Now college graduates, five childhood friends reunite in Manchester
December 27, 2014 12:00 AM
From left, Markus Wright of the North Side; Andre Twyman of Avalon; Garland Walker of Washington, D.C.; Bradley Wiggins of Manchester; and Edwin Colwell II of Sheraden pose for a portrait Wednesday in the courtyard of the Manchester Youth Development building on the North Side. The five grew up in Manchester and made a pact to finish high school and qualify for the Pittsburgh Promise.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Five young men who met as children at the Manchester Youth Development Center sealed their friendship over basketball and homework and forged a common direction that defies stereotype.
“It was an unspoken agreement,” said Andre Twyman.
“We all knew we were going to college,” said Bradley Wiggins. “It was just a matter of where.”
Now 23, the friends reunited Christmas Eve at the center, 1214 Liverpool St., where they met as 4-year-olds and spent summers and after-school evenings buckling down to homework, playing sports, staying out of trouble, mentoring younger children and working their first jobs as assistants, supervisors and coaches.
“We wanted to make sure we were the option to the streets,” said Cheryl Walker, the center’s executive director, whose son Garland was the only one of the five who didn’t grow up in Manchester. The Walkers live in Garfield. “These are five African-American males from the inner city who all took advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise.”
Four graduated from California University of Pennsylvania: Mr. Twyman, Mr. Wiggins, Edwin Colwell and Markus Wright. Mr. Walker graduated from Temple University.
The Pittsburgh Promise offers students who live in the city and maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average and 90 percent attendance a stipend toward an in-state university after graduating from a Pittsburgh public school.
Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Promise, said it’s a misconception that black males are not taking advantage of the Promise.
Fifty-three percent of public school students are African-American. Almost 42 percent are Promise beneficiaries, 15 percent of those male. African-American representation is “not an aberration,” Mr. Ghubril said. “It’s not the rule, but it’s becoming more the norm.”
“We wanted to change the stereotype, so kids could look up to us,” said Mr. Wright, the youngest of his siblings and the first collegian in his family. He counseled homeless youth at Family Links before getting a job at UPMC in customer service.
“Nobody in my family went to college,” said Mr. Colwell, a manager at Hertz. “Something had to change for generations of people not going to school.”
He said the friends have influenced each other positively throughout their lives. He said he had his best grades his senior year in college because Mr. Wiggins “wouldn’t let me slack.“
“All our parents had different styles of letting us know right and wrong,” said Mr. Twyman, an account executive for Enterprise. When they needed reinforcement, “there was Miss Emily [Mr. Wiggins’ mother] and Aunt Cheryl [Walker],” he said.
“On breaks, I would always come to the center, and they would always ask, ‘How are your grades?’ ” Mr. Colwell said.
“I was always at the center,” said Mr. Walker, a business analyst for a U.S. Department of Defense contractor. “It was my second home.”
“Your parents can’t be there all the time, so it’s important that we had extra hands on us, and we had each other, too,” said Mr. Wiggins, a delivery supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service.
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
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