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Oral history celebration today in Beltzhoover


SLB Radio Productions, Inc. (SLB) will hold a public celebration for Crossing Fences, a neighborhood-based oral history program that features African American men and boys from the Hilltop/Beltzhoover area today, Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 5-7 at the McKinley Park Recreation Center, 900 Delmont Avenue.

The celebration includes a CD/book release party and listening session and a citywide party, all marking the culmination of this unique project in three different neighborhoods: the Hilltop/Beltzhoover, Northside and McKeesport.

A neighborhood-based oral history initiative, Crossing Fences is designed to connect generations of African American boys, youth and men through conversation; celebrate and archive these connections by creating multimedia publications; and sharpen skills students can use to support success in school and beyond. A first-of-its-kind program in the region, Crossing Fences combines cutting-edge audio technology with intergenerational communication, historical research and youth media arts.

• How do young boys feel about their neighborhoods and what can they learn from long-time residents and community leaders?

• What common ground is found between an 11-year-old boy and an

80-year-old elder when they sit and talk together, sharing thoughts and experiences about the role of fathers in their own lives?

• What thoughts does a 14-year-old teen have about his experience becoming a mentor to younger boys in the program?

These and many other topics, ideas and issues are explored in Crossing Fences, when Hilltop youth came together with older neighbors—many they met for the first time last summer—who they now call role models and mentors. Discussions touched upon themes and concepts of perseverance, resilience, self-confidence and self-awareness, parenting, community service, fatherhood and family, finding a calling, neighborhood life, career choices and the role of spirituality.

Men and boys from Hilltop/Beltzhoover are featured. Completed oral histories include interviews with prominent local educators, mentors, business owners, veterans, musicians, religious figures, artists, and public service professionals. Interviewees included: Curtiss Porter, chancellor of Penn State Greater Allegheny; Austin Davis, executive assistant to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; Joe Kennedy, founder and CEO of Riverbends, Keith Giles, CEO of First Step Recovery Homes, Inc., sculptor Thad Mosely, Richard Carrington, executive director of Voices Against Violence; Kashif Henderson, history teacher at Brashear High School, Ocie Page, president of the NAACP’s McKeesport Chapter, and many others.

“Crossing Fences gives participants a clear example of how to positively contribute to our communities. The program connects boys to men who have had success in some area, whether it be politics, fatherhood, community development, education, business or spirituality. Participants leave with a new lens on constructive uses of their time and talents,” says Chanessa Schuler, multimedia specialist, with SLB Radio.

“Each elder who participated passed a torch by sharing their story. Each story was unique and encouraged the boys to stay positive and see something greater than any circumstance they may face. The boys walked away with rich history, interviewing techniques, audio editing skills, and overall guidance that they may have not experienced before. When reflecting on the program, one of the boys told me that a man was like a ‘10-minute father figure.’ I was so amazed by the way he conceptualized the experience.”

Crossing Fences was conceived and carried out by SLB Radio Productions, Inc. and made possible by The Heinz Endowments African American Men and Boys Initiative with additional support from PNC Bank, Private Wealth Advisors, UPMC Health Plan, Hive Pittsburgh, The Duckworth Group at Merrill Lynch, Manchester Youth Development Center, Manchester Academic Charter School, Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, the New Pittsburgh Courier and the City of McKeesport Mayor’s Office.

Crossing Fences was launched by SLB in 2012, in the communities of the Hill District, Homewood and Hazelwood. The program will continue in three additional neighborhoods in 2014. Schools and community centers interested in being considered as a host site may contact Ms. Schuler at


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