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A Conversation with Michael Turner

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Fourteen-year-old Michael Turner has big dreams. He's an aspiring musician who hopes to make it big ... but his ambitions for Pittsburgh are larger still. Turner -- who was born in the Hill District, grew up in Homewood, and now lives in Larimer -- wants violence-plagued neighborhoods to put aside their rivalries. He's spoken at public gatherings and is a member of the anti-violence group One Hood, in hopes that everyone can cross borders as easily as he does.

You do political stuff and you do music. Do you ever mix the two?

I don't declare my music political. It's just feel-good music and the truth. But all my music has a message to get across, because if you're not doing that, why are you making music?

One song I've been working on is called "Walk Away." It's about a woman I have feelings for, and she's with a person that's abusing her. It's basically me trying to convince her that she should be with me instead of the negative person she's with. I'm trying to get it out to all the females in specific that they don't need a thug.

What other messages are you trying to get across?

There's obviously a struggle in every neighborhood -- white or black. Environments such as hoods, it's not for just black people, it's for people that struggle. That's why I don't try to take it as black power or anything like that. I take it as people struggling, people that we need to help and uplift.

You've moved around Pittsburgh a lot. What do you think of the neighborhood rivalries that are causing some of the violence?

The beefs are so stupid to me. It's like, "This is Pittsburgh, you all should be from Pittsburgh." I don't want to be divided by any hood, because I like to travel. I've got love for people in Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln and the Hill. But every time someone asks where you're from, it's a problem. I'll say "I get around" or "I'm from Pittsburgh," because people are ready to fight you over it.

Why do you think people care so much?

That's what I don't get. Why would you fight over a neighborhood? You don't own it -- it's not like "Tonyland" or something like that. If it's Homewood, well, whose name is that? You can't control where you're from. You might have wanted to be from Larimer, but you were born in Homewood. You can't control that, so why do people fight over it?

I hope that we can turn our hood into a suburb, so people don't think you have to be a rapper, a famous drug dealer or an athlete to have money. That way, you could look at a drug dealer and go, "That's what you call money? I'm a doctor."

What role do you think your music can have in making that happen?

I'm not saying I'll bring something different to the music industry -- well, I am saying that -- but I won't glamorize negativity. If I say, "he shot him," it's true, but I wouldn't glamorize it.

But lots of musicians are accused of glorifying violence, and they say, "I'm just telling it like it is." How do you draw that line?

When you're not glorifying it, you'll put it over like a sad beat, like an undertaker type of beat. And then you would describe in detail the effects of his death -- why was it his family who had to see him die and bury him? Make it seem like something someone will regret from the moment they hear it.

Sounds like it would be a depressing video ...

The type of video I would make -- I would make a video of "Walk Away." You can make it rain in a video, and do so many things with it. You can come to her rescue and be her knight in shining armor. Metaphorically speaking.

What do you want people to know about being 14 and living in a place like Larimer or Homewood?

It's hard. We're running the community, when it should be adults running the community. It's young, immature things that we're doing which is turning the community out. But the elders keep quiet. Because sometimes even the adults are scared.

So if Luke Ravenstahl were sitting here, what would you tell him to do?

It's hard and he might not agree with this, but you have to come to the hood with us. You can't bring cameras; you can't bring bodyguards. You have to get down like how we are. I don't have a bodyguard when I go back to Larimer. If you really want to help -- and seriously, not for the publicity -- then get down with us.

Do you ever think about getting into politics?

That's what my dad asks me. Politics is a lot to uphold. But if politics is what I'm doing now, then I'll continue to do it.

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