Nonprofits offer alternatives to thug life

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(This is the first in a series of responses addressing Black-on-Black violence.)

During his exclusive Aug. 23 interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board in the wake of the fatal shooting during a midget league football game, Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper challenged nonprofits working in African-American neighborhoods to act more cooperatively in the battle to stop Black-on-Black killings.

Rouzier
FLORENCE ROUZIER and MALIK BANKSTON

“I tried to bring (Community Empowerment Association) and the Kingsley Center together because we need to have more collaboration. It’s harder when you have all these groups competing for the same funds,” he said. “I’d rather make an investment in these programs that are being preventative.”

Kingsley Association Executive Director Malik Bankston said he understands Harper’s frustration, but not every nonprofit is equipped to address the problem directly.

“It’s easy to say what others should be doing. I’m frustrated with the violence, too, but we can’t be all things to all people—and we certainly don’t get funded at a level that would allow that,” he said.

Bankston said Kingsley pulled out of the Homewood midget football league three years ago over concerns about safety, but it still maintains afterschool basketball programs and a swim club aimed at steering youths away from the street. As for building partnerships, it has done so in its educational programs.

“We do partner with a variety of organizations in our efforts to address youth problems. We have a partnership with the school at Lincoln, and Robotics and Arts and Architecture programs with CMU,” he said. “Direct street outreach was never something Kingsley did. Sure, we should cooperate where possible, and we do. But I would rather see the people who do that work get more resources so they can do it better. I’m not chasing that funding.”

Likewise, from its charter school to its Black Male Leadership Development Institute the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh takes an educational approach to getting kids off the street, and the Black Male Leadership program is targeted at the critical age 15 to 18 demographic.

“We’ve started this four years ago and it has grown every year,” said Urban League Director of Education & Youth Development Florence M. Rouzier. “Bottom line, it’s really about building community and the response has been great—from the church community, community organizations, word of mouth, the kids are actually bringing their friend to it.”

The program, she said, which runs in two different week-long sessions in the summer, is followed by year-round, periodic activities and workshops on leadership development, community service, advocacy, college and career preparation, networking, presentation skills, and character education.

“During this last summer, we reached 91 kids,” said Rouzier. “We have just started a once-a-month Saturday Institute. The first one had 63 attend.”

Though she said she has been somewhat “myopic” when it comes to presenting this program to other community groups, she has formed partnership just recently with two.

“I tend to have a little tunnel vision because we don’t want to lose the kids we have and spread ourselves too thin,” she said. “But we have formed partnerships with Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks and Imani Christian Academy in the East End. We received a special grant from the Buhl Foundation just for that. There are opportunities for cooperation. The Urban League vision is that we could be a kind of umbrella for other groups.”

Community Empowerment Association Founder Rashad Byrdsong said his organization has always been proactive and collaborates with others whenever possible, It also organized a community-wide response to the shooting at Stargell Field that included representatives from several churches, the police and community residents.

“The chief is frustrated and made a blanket kind of generalization. He knows we’ve been doing gang intervention for years. We have a construction program, an African-American leadership program, a weatherization program, afterschool programs in four locations and we’ve reached more than 2,000 young men through our Brother to Brother mentorship initiative,” he said. But there is an issue with collaboration. I see the URA collaborating with GTECH on ‘green’ initiatives in the community without us. They aren’t invested in the community. That’s a collaboration we should be part of. I’d like to see collaboration from the foundation community to realize that Black on Black violence is a priority that needs more funding.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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