Youngsters see the result of their oral history project, 'McKeesport Voices'

| Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 4:21 a.m.

Several McKeesport youngsters spent a week of the summer learning about their heritage and history through the eyes — and especially the words — of their elders in the community.

The result is “McKeesport Voices,” a book and CD collection of interviews with African-American leaders and other mentors that preserves a rich oral account of life in the city.

It was released Thursday at an informal celebration in Carnegie Library of McKeesport's Children's Room, where copies of the set will be available.

“McKeesport Voices” is in StoryBox format, stored on an electronic device — which will remain at the library — that allows the interviews to be accessed at the click of a button.

Library director JoEllen Kenney said it is a welcome tool for helping the library highlight the city's African-American heritage.

“I had a real good time because I learned stuff I didn't know how to do,” said Chase Mitchell, 11, one of the interviewers. “I learned how to record people. I learned how to change the voice. I learned how to put stories together to make it sound how it's supposed to.”

The project came about through a partnership of the city's Youth CAST Leadership Program and Saturday Light Brigade Radio, a nonprofit organization that produces audio and radio programming focused on children, youth and families.

Saturday Light Brigade facilitates the Heinz Endowments' African American Men and Boys Initiative, which funded the project. CAST, an acronym for Community and Schools Together, was developed by Keino Fitzpatrick, a community opportunity specialist and grant writer, in partnership with the city and others.

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

Ten young men came up with questions, learned audio editing techniques and received a Kindle Fire HD tablet as a reward for the hard work involved in giving voice to others.

The program took place Aug. 13-20 on the sixth floor of city hall.

Community liaison Harold Allen, a lifelong city resident who serves on McKeesport Area School District's cultural diversity committee, was interviewed by Lukas and Donovan Kelley.

“They asked some real good questions,” Allen said. “They asked what I thought about McKeesport, what did I think that they could do to help make the city better.”

Allen, 61, said McKeesport was a great place, but has fallen off somewhat due to violence. He stressed that hard work, education and listening to their parents would help youngsters become positive influences in the community.

“The key to the salvation of McKeesport is through the youth,” Allen said.

“What I got out of the interview was to be the best that you can be and give 100 percent,” Lukas, 12, said.

Saturday Light Brigade Radio worked on similar “Voices” projects in Pittsburgh's North Side and Hilltop neighborhoods last summer.

The organization produced “Hazelwood Voices,” “Homewood Voices” and “Hill District Voices” in 2012.

All six projects will be on display at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at a citywide celebration.

Fitzpatrick said his group will provide free bus transportation to the center for project participants, their families and others in the city.

The bus will leave from city hall along Fifth Avenue around 4:30 p.m.

To sign up, call 412-901-9062 or email

Fitzpatrick said interaction between the youth and mentors will not stop with the completion of the project.

“We're going to continue this conversation with monthly themes, coordinated events, so that we can bridge that gap between the old and the young, which is a part of Mayor (Michael Cherepko's) transformation plan,” he said. “He wants to make sure old McKeesport and young McKeesport are able to work together for a better McKeesport. We want this to be a part of that. We know that African-American men in this nation lead in all the negative statistics that we have.”

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. The radio program's multimedia specialist, Chanessa Schuler, said the McKeesport broadcast is not yet scheduled.

More information about the radio show is available online at

Additional audio and photos are available online at

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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