A few blocks from the grand opening of a new grocery in the Hill District on Thursday, community leaders gathered for a different kind of celebration: the renovation of an abandoned community center dedicated to the memory of a slain student.
The nonprofit Center that CARES announced the start of a project to refurbish the dilapidated 14,000-foot Ozanam Cultural Center on Enoch Street in honor of Jeron Grayson, murdered three years ago at age 18.
In six months, officials hope to hold a ribbon-cutting for the Jeron Grayson Community Center.
Jeron, a student at Hampton University in Virginia, was a random victim of gun violence at a party in an off-campus apartment at California University of Pennsylvania three years ago Thursday.
His father, the Rev. Glenn Grayson, told a gathering in front of the long-neglected building that his family had faced a choice after Jeron's death.
They could allow the tragedy to destroy them or they could use it strengthen them.
They chose the latter and started work on granting Jeron's wish, voiced just days before his death, that the Center that CARES would expand its outreach mission.
"We decided to make something good out of something bad," said Rev. Grayson, executive director of the Center that CARES and pastor of Wesley Center A.M.E. Zion Church.
He said his hope is that the new Grayson center, rebuilt at a cost of more than $1 million raised from corporate and community donors, will become the safe haven for at-risk young people that the Ozanam center had been before it closed in 1997.
The idea, he said, is to "provide a healthy environment to make good choices" for youngsters beset by violence and deprivation.
His son, a smart and flashy young man known as "Polo G," advocated against guns and gangs in the Hill but ended up an innocent victim of a shooting many miles from the rough streets of home.
Jeron, a 2010 Schenley High School graduate and star athlete, had been home from Hampton University for the first time when he went to a party near California University. He died when Keith Jones, then 20, of Monessen was denied entry to the party, returned with a gun and opened fire into the crowd.
Organizers of Thursday's groundbreaking handed out bracelets in honor of the Grayson family's stance against firearms.
In a play on Jeron's nickname that became the family's rallying cry after the killing, the bracelets say: "Polo G -- stands for Never touch a Gun."
Torstsen Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510. First Published October 17, 2013 9:32 AM