For the sixth consecutive year, the Northside Oldtimers organization’s Unity Gathering successfully brought together young and old residents of various North Side neighborhoods in an effort to stop violence before it starts.
“We promote unity in the community and our motto is ‘save one, job done’ and what we hope to do is stop the violence in our communities one child at a time,” said Northside Oldtimers president Allen Turner.
|PACKED PARK—As with all the Northside Oldtimers events, West Park, on the North Side, was packed for the annual event. See more photos on People B4. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
The event was held at North Side’s West Park behind the National Aviary Aug. 3. A second day of praise and worship was planned at the park for Aug. 4, but was postponed due to inclement weather. A meet and greet cabaret was held on Aug. 2.
“This year was very successful. The Unity Gathering brings everyone together from North Side neighborhoods so that they can meet each other. We had kids on one side and old timers on the other side this year,” said Fred “Scrappy” Bulls, one of the Northside Oldtimers founding members. “The community responds tremendously to us. This year we had about 7,000 people there and our goal was to bring everyone together and we reached that goal.”
This year’s Unity Gathering included music, food, face painting, games and magicians.
Former North Side residents who have moved to other parts of the United States return home faithfully each year to attend the Unity gathering.
“We had people from Florida, D.C. and North Carolina,” Bulls said.
Some of this year’s sponsors included Bidwell Training Center, Odell Robinson Funeral Home and Chuck Sanders Charities. The City of Pittsburgh also helps the group. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl makes sure the group has chairs and tables.
“God has really blessed us. We get money from neighborhood businesses and from the average Joe. We stepped out on faith alone and during the first year we had about 2,000 people that showed up and it’s grown from there,” Bulls said.
The Northside Oldtimers group was started in 2007 by a dedicated group of dedicated men and women from several North Side neighborhoods who had a common goal to work with kids ages kindergarten to eighth grade in an effort to bring them together at an early age to help curb violence between kids from rival neighborhoods when they grow older.
“Our goal with this was to get to the kids before they join a gang or decide to carry guns. We are the best gang and violence prevention group in the city. We don’t show up when the chalk line is drawn, we work with them at an early age because we want to show the kids that there are other ways to live and we want to stop the genocide against each other,” Bulls said.
In addition to the Unity Gathering event, the group fulfills its mission by providing positive and safe events for the kids to attend to interact and connect with one another. One of those events includes monthly skating parties throughout the year at a roller rink on Neville Island. The parties are held the first Sunday of each month beginning at 5:30 p.m.
But the Unity Gathering draws the most attendees from North Side communities and other areas of Pittsburgh. In six short years, it has become one of the most popular Black events in the city.
“We are more than just a picnic. Our organization is recognized wherever we go and by whatever we do. We haven’t had any violence at any of our events. This organization provides a safe environment for the kids and the people involved in the organization come from the streets. What we know comes from experience,” said English Burton, outreach chairperson and a founding member of the Northside Oldtimers. “This is where we live and work and this is a hands-on thing. We not only get to know the kids, we know their parents and grandparents.”
Burton said about 3/4 of the non-profit group’s finances, which are earned through donations from local businesses and everyday people who believe in the group’s mission, goes towards children’s activities throughout the year and during the Unity Gathering event.
“This year we had a big children’s area and we had about 1,000 kids and we also had a lot of service provider booths on hand that provided a lot of good information to people who attended,” Burton said. “We had a very safe event, provided a lot of information and promoted the idea of unity and peace—peace with your wife, peace with your neighbor, piece with your kids—the whole time.”
For more information on the Northside Oldtimers, visit http://www.northsideoldtimers.com.