In Summer 2012, thirty-five African American teen boys recorded audio interviews with thirty-six African American men during programs held in Homewood (YMCA Lighthouse Project), Hazelwood (Center of Life) and the Hill District (University Prep at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12).
A neighborhood-based oral history initiative, Crossing Fences is designed to: connect generations of African American boys, youth and men through conversation; celebrate and archive these connections by creating multimedia publications; and sharpen skills that students can use to support success in school and beyond. A first-of-its-kind program in the region, Crossing Fences combines cutting-edge audio technology with intergenerational communication, historical research and youth media arts.
What would a 16-year-old aspiring musician from Homewood ask a veteran with years of performance experience? How does a young boy from Hazelwood feel about his neighborhood and what could he learn from a long-time resident and community leader? What common ground is found between a budding young playwright and a retired journalist, when they sit and talk together, sharing questions, stories and dreams?
These and many other topics and issues were explored in Crossing Fences, when Pittsburgh youth came together with older neighbors—many they met for the first time last summer—who they now call role models. Discussions touched upon themes and concepts of perseverance, self-confidence and selfawareness, parenting, community service, finding a calling, and the role of spirituality.
Men and boys from three City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods are featured: Hazelwood, the Hill District, and Homewood. Completed oral histories include interviews with prominent local educators, business owners, musicians, politicians, religious figures, artists, and public service professionals, such as: Reverend Donnis Crawford, Jr.; State Representative Jake Wheatley; author and historian John Brewer; Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper; City Councilman Robert Daniel Lavelle; Pastor Tim Smith; and retired Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Elwin Green.