Dear Editor:

When I was younger, I thought Pittsburgh was a great city to live in because we are home to the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. At 17, I now appreciate other aspects that make it “the most livable,” like having Google and other tech startups right in our backyard.

However, as a Black teen, I am aware of stresses that have been caused by some growth in the East End as well as the city-wide disparities between Blacks and Whites. There is an urgent need for these disparities to be addressed if we want to continue to be considered “most livable.” In addition to the steps our elected officials, non-profits and companies are taking to solve these challenges, I see good news among my peers and I have hope.

As I begin my senior year in high school, I am reflecting on the steps my friends and I have tried to prepare ourselves to be active participants in the region’s economy. As you begin your high school career, I hope you find these tips useful:

No. 1—Take STEM classes and STEM opportunities seriously—even if you don’t plan to continue in a scientific field after high school. These classes may provide a basis for the critical skills you will need in the workplace and also help to build your perseverance and confidence needed for whatever you decided to tackle.

Let’s face it, our education system and tech firms are mismatched in many ways, including their pace of change. Therefore, it is important to try to find supplements to our school STEM experiences. One example might be participating in All Star Code, a coding and entrepreneurship program that started in Pittsburgh last summer and provides a robust coding and business curriculum.

No. 2—Try your hand at business–either working for a small business or creating your own. In African American communities, new businesses provide jobs and services, promote social change, and create legacies of opportunities. These business entrepreneurs, when successful, can reach beyond themselves and provide support for individuals and organizations in need. In the year 2016, Entrepreneur magazine and a U.S. Census analysis reported that African American entrepreneurs in America are growing slightly.

No. 3—Find a way to volunteer—Volunteering is a great way to share what you know and learn new skills while creating new bonds and relationships. There are so many great organizations in Pittsburgh that you can find one that fulfills your personal interests. Personally, I have benefited from tutoring third graders and raising money for Haiti because these experiences have allowed me to make new friends and learn fundraising tips. My friends and I have volunteered in different ways, but we have generally benefited from being exposed to a larger group of people, an opportunity to apply our academic learning to real life situations and help find our passions and interests. In addition, most of us find that our volunteer experiences are good topics for job interviews and applications.

Diversity and inclusion are going to make our city even more livable and enjoyable than it is today. We hold the key to change in our community and can set ourselves up for success if we use our high school years to set the groundwork. We can be the generation that defines success for all Pittsburghers regardless of color.

Kendall Thomas
High School Senior, Shady Side Academy

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