Pittsburgh Changemaker: Duane Binion
By Trevor Miles
Kelly Strayhorn Theater is presenting local leaders that have been changemakers in Pittsburgh. Mentors, teachers, artists— KST acknowledges these pioneers. This is Our Story: KST Recognizes Pittsburgh Changemakers.
Duane Binion, Associate Producer of Kelly Strayhorn Theater/ Co-Founder of True T Entertainment
1- What do you do for the community now and why is it important?
As the Associate Producer of Kelly Strayhorn Theater & Co-Founder of True T INC. /True T Entertainment, community engagement is extremely important to me. I try my best to stay up-to-date with current happenings, not only within the city of Pittsburgh, but also worldwide. Although many world issues may not seem as if they will effect our community directly, there is always the potential so I find it very important to stay informed. I like to understand and see the world through the eyes of others and immerse myself in unfamiliar situations in order to get a better feel for the struggles of others.
Both Kelly Strayhorn Theater (KST) and True T Entertainment pride ourselves in creating programming that is inclusive, responsive to community concerns, and supporting community members that may be categorized as underprivileged and/or underserved minority populations. Throughout the year at KST we provide “KST Family” series that are Pay-What-You-Can events—giving the option of paying anywhere from $1 to any dollar amount—in efforts to provide events that members of all ages can attend at an affordable cost. During these events, we provide everyday life resources, engaging actives, youth performances, and a judgment-free atmosphere for patrons of all ages, races, religions, and gender identities to attend.
As Co-Founder of True T Entertainment we focus our efforts more specifically on the underprivileged, underserved LGBTQIA population. True T Entertainment is a social media based up-and-coming non-profit organization with a large presence in the African American/Latino tri-state ballroom community. Our mission is to provide everyday life resources, HIV/STD testing and prevention, and unique safe spaces throughout the year for local youth, and ballroom participants from all over America to come together and compete in friendly, competitive events for grand prize money, trophies, and ballroom acknowledgement. We offer discounts to participants who attend different True T Entertainment, HIV/STD awareness seminars and as well as offer free testing during our events.
Being active and supportive in the community is important to me because leaders come in all forms, and in today’s age I believe there is room for growth in leadership statistics for young black women and men. I am passionate about providing resources to community members that may not have access to otherwise. I believe the only people who “fail” are those who complain but have never tried to fix the problem, so I do my best to never accept being placed in any sort of box created by society.
2- What is one defining moment of your life? (When you decided to do what you’re doing now).
One defining moment in my life would be enrolling in AmeriCorps as part of the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Public Allies. Initially, I had already been involved in the local LGBTQIA community through True T Entertainment, which appeals to a very specific LGBTQIA community of people. I had always been curious of ways to be more involved with the community, however I just never could exactly figure out where to start. Applying to be in the Pittsburgh Public Allies took a good amount of effort, and I knew early on that if the process of being accepted was this detailed and time consuming, I had better be ready for a long road ahead.
Pittsburgh Public Allies is roughly a one year-long leadership development program that helps to mold and shape the leaders of tomorrow while providing resources, networking opportunities, trainings, and onsite internships with local non-profit organizations. This program helped me so much, through the information shared during our weekly Friday trainings about the ins and outs of working in and creating non-profits. They would place us in groups and face us with unfamiliar situations (called a TSP or Team Service Project) in which you are assigned a local neighborhood, and given the task of creating a sustainable project within the community, and assist in improving on an agreed upon issue. This project required us to scout the community for other local leaders to create partnerships, as well as socialize with community members to understand what the residents of the community feel was most important to address.
In the end, we decided to create a partnership with the Greenfield Terrace, a senior citizens’ home, as well as Greenfield Elementary School in efforts to create a video project that would help to bridge the intergenerational gap. We also learned through various residents about the lack of respect between the local youth and elders. Overall, our project was successful, although we ran into many obstacles along the way. In the end, we created a video project showcasing the personal life stories of the Greenfield elders and gave the youth a more personable representation of the elders they had become so accustomed to disrespecting.
For me this was a small step in the right direction. After realizing how much impact a project of this capacity had on Greenfield community members, I realized how many other local issues could be just as feasible with the right attention paid to them.
3- What advice do you have for youth that want to become a change maker in their community?
My advice to the next generation of game-changers & youth leaders would be to always follow your passion. It’s much easier to wake up with a smile everyday through the stress when you’re passionate about the cause! I have come to learn that in this world we live in, sometimes life can seem overwhelming with expectations placed on us by family, friends, and outsiders as you try to fit into what society classifies as the “social norm”. The reality of it all is it’s 2015, and there is no such thing as a “social norm”—every gamechanger faces obstacles and in order to overcome these obstacles you must first be passionate about the cause you’re fighting for, and go into the fight knowing that it may not be an easy feat. Is anything worth fighting for ever an easy battle? Engage your local community; let your face be seen at community events, and network, network, network!
4- What is a song on your playlist? (A song that motivates and drives you).
Castles by Dawn Richard… and lots of Beyonce!