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Regional NAACP will convene in Pittsburgh April 25-27

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:14 a.m.

The NAACP will hold a major regional convention in Pittsburgh next month, officials said Friday.

Constance “Connie” Parker, NAACP Pittsburgh Unit president, said high-ranking national officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will convene for its Region II National Convention from April 25-27 at Westin Convention Center Hotel , Downtown.

“To us in the Pittsburgh unit, it's a very big deal,” she said. “We're honored, and we're going to put forth the extra effort to make sure our visitors are well hosted and well received in our city.”

Details, including the conference schedule and speakers, must be worked out, Parker said.

“But it is finalized,” she said. “They're coming.”

The NAACP's Region II covers Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Hosting such a conference is the latest sign that people nationwide are taking notice of Pittsburgh's transformation from a struggling former steel town to a cutting-edge city with a modern economy, officials said.

“I think it just reinforces how hot this city is, in terms of our reputation around the country,” said Tom Martini, general manager of Westin Convention Center Hotel.

“Hosting G-20 really put us on the map,” he said of the 2009 summit of world leaders. “People started taking a look at Pittsburgh and saying: ‘What's going on there? What's causing the revitalization?' ”

The city's significant black history and minority population played a part, local NAACP officials said. The Pittsburgh Courier once was the largest-circulated black paper in the country, and the city was home to civil-rights activists, such as the late Nate Smith, a labor leader who led marches to get blacks unions jobs; and Alma Speed Fox of Stanton Heights, for whom the Pittsburgh NAACP office is named.

In the Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey, 65.5 percent of Pittsburgh's 307,484 residents said they are white, putting the minority population at 34.5 percent. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed consider themselves black.

Marilyn Barnett, a member of the NAACP Pittsburgh Unit and principal of Imani Christian Academy in East Hills, said local attendees will treat the convention as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons from outsiders. Though progress has happened here, she said, the city needs to improve education opportunities for youths, among other issues.

“We have people that are thirsty for more information,” Barnett said. “I'm hoping they'll bring new ideas, ... new ways of doing things other cities have been more successful at than Pittsburgh. I'm hoping that bringing in other people will help us become more energized to do the work we need to do.”

It is not clear how many people the convention would draw, Parker said. Martini said the Westin expects to reserve about 500 rooms for visitors.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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