I’ve lived in Homewood for all of my 21 years. It’s one of Pittsburgh’s poorest, most crime-infested neighborhoods. Opportunities for young people are few, and role models are even fewer. That’s exactly why I plan to stay here.
I want to be a beacon for the young people who live in Homewood, to help them understand that we do have chances to live a better life — we just have to look for them a little bit harder than people who grow up elsewhere.
I speak from experience. Two of my older brothers are in prison for murder. They’ll likely never see the outside again, and as a teenager I was right behind them, heading down that same dark path. I was in trouble all the time and didn’t want to listen to anyone, but then I got a break.
At 15, I started working with the Student Conservation Association, which offers young people internships in parks across the country. I always liked being outdoors, so I figured, “Why not?”
In my first two years of building trails, clearing bush and planting trees around Pittsburgh, neither my life nor my attitude changed much. Then I got the chance to join an SCA crew at Sequoia National Park in California, surrounded by trees that seemed to reach the heavens. I sat at the base of one of these giants on my 18th birthday and thought about all of my friends and relatives who had never been out of Pittsburgh and of others who hadn’t even survived to be 18.
I came home a different person. I had found something larger than myself, figuratively and literally. I never used to care about litter, for example, and based on all the trash on the streets where I lived, neither did anyone else. When I got back from the West, I immediately organized a recycling program at Westinghouse High School and became known as Recycling Rece.
The school has some of the lowest test scores in the country. No one expects much from the kids who go there — and believe me, the students know it — but other students saw what I was doing and offered to help and prove the skeptics wrong. Imagine what could happen if there were more role models in our neighborhood. Kids here would grow up with hope instead of hopelessness.
I’ve been attending community college and working part time at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, with the ultimate goal of going to Penn State and starting a career in conservation.
I’m spending the summer with SCA as a crew leader at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York. I’m excited to work with a team of teenagers, protect a little part of our planet and earn some money for school, but I vow: Once I get my college degree, I will come back to the neighborhood that gave me my start. I will lead by example and be the alternative role model kids here so desperately need. I’d like to see more people do the same.
I’m not naive enough to think that picking up garbage or planting a few trees will cure all the issues in Homewood. Not long ago, as my best friend and I were walking to the store, stray gunfire hit him, and he was paralyzed. I am determined to help rid the neighborhood of such dangers, and not just for me.
My younger brother is 16 and navigating the same streets as the rest of us. I do all I can to keep him out of harm’s way. We talk about setting goals and dreaming big. I give him spending money when I can so he’s not tempted to seek it in other ways. I also visit my older brothers in jail all the time. They’re proud of what I’m doing and want to see Homewood become a better environment just as much as I do.
I’m grateful for my transformative experience through nature, but I had to travel more than 2,500 miles to get it. It shouldn’t be that way. We should be able to provide life-changing outlets for kids right here in Homewood.
AmaRece Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes “Local Dispatch” submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.