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Oral histories and exhibit honor local African Americans

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When Demeatria Boccella, founder of the Utopia Modeling Agency for African Americans and the Fashion Africana event, was a young girl, she read fashion magazines and wanted to be a model. But, she recalls, she “saw limited, narrow portrayals of women of color … I saw no one like me who had darker skin or stronger African features. It led to a few self-destructive actions.”
 
Today, thanks to mentors who aided her self-esteem, she grew into an adult who has been able to make a difference in the fashion industry. Now she is one of 12 African Americans from Western Pennsylvania who are being honored as "individuals who have achieved milestones in civic leadership, the arts and civil rights" by PNC. The company has recorded their oral histories, which will be available as part of a free public exhibit that opens on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 20, at PNC’s Pittsburgh Legacy Building.
  • The other honorees are:
    Esther Bush, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Alma Speed Fox, civil and women’s rights advocate
  • Patricia Prattis Jennings, the first black woman to be awarded a major American symphony's full contract
  • Wendell Freeland, bombardier with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, local Urban League leader and co-founder of Hill House Association
  • Helen Faison, a pioneer Pittsburgh teacher after whom the district has named two schools
  • Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier
  • Thaddeus Mosley, nationally renowned sculptor
  • Julius Jones, retired chief executive officer of the YMCA of Pittsburgh
  • Swin Cash, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA champion
  • Billy Porter, Tony award-winning actor
  • Sean Jones, trumpeter and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra 
“It is such a distinguished group of individuals," says Boccella, "and it is truly an honor to be recognized with them. They are individuals who really inspire me.
 
“I love the outreach to the young people," she adds, pointing to essays written by 6th through 8th graders in city schools as part of this project. "When I was young I knew very few people who looked like me” in the professional world. “There are quite a few black professionals who are being recognized, and I think that it is very exciting.
 
“I hope they are inspired," she says of any young people who see he exhibit Downtown, "that they feel like, hey, I could do this too, that they feel empowered and inspired to pursue their dreams.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Demeatria Boccella
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