Though the reaction of many to the announced closing of Urban Youth Action after 45 years of serving Black youth throughout Allegheny County is one of regret and loss, others say the reactions should be action.
C. Richard Gillcrese, who was with founder Bernard Jones when he started the organization and served as its executive director from 1972-1995, said he would like to see an effort by the program’s graduates to keep it from shutting its doors Oct. 31.
|TEAMWORK—Urban Youth Action former Executive Director C. Richard Gillcrese, second from right, with 1980 team members, from left: Paula C. Williams, Katherine Ellis, Byron Foster and Toni l. Davis.
“It actually helped shape and mold part of this generation to be ready to work towards bettering themselves and their community,” he said. “I’m optimistic that some of these alumni want to see it stay alive, and that the community can rise above this and do what it takes to keep UYA going, using creativity, and cooperation to do so.”
Gillcrese said his fondest memories are of the gradates of the program like Maurice Lucas, police Chief Nate Harper, former Courier editor Twanda Johnson and countless lawyers, contractors and business people who first learned a work ethic at UYA. Some memories, he joked are of people he doesn’t remember.
“A guy came up to me the other day telling me about being in the program, and I’m trying to envision what he looked like as a kid,” said Gillcrese. “Then he pulled out a UYA membership card. We haven’t even issued those since 1967. He carries it in his wallet to this day because it was that important to him.”
Though Gillcrese, had continued working as a volunteer with the organization until the most recent summer program ended, he was not aware of its financial difficulties. Still, he said he was not totally shocked by the news.
“The board and the executive director made decisions and did what they thought was right. All organizations trying to survive these days have to be creative and UYA is no exception,” he said. “We took kids from the Hill and Homewood and got them their first jobs. They teach stuff in college that we use to teach kids—how to dress, to research a career, what to ask, how to speak. You can’t teach that early enough and you can’t have enough organizations doing it.”
Gillcrese disagrees with the assessment that UYA lost its funding because other organizations now also have job training and placement programs.
“Why are there three McDonalds Downtown? There’s a reason—one can’t serve everyone effectively,” he said. “Even though others copied what we did, that doesn’t mean they can serve everyone. No one asks this about the Girl Scouts or the YMCA. If you only have 50 young people to serve, okay. But if you have 500, you need more than one.”
Gillcrese said he is not involved in any organized effort to have UYA alumni raise funds, he had heard that Poise Foundation Executive Director Mark Lewis might be working on such an endeavor. Lewis could not be reached for confirmation by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline.
“I think it needs to be put out there to these alumni that their assistance is needed—now,” he said. “They should figure out ways to help.”
Louis “Hop” Kendrick said he spoke to Lewis, who has been meeting with people about funding. But added that the Black community has to stop relying on government to pay its way.
“We’ve got to get off our behinds and do for ourselves,” said Kendrick. “I’m tired of people saying what they can’t do. All those thousands of people who said they loved Bernie Jones—show it. Show it.”
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