Men briefed on youth leadership plan

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

McKeesport residents will be able to participate in a program that gives boys the opportunity to interview exemplary men who live and work in their neighborhood.

First Step Recovery Homes, headquartered along Market Street, hosted an information session on Thursday night for the Heinz Endowments' African American Men and Boys Initiative. It is facilitated by the Saturday Light Brigade Radio in support of the city's Youth CAST Leadership Program.

Saturday Light Brigade Radio is a nonprofit organization that produces audio and radio programming focused on children, youth and families.

CAST — Community and Schools Together — was developed by community opportunity specialist and grant writer Keino Fitzpatrick in partnership with the city and several other organizations.

CAST and Saturday Light Brigade Radio are working together to compile “McKeesport Voices,” which will comprise a book, CD and StoryBox with interviews conducted by young McKeesporters, who will talk to their elders about life in the city.

It is part of the umbrella program “Crossing Fences: Connecting African American Men and Boys through the Oral Tradition.”

The StoryBox is an electronic device that stores the interviews and plays them at the click of a button. It will be available at a community center in the city and at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture when the project is completed.

“(Youngsters) learn speaking skills and to adhere to a schedule,” Saturday Light Brigade Radio's director of programs Sarah Siplak said. “They learn to work in groups. They come up with their interview questions. They conduct the interviews. They learn how to edit the interviews, and these world histories are created.

“We try to work with disenfranchised youth in communities that aren't thriving. We're not necessarily just trying to work with schools that can afford after-school programming. We're trying to find schools that need our help to find funding so we can come in and work with them and provide the opportunity to them.”

Organizers are looking for 12-20 city youth in grades 6-12 to take part in the program. All students who successfully complete it will receive a tablet netbook computer so they can continue to develop their skills.

“When you talk about the opportunity of adults facilitating opportunities for children, you can do nothing but be excited,” Fitzpatrick said. “When you talk about this initiative around African-American men reshaping the opportunities of young African-American boys, that boosts it toward what needs to happen.

“We know there are a lot of negative things as to how young men are perceived. We have an opportunity now to start shaping and shifting those negative stereotypes about African-American boys, and really start placing them in a situation to not just have other people talk good about it, but to know that we should not be speaking bad about it.”

Guest speaker Ron W. Whitaker II, a doctoral student at Duquesne University, spoke about the psychological effects of projected negative stereotypes and how that might impact the academic and social experiences for male African-American student-athletes who attend predominantly white institutions.

Attendees at Thursday's kickoff had an opportunity to sign up to be mentors and potential interview subjects.

Among the first to register was McKeesport Housing Authority property manager the Rev. Phil Williams of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He is a lifelong city resident and was the McKeesport YMCA's youth guidance and development director.

“I was not able to be involved with the children as much as I want to, but now I know that there's a need here,” Williams said. “We have great children here. I was blessed enough to get a good education. I was blessed enough to be in the area, know a lot of people and know a lot of things, and I want to give back.”

The week-long program begins on Aug. 13 from 2-4 p.m. on the sixth floor of city hall. Meetings run through Aug. 20 from noon to 4 p.m., except on Aug. 17-18.

“I think it's another opportunity to provide our youth with a positive learning experience,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “It's something they can take with them, and help guide them through their lives when it comes to making choices and decisions. It will be a great experience for all involved.”

Saturday Light Brigade Radio broadcasts Saturdays from 6 a.m. to noon on Carnegie Mellon University's WRCT 88.3-FM.

Interviews from the project will be played on the air.

Fitzpatrick said the men will be able to keep in contact with the boys afterward to continue their positive influence, and the youth involved will be able to help CAST.

CAST's partners are the Marilyn G. Rabb Foundation, the YMCA, LaRosa Boys & Girls Club, Penn State Greater Allegheny, Carnegie Library of McKeesport, Bethlehem Baptist Church and McKeesport Area School District.

For more information or to become involved with the initiative, call 412-897-1299 or email

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or

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