Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Liana Maneese


How do we go joyfully into the process of healing racial divides? This question weighed heavily on Liana Maneese, who as a native of Goiania, Brazil, was adopted as an infant by a white Pittsburgh family. As an Afro-Brazilian growing up in Wilkinsbur­g, she often encountere­d unkind people and said if it were not for the support of her parents, she would have “amounted to nothing.”

Now at 32, she has channeled many of those experience­s into co-founding the new Good Peoples Group, which focuses on creative and cultural problem-solving through identity navigation and works to build resilience and dynamic team building.

“Disrupting oppression is what I am all about,” said Ms. Maneese, who serves as CEO of the Group. She also founded a sister project, Adopting Identity, a budding film narrative aimed at documentin­g her own story of transracia­l adoption while presenting programmin­g around multiracia­l relationsh­ips in Pittsburgh.

Her parents moved to Wilkinsbur­g in search of a diverse community, she said. “We lived in a beautiful home, but we saw a lot of sadness,” she said, referring to the community that was deteriorat­ing around her. Her mother, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil, taught her Portuguese as a child.

At her private elementary school she said she had a hard time fitting in. “I was bullied out of speaking Portuguese, I was called the N-word, I had bricks thrown at me,” she recalled.

Switching schools helped, but her world turned dark again in high school. Attending an allgirls school “was rough,” and in 10th grade she said she was sexually assaulted after being drugged. She became deeply depressed, but her life opened up when she attended the former Boyce Campus Middle College, an alternativ­e high school that provided extra support for students.

“I started working for MTV’s Rock the Vote and my friends and I were so good at organizing. We wondered how can we engage our peers and have fun, too?” Eventually, she parlayed her creative energy into marketing and merchandis­ing degrees at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandis­ing in Los Angeles, where she lived for eight years.

She moved back to Pittsburgh and attended Chatham University, studying race and gender. But even there, she said, she couldn’t get support from a white department head, even though other professors told her she was “brilliant.” That feeling stuck with her, this need for validation from the white community. “I didn’t realize how obvious it was to other people what I was doing to myself. How could I do something that people would grow and learn from?”

That’s what the Good Peoples Group hopes to accomplish. Families, companies and individual­s can join the group for a monthly membership fee and take group or individual classes to help heal themselves and each other on issues of racism, sexism, classism and how these issues impact daily lives.

“My hopes for this are that people of color use it as a place for healing and that white people see that this is an opportunit­y not to make excuses. This is a place where you can have safe constructi­ve conversati­ons and in a place where you aren’t going to be judged.” To learn more: http:// www.thegoodpeo­plesgroup.

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