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Oral History Project connects generations of Black males

African-American boys, teenagers and older men have a lot to learn from each other and the Crossing Fences oral history project proved that.

Thirty-Five boys ages 12-22 and 36 men ages 20-80, each from all walks of life living in the Hill District, Hazelwood and Homewood gathered during the summer of 2012 to conduct oral history interviews on a varied list of topics including self-confidence, parenting and community service.

TRANSFERRING KNOWLEDGE—A Story Box unit created for the Hill District is being used at U-Prep in Milliones school.

Crossing Fences was created by Saturday Light Brigade Radio Productions and funded through a $75,000 grant from the African-American Men and Boys Initiative, an arm of the Heinz Endowment that was created in 2007.

After securing funding, Saturday Light Brigade Radio began discussing project implementation with community centers and schools in Homewood, Hazelwood and the Hill District in April. Community locations were selected for workshops, training, interviewing and editing by May. Training, workshops, interviewing and editing took place throughout the summer.

In each community, a weeklong workshop was conducted and teams were formed to conduct 45-minute interviews.

Saturday Light Brigade Radio uses radio and audio to encourage, amplify, share and archive the ideas, stories and feelings of children, youth and families. The program aims weekly for six hours and includes live youth performances and youth media projects. The program has listenership of about 60,000 families per week reaching 15 counties and portions of Ohio.

“Crossing Fences gives participants a clear example of how to positively contribute to our communities,” said Chanessa Schuler, multimedia specialist with Saturday Light Brigade Radio. “Each elder who participated passed a torch by sharing their story. Each story was unique and encouraged the boys to stay positive and see something greater than any circumstance they may face. The boys walked away with a rich history, interviewing techniques, audio editing skills, and overall guidance that they may not have experienced before.”

Each youngster received a laptop for their participation and gathered background information and collected photographs and assisted with finalizing artwork and production for professionally produced CD’s and booklets to be passed out in each participating community and across the region.

“Pittsburgh is an especially strong setting for this project because of our city’s history and heritage as well as our unique structure as a large community comprised of neighborhoods. These factors create a strong sense of place and tradition and can create a sense of isolation given that our neighborhoods sometimes are a mystery to those not directly living or working there,” said Larry Berger, executive director of Saturday Light Brigade Radio. “Pittsburghers have a strong interest in our heritage as well as a strong knowledge gap about certain neighborhoods. This project helps to bridge the interest and knowledge gap.”

In addition to the interviews, participants also created a 40-page booklet—Hill District Voices, Homewood Voices and Hazelwood Voices—and a CD.

“Readers will see a two-page spread for each profiled man,” Berger said. “This spread contains photographs of the man and the boy who interviewed him as well as brief excerpts from the man’s remarks. Each spread also contains reflections from the youth who conducted the interview. The included CD contains the complete edited audio for each man as well as the reflections.”

The books and CD’s are distributed free of charge thanks to the grant and additional supporters, which include PNC Bank, Private Wealth Advisors and Kidsburgh. All materials can be found at www.neigh­bor­hood­

In addition, the recordings will be distributed through Storybox Units, wall hung devices that allow people to listen to the interviews and student reflections at the touch of a button. Berger said the units have already been installed in each community as well as in the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture. Berger hopes to install story boxes in banks, stores, libraries and other public locations within and beyond the communities featured.


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