UYA closes despite plea

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When Rev. Cornell Jones learned Urban Youth Action, the organization his father Bernard started 45 years ago to give African-American youths the skills and knowledge to succeed in the job market, was to close Oct.31, he tried to contact the board about keeping it alive. He received no reply—for six weeks.

“I don’t want to dog them, but we’re up against the wall right now,” he told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “Under my father’s direction, UYA was the first successful African-American workforce development program in the city. It’s not like there’s no need for this kind of program right now.”

UrbanYouth
URBAN YOUTH TAKE ACTION—Participants and graduates from Urban Youth Action protest the program shutting down on Oct. 31 after 45 years. The rally was organized by Rev. Cornell Jones, far right, whose father, Bernard Jones, founded the program. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Ruthie King, the organization’s executive director, told the Courier on Aug. 30 UYA had lost a major part of its funding from the Workforce Investment Act, which UYA used to leverage other monies. The loss of funding, combined with the ongoing recession, she said, forced the closure of the program.

Neither the board chair Bridgette Cofield nor vice-chair Toni Silva could be reached for comment.

On the deadline date, joined by his sister, Hylene Jones Pankey, Black Political Empowerment Project Chair Tim Stevens, Voices Against Violence founder Richard Carrington, activist Jasiri X, and several recent UYA participants and graduates, Rev. Jones held a rally outside the program offices calling, one last time, for the board to turn over control of the organization rather than close it for good.

“There are still hundreds of youth that are interested in getting in this program,” said Pankey. “We can’t shut it down because that would be like giving up on our children.”

Through its focus on exposing Black teens to successful business people through its mentoring, internships and summer jobs programs, UYA helped thousands succeed and better their lives and communities. Reverend Jones said many of those graduates are ready to support the rebuilding of UYA under new leadership.

“With new leadership, following my father’s original direction, people are saying they will support us,” he said.

Reverend Jones has not said how this support would translate into the level of financial backing needed to revitalize UYA, but he said his father’s legacy is an important factor in selling the organization.

Carrington, whose organization is dedicated to saving Black youth from street violence, said UYA should have the support of all the city’s leaders because it works.

“I work with all kinds of kids, and there have been times when I’ve gone as far as I can with some,” he said. “I’ve taken them to UYA, and they’ve succeeded.”

Carrington said, of course, the family could start again from scratch, but that would take additional time and would lose some of the impact of Bernie Jones’ vision having succeeded for 45 years.

“Cornell has gotten a favorable response form the foundation community because it’s a program that works,” said Carrington.

One Hood activist Jasiri X, who is part of the Occupy Pittsburgh initiative, said a sit-in should be organized at the program’s offices.

“It’s time to occupy UYA,” he said. “This program taught people to be successful and those people are willing to give back. Why would you cut off an avenue that allows African- Americans to achieve that success?”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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