A mural depicting Dorothy Richardson and local children is a prominent feature in Pittsburgh.
by: Gabrielle Sims, former community scholar
I recently had the opportunity to conduct research on the life of Dorothy Richardson, the guiding light for NeighborWorks America. (NHSOKLA is part of the NeighborWorks America national network.) When I started, I wasn’t expecting to learn much new about her life and what motivated her to save her Pittsburgh community. But by the end of my project, I had uncovered a lost history of a true American mover and shaker—an individual whose legacy has ensured that millions have access to the resources necessary to own their homes and build their communities. This project was far beyond what I imagined my experience with NeighborWorks America would be like and I am extremely grateful for the support I received every step of the way.
My first encounter with the Dorothy Richardson story was at the orientation for community scholars in late May. Our orientation leader played a video showing a black housewife who banded together with other women in her community to lobby the banks to give them $750,000 to save deteriorating homes in their neighborhood. The story was interesting, but I had the feeling there were parts of it missing. I figured that information about her life was limited because most of her work was during the 1960s.
Although I was new to NeighborWorks America as a community scholar intern, there was something about the story that was so intriguing to me that I became deeply invested in learning more, beyond the bare facts. I knew Dorothy had to have done something incredible to inspire a national organization like NeighborWorks, because from my knowledge of American history, the 1960s was not an era when banks were eager to form relationships with black women, especially those living in low-income areas.
Fortunately, one of my assignments for the summer was to find out more about Dorothy Richardson because my supervisor, Bernadette Orr, agreed the story wasn’t as fleshed out as it could be. Bernadette warned me that others at the organization had tried to look into her story before, but didn’t come up with much more than we already had. With this in mind, I tailored the goals for the project so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I wasn’t able to answer the questions that really piqued my interest.
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