WASHINGTON -- A Pittsburgh pastor is being doubly honored this week for his commitment to the youth of his community.
The Rev. Glenn G. Grayson of the Hill District's Wesley Center AME Zion Church said he was honored Monday night to be recognized by the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh. That award was a precursor to national recognition in Washington for him and eight others working to reduce gun violence in their communities.
The nine are being recognized as "champions of change." The recognition is part of the Obama administration's efforts to highlight the work of local leaders who are making their neighborhoods safer and keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
A White House spokeswoman could not immediately say whether the president is expected to attend.
Rev. Grayson said he feels just as grateful to be invited either way. He was told more than 400 people were nominated. He doesn't know who nominated him.
"I hope the president is there or the vice president or his wife, but either way it's an honor," he said. "I'm overwhelmed."
The recognition honors his work with nonprofit Center That Cares (Children/Adults Recreational and Educational Services), which he founded 14 years ago to offer enrichment, meals, tutoring and after-school supervision to neighborhood children.
He started with just four boys whose mothers were struggling to raise them and who found a male role model in Rev. Grayson.
Now, the center serves more than 125 children year-round. The youngest are in pre-kindergarten while the oldest become paid youth counselors who are taught job skills and are taken on college tours and field trips to Broadway plays, professional ballgames and amusement parks.
"My wife and I have been blessed to be able to expose our three children to those kinds of things, and I wanted to spread that to all kids," Rev. Grayson said.
Many participants, who had been struggling to finish high school, ended up going to college, and a few now have master's degrees, Rev. Grayson said.
Without the Center That Cares, many of them would never travel outside Pittsburgh, said Rev. Grayson.
As a pastor who had buried young shooting victims, Rev. Grayson had always been interested in helping to reduce gun violence, but his focus galvanized in 2010 after his 18-year-old son Jeron was murdered at a party near California University. He died when Keith Jones, then 20, of Monessen opened fire into the crowd after he was denied entry to the party.
"I could always empathize. But as a parent -- to lose your own son -- that's something else," Rev. Grayson said. "I was always in this work, but his death took me to another level of commitment and I transformed my life to advocate" against gun violence.
Monday's Good Government Award presentation honored Mr. Grayson along with Fred Thieman and Tim Stevens. Mr. Thieman, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, helped form the Youth Crime Prevention Council that shaped community-wide strategies to prevent violence. Mr. Stevens, founder of the Black Political Empowerment Project, prompted creation of the Coalition Against Violence Project.
The White House's other honorees include members of the Newtown, Conn., community who have been working to end violence after 20 children and six educators were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
The White House event will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published March 31, 2014 2:51 PM