akintola, Special Initiatives Manager, Office of Equity, City of Pittsburgh
Editor’s note: On September 17, 2021, the City of Pittsburgh, PA became the twelfth place to become Certified Welcoming, and the third in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Read more about what the process was like.
Pittsburgh has always been a commercial hub in Pennsylvania, with an increasingly diverse population. What compelled the city to commit to becoming Certified Welcoming?
We decided to pursue Certified Welcoming for a couple of reasons. I was fairly new in the role at the City of Pittsburgh and I turned to Welcoming America to learn more about what policies and programs were being introduced in other cities across the country.
I also asked about what other things we could be doing, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I found out about the Welcoming Standard and Certified Welcoming and realized it was exactly that: it showed us what we could be doing, it showed us what could be introduced and how to do it.
Watch the mayor of Pittsburgh, William Peduto, announce the city as Certified Welcoming, with remarks by Rachel Perić, executive director of Welcoming America.
What were the most affirming and challenging aspects of undergoing the certification process?
What makes Certified Welcoming so great and exciting is that it is very rigorous. It involves a broad range of different aspects and takes a long time to bring new and different people into the work.
Additionally, when I started on Certified Welcoming, I was still fairly new and wasn’t as knowledgeable about city departments as now, so that was an added challenge.
The work to become Certified Welcoming is incredibly affirming. We have grown in terms of awareness of the work that is being done and also, in our understanding of what it means to implement this work. Certified Welcoming allowed us to highlight work being done and also reveal new opportunities for us to engage deeper.
What was most exciting was actually feeling like I was learning something that was being done well across the country. We were able to check the temperature on our work and compare it with the Welcoming Standard. Certified Welcoming took the guesswork out of what we needed to do and it showed us how to improve.
As you consider the work you’ve put into becoming Certified Welcoming, what do you expect to have the biggest impact on residents living in Pittsburgh as a result of your certification?
First, I think the achievement of becoming a Certified Welcoming city was truly a recognition of the work that community partners put in. We got to this point together and this is how you can see if people feel like they belong: by being able to accomplish something like this together.
The City of Pittsburgh and community partners know that this isn’t a one-off accomplishment or a box that is checked. The work is ongoing and our community partnerships and commitment will continue to carry forward.
More specifically, one outcome of becoming Certified Welcoming is our engagement of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI) or code enforcement. We had not engaged with PLI prior to this process, and probably wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for how Certified Welcoming shed light on the importance of this partnership. As a result, they are now hearing directly from immigrants and refugees and have increased language access and training in their department.
Pittsburgh timed its announcement of becoming Certified Welcoming for Welcoming Week.
What are some recommendations or suggestions you have for cities considering becoming Certified Welcoming?
I encourage everyone to do it. Whether your city is doing a lot or not enough, this process is one that allows you to ensure the work is remaining relevant. It requires looking in the mirror to determine what you’re doing and what you could improve upon. Certified Welcoming is that mirror and provides you with the path forward.
Also, people should know that they will be supported during this process. Welcoming America and the Certified Welcoming team are championing the work and it is a partnership with them to get Certified.
We didn’t achieve certification right away, and that’s okay. We had an action plan and worked together with Welcoming America to become Certified Welcoming. You can do it, too!