Kuwame Kinsel’s background was not painted with a gold-handled brush.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Hill District at a time when gang activity was rearing its ugly head throughout the city’s neighborhoods, he was the eldest of his mother’s 10 children. By the time he was 21, he would have had the unfortunate distinction of having attended eight funerals—the first six before he was a senior in high school.
Sounds like a bit of a rocky start, yes, but there is good news. Rather than diminish his spirit, these experiences have shaped his stance on the importance of mentorship, and also of the value of sticking with your community and working to make a difference.
“It’s mentorship that makes a difference in people’s lives,” Kinsel says. “I’m convinced that it is the way people, young and old, get connections and learn about options and opportunities that can offset the negative results of a life of drugs and crime.”
Now 22, the Larimer resident still has affection for neighborhoods and says he is “committed to work to be a part of positive change.”
As a head cyclist with Bike Pittsburgh, he leads young people on bike rides around the city, including Homewood, Larimer, Highland Park, Point Breeze, Shadyside, Lawrenceville and the North Side. Aside from providing them with instruction on handling a bike responsibly on the open street, Kinsel acts as a mentor to his students, who range from age 11 to 14 and are in seventh and eighth grades. The participants sign up through the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy.
Also a talented multimedia artist, Kinsel discovered his passion for art and writing at the age of 16 when he tried to impress one of his female peers by writing a poem about her.
“I really liked this girl and couldn’t figure out how to get her to notice me, so I wrote a poem about her,” Kinsel shares. “And I discovered I not only had a knack for poetry, but also I enjoyed it. I wrote some other pieces and they were included in an anthology produced by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.”
For the past two years, he has been a supervising intern at BOOM Concepts, a community art space located on Penn Avenue between Bloomfield and Garfield where artists, musicians and entrepreneurs are able to create, display and host events to showcase their work.
At BOOM Concepts, Kinsel also works on his own projects in visual art (painting and installation) and poetry—and coordinates with the other interns to help provide an incubation space for seasoned artists to experience a growth of their ideas and creative projects.
“I would indeed identify him as a champion for the next generation as his presence here has been a key to our success,” says D.S. Kinsel, co-founder of the space and a visual artist in his own right. “Since Day One, he has been an avid recruiter, a tremendous support to our artists and coordinator of events, and keeping this schedule, which is always tight.”
D.S. Kinsel says his younger cousin’s success in recruiting is significant in that it means engaging young black men around arts and cultural experiences when they are drawn by so many things. He says getting a bunch of 20-something young men to come to an art gallery reflects tremendous leadership.
“His dedication to the work here makes us completely comfortable in assuring he receives opportunities to engage his craft outside of this space,” says D.S. Kinsel. “I am really proud of him as an artist, a young man, a community advocate, and as my blood.”
Additionally, Kuwame Kinsel has strong opinions about male-female relationships and confesses his own previous challenges in that area.
“Interacting with various artists has caused me to change my entire perspective about women—my sensitivities are heightened around the prevailing sexism in our culture,” Kinsel says. “I now consider myself a feminist, with a new respect for women. I believe that men need to be more knowledgeable about and more accountable around women’s issues in this country.”
In 10 years, Kinsel sees himself operating his own space, like the one in which he is being mentored now.
“I see myself owning several properties and running my own space, fighting the affordable housing crisis that exists in our communities,” he says.
Kinsel recognizes that choosing not to pursue a college degree could be a barrier to some of his goals, and he believes that he will possibly return to Clarion University for that reason. But for now, he is firm in his belief that it does not take the paper you receive with four-year degree to positively impact others and to make a difference in the community in which you live.
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