Area churches explore ways for them to work together for area youth
“There is an epidemic in the Mount Oliver, Arlington, Beltzhoover, Knoxville, Carrick, Warrington, the Hilltop. What we call the Hilltop area. It’s not going away. It is hurting the businesses. It is hurting the churches. It is hurting the streets. It is hurting the hearts of the parents who are losing their children to not just gun violence but drugs,” Mount Oliver Councilman Darnell Sains told the group of clergy and invited guests in the Mount Oliver Borough Building last week.
Those attending included Bishop Otis Carswell from Potter’s House Ministries, Pastor Maurice Trent from The Lighthouse, Pastor Chris DeMark of Pittsburgh Christian Fellowship and Richard Carrington, executive director of Voices Against Violence.
“We need programs for these children. We need structure for these children. We need religion for these children,” Mr. Sains continued. “It was brought to my attention that there’s a program that has been working in Beltzhoover for quite a long time by its director, Mr. Richard Carrington.”
Mr. Sains related how Mr. Carrington came to him and asked ‘what can we do collectively to save these children. How can we get the ball started to show the neighborhoods and the children that we care?’
He continued by saying it was important to cut the boundaries the youth have set for themselves and let them know the adults in the community care and are there to set boundaries for them.
“I just ask that you keep in mind what is being said here today and the idea for the change we have in plan for this area and let them know this is not a forgotten child. The Hilltop South Side is not a forgotten child. We are hoping that these things will catapult us into the future as a program to emulate from any and everybody not just other neighborhoods or areas in Pittsburgh, but all over the United States,” Mr. Sains said.
“Whether your realize it or not, we are embarking on something we have yet to do on this hilltop,” began Mr. Carrington.
He approached Mr. Sains and told him ‘we’ve got to do more’ to work with youth on the Hilltop. In doing so, he offered his reputation, connections and help in obtaining grants.
“I put it all on the table, it all belongs to you now,” Mr. Carrington said.
In bringing the group together to work together, he suggested Mount Oliver [Borough] should be the driving force for the endeavor. As a municipality, he offered, it would take the individuality out of all the individual efforts and come together under one umbrella.
“And allows the municipality to blossom and even at some point in time we have the ability once this project gets off the ground to go after funding from major organizations because we have 20 organizations who’ve been on this hilltop working diligently,” he continued.
His thought process, as he explained it, was to come to the [Mt. Oliver Borough] Council and allow them to be the catalyst for the program, they can then take the programs, the agencies and the organizations represented in the room that night and build a bigger list of organizations that “need to be in this room.” From there they will put together a Steering Committee and with those efforts begin to combine programs.
Mr. Carrington pointed to the afterschool programs, the weekend programs and his own Voices Against Violence youth programs as examples of what can be combined in a joint effort.
“Build a league of recreation,” he said.
“If we wait on the money, we’ll never get anything done,” Mr. Carrington continued. “If we go and begin to toil the field, then the seeds will come.”
Jamil Bey led the group in discussion for what could happen in the next stage of their strategy to work together.
Using his background in geography and conflict, Mr. Bey talked about conflict on the Hilltop.
“If you show me a map of Hilltop communities, I’ll show you the conflict lines,” he said.
The lines weren’t necessarily based on neighborhood borders or streets, but on natural geographic boundaries such as valleys or hills; things that prevented the natural movement of people. He offered, the same principles apply not only to neighborhoods, but even to countries segregated by natural borders.
“We need to overcome the geography of the Hilltop. We need to stop thinking Beltzhoover is Beltzhoover,” Mr. Bey added. He pointed to Mount Oliver as being a central location in the Hilltop, where people move through, where the transit lines run through.
“This is where all these people from all these other communities bump into each other,” he said.
The strategy includes bringing together the people who work with people on the Hilltop. In future meetings they’ll each have an opportunity to discuss what they do and what others in the group can do to support them.
But, Mr. Bey stressed, “it has to be about overcoming the geography” and bringing the neighborhoods’ kids as young children together through athletics, afterschool programs, summer camps and other activities.
“We need to get these kids together and let them know we’re one people, we’re one area, we’re one neighborhood. And we as adults have to put those ancient feuds behind us,” he said.
Mr. Bey asked those attending to think about what they could contribute to the bigger picture of the Hilltop and bring those thoughts back to the next meeting. He offered it could be the afterschool programs they had discussed earlier in the evening or a summer camp for kids or even a kickball tournament.
The follow-up meeting will take place at the Potters House Ministries, 430 Cathedral Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15210, on Thursday, Dec. 10 beginning at 7 p.m. Interested individuals and organizations concerned with improving the Hilltop are welcome to attend.
Attending organizations should come prepared to make a short presentation, five minutes or less, on their current or upcoming programing efforts with the goal to learn more about what everyone is doing and how they can be supported.