Power to the Young People | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Power to the Young People

Local black youth try to stay activist

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"2, 5, 6 North Lang Cripps" is spray-painted blood-red on a wooden-slabbed window on an old bar building. Just across the street is the site where 8-year-old Taylor Coles and her father Parrish Freeman were killed early last year. It's a spot where gangs and violence seem to have marked their territory.

Last week, though, at that location where Frankstown and North Homewood avenues intersect, a storm of youth converged to claim it back. The teens came armed in poetry and flavored ice balls, which they sold that humid evening for 50 cents. The poems expressed the kids' anger with the violence in their communities; the ice-ball funds will go toward the "My Voice My Power Youth Leadership Summit" they are planning for October. There they hope to develop solutions for the problems plaguing their neighborhoods.

"I personally feel the education system has failed us," hollered 16-year-old Shaneka Roberts of South Vo-Tech High School to the crowd. "What [we] learn in school doesn't have anything to do with [our] purpose in life or what you will contribute to your community."

The teenage speakers had other topics for their ambitious summit: the prison-industrial complex, unemployment, health care, housing and other areas they feel city elected officials aren't acting on. But they also made clear they would no longer stand for the kind of neighborhood violence that claimed the lives of Coles, her father and other youth recently.

The event was part press conference and part block party, with a deejay on hand as well as rappers and poets. It was organized by the Community Empowerment Association, the Point Breeze community resource center, at a gazebo surrounded by colorful floral arrangements with which CEA memorialized Taylor Coles and her father.

The group also announced the CEA-financed "My Voice My Power Publishing Company," which has enabled the kids to produce three issues of their own monthly newspaper so far, as well as greeting cards and postcards. They displayed a line of T-shirts and handkerchiefs already produced to raise funds for the summit.

The teens -- all from the city's predominantly black neighborhoods and youth organizations -- have been meeting monthly since spring to talk about their role in the city. From these forums they developed a position statement read by CEA community organizer LaKeisha Wolf, who has been central to the group. Wolf said young people have been kept out of policy-building discussions that directly affect them.

"The youth of color in our local area will no longer allow the appointed authoritative bodies to govern our lives into despair," she told the crowd, which had swelled to over a hundred people of all ages by the end of the evening. "We will not rest until the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Pennsylvania fulfills its social obligation to the youth and communities of color."

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