By Mia Crow
It was not until Malcolm Hill found a group called Urban Impact that he was able to escape negativity on the streets of North View Heights and propel himself to a college education.
For DaWayne Steele, the same organization’s basketball program enabled him to escape the plague of guns and violence that permeates Pittsburgh’s North Side.
“I saw a lot of evil and a lot of disloyalty and a lot of people I couldn’t see myself around. Urban Impact put me around people that I could relate and connect to,” Hill said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, September 19, 2012.
At a time when Pittsburgh’s inner city streets increasingly resemble a war zone, especially in situations of black-on-black crime, Urban Impact, a faith based organization, invests in the lives of at-risk youth of the North Side. They offer assistance with college readiness, a strong foundation in faith, the opportunity to compete and play together as a team in athletic programs and a variety of other ways to escape the hard lives of the streets.
“Urban Impact has been a voice to those kids to say there is another way that you can live your life, that in the long run will pay off and be more beneficial than just what you know, or what you think is okay…there is another way,” said Urban Impact missionary and coach Nehemiah Brazil.
Brazil played basketball for nine years in France. He came back to Pittsburgh to make a difference in the lives of the teens in his North Side neighborhood.
Union Place, a red stone building that houses Urban Impacts offices, is a hub of activity, with people going up and down the stairs and in and out of the café.
There is a sense of community in the building. Brazil sat at the table wearing a yellow Urban Impact t-shirt as he explained how important it is for the at-risk teens to get the message the organization is trying to send.
Brazil feels it is important to communicate the message of Christ to the youth in his neighborhood, to share and help them make better decisions than the generations before. He says he feels fatherlessness is a big issue with young black men. Without fathers they lose an important part of growing up like how to take care of the home and raise a family. They don’t know how to treat their wives or how to become men.
Brazil tells the young men to make better choices in their lives and to be a good father when the time is right. He came to Urban Impact to give back to these kids and to be the male role model that is lacking in many African American households.
Urban Impact is about building a strong community by abiding by its motto: “Changing lives one person, one family, one block at a time.”
Urban Impact’s athletic program is for boys and girls in grades 3-12 and offers intramural basketball, high school travel basketball teams, middle school travel basketball teams, boy’s high school and middle school basketball leagues, baseball, soccer and performing arts.
The program activities consist of dinner, devotions, relationship building and basketball. The season goes from September to March, and meets at North Side gyms, such as, Allegheny Traditional Academy, Martin Luther King, Perry and Oliver high one day a week.
For Hill, growing up in Northview Heights made it tough to avoid the negative forces that can pull a young black man into the allure of the streets and the violence that comes with it. Sometimes he succeeded and sometimes he didn’t.
Hill heard his friends talk about the free dinners and playing basketball and began to attend Urban Impact. It gave him a peace of mind and challenged him to change his life.
“It gave me something to think about, you know…I gotta get out of these streets and figure out what I want to do with my life…these streets are not for me. It influenced me to find a good education and where to go; they played a big part in that,” Hill said.
Hill is now 20 and a freshman at Morgan State University. He is majoring in sociology with a minor in criminology. He plans to give back as a social worker so that he can be in a position to help just as someone from Urban Impact helped him.
Steele reflects on the decisions he made in his life and the friends he lost due to homicides.
“A couple of murders that happened I knew people and I use to hang with people, but if I wouldn’t have took the route I took I probably would have been in the same situation,” Steele said in a phone interview. “Without Urban Impact, I wouldn’t have taken that route…after high school I probably would have been in those streets.”
Steele attended Oliver High School and spoke on the negative influences that walked the halls, he saw Urban Impact as his escape from those influences.
Steele and his friends joined and this helped keep him off the streets and out of trouble. He credits Urban Impacts resourcefulness in finding him help with his academics and how to succeed and finish high school.
Steele is now 20 and working a good job with the help of the Missionaries of Urban Impact. He is grateful to the program and the impact it had on the decisions in his life.
“I’ve worked for Urban Impact for three years and I have seen the positive effect this organization has had on the kids that participate in our program.” Said Nehemiah Brazil.