McKeesport rallies for respect, non-violence
McKeesport's Message Committee welcomed residents, clergy, officials and educators to share respect for one another and their city as a quarterly campaign gained momentum outside city hall on Wednesday.
Mayor Michael Cherepko and members of his Select Committee on Crime and Violence and the McKeesport Message Committee distributed signs emphasizing the messages of respect, dignity, hope and love that will become the focus of activities hosted by city organizations and schools in 2013.
“Many of you may look at this and say it's just some words on a piece of paper,” the Rev. Earlene Coleman said, displaying one of the signs. “As each of us go to our separate places of worship, we are taught that the world was created when God spoke. There is power in words when we have this behind it. When we respect one another, when we have dignity for ourselves and one another; when we learn to love one another, then we will come to know that there is hope.”
Acknowledging that lives can be destroyed by words, Coleman invited attendees to rally behind the positive things words can do. She asked the crowd of more than 100 to put power behind their words and change their community, ending the cycle of violence.
“People will see that we know McKeesport can be a miracle,” she said. “We can show people what a miracle really is by how McKeesport changes through words.”
Cherepko said that miracle will be children who are growing up in McKeesport today, referencing the adage that it will take a “village” to raise them.
“It's very easy for any adult to say, ‘It's not our problem,' but that can't happen,” Cherepko said. “I can assure you that these (messages) are being taught in the schools. All too often, children leave the school, and it's like they turn off a switch. They don't take what they're learning in school and apply it to their lives.”
Cherepko said the messages won't go away, because the city will continue to reinforce core values that should be part of everyday life.
McKeesport council president Darryl Segina read a city resolution on Wednesday that was adopted earlier this month to embrace the messages of respect, dignity, hope and love.
“Council feels this campaign is necessary in order to re-establish self-respect and dignity in our city,” Segina read. “Council finds this to be a critical component of the long-term solution for curbing the crime and violence in our community.”
Segina said council is “in solidarity” with the city's administration in the campaign as he wished Cherepko and the committees success in their endeavor.
The Rev. Darrell Knopp, who chairs McKeesport's Message Committee, said support from council and the public will bring that success.
“We would like to thank all of you for coming and to welcome you to kick off our quarterly messages,” Knopp said. “We have so much excitement and enthusiasm around this project.”
Amber Kimmell of McKeesport attended with her children LaVone McBride, 16, and Alexus Burke, 14.
Saying there has been plenty of talk in town and on social media about ways to reach out, Kimmell wanted to hear what McKeesport's Message Committee and the Select Committee on Crime and Violence had to say.
“I have five children, and I'm tired of seeing families mourning,” Kimmell said. “The violence hasn't affected me personally, but it affects me as a person.”
When someone's life is ended violently in McKeesport, state Sen. James Brewster said, the lives of all city residents are affected in some way. “Some family is heartbroken. Some friend of the kid who was killed is heartbroken. Some teacher who taught that child. Some police officer who ran into him at a basketball game. We're all impacted, the image of your city, your family and our ability to get along.”
Brewster said he has experienced prejudice in Harrisburg from people who represent more affluent communities.
“They don't say it, but you can feel it — what they think of us and other communities that have fallen on hard times,” Brewster said. “They forget that 40 years ago, McKeesport was 55,000 people strong and people flocked to get here. Now, they tend to avoid.”
There is no question that the city will experience more violence, Brewster said. He proposed that the question should be how will the city deal with it.
“I'd like to think that when we have these things happen that we as a people are stronger,” he said. “That our teachers continue to teach, our parents continue to parent, our police continue to police, our leaders continue to lead and most importantly our pastors continue to pray and our parents continue to be good parents.”
Awareness and individual action are the best things residents can offer as the city strives to dissolve the culture of crime and violence, attendees said, noting that it's never too late for people to change or get involved.
“We as young adults must set a positive example for those who are younger and more impressionable than we are,” said 2012 McKeesport Area salutatorian Sarah Roka, who was named McKeesport's Salute to Santa queen in December. “If we continue these same actions, the negative image of McKeesport will continue and the dream of a safer and less violent McKeesport will be unattainable.”
Roka said non-violent conflict resolution needs to be ingrained in the youth and reinforced by the adults in their lives, whether that's in school, at home, in the community or at church.
Every speaker acknowledged that in order for quarterly messages to reach those who need them most, it will take help and faith from everyone.
“With your ideas and our ideas, we can pull this thing together and make a difference in McKeesport,” Councilman Dan Carr said.
Cherepko has maintained an open-door policy at city hall. He welcomes phone calls and visits from community members who would like to do their part for the city's message campaign or those seeking guidance for problems in their neighborhoods.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.