Saturday Light Brigade’s new podcast helps connect generations of African American males from various Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

By: Neil Strebig

Oral traditions are centuries old. The spoken word is humanity’s oldest form of communication yet, in these heavy technological times many of us often forget how valuable it is to have someone to speak, connect and share in a sense of understanding with through conventional conversation.

Since 2012, under the direction of executive director Larry Berger, Saturday Light Brigade (SLB) has been making a commitment to such oral customs with their Neighborhood Voices series highlighting over a dozen Pittsburgh neighborhoods in the process.

According to SLB manager of youth advocacy Chanessa Schuler, the catalyst for the show was a minor detail Berger picked up on amongst students they worked with.

“Larry recognized when he would ask students where they were from they would hesitate,” said Schuler.

Berger strongly believes that a sense of belonging is “pretty critical.” Feeling a need to erase the embarrassment some students felt towards their neighborhoods, Berger insisted upon finding a way to help instill a sense of pride within them for their hometowns.

“If you’re 7 or 8-years-old and you’re embarrassed to say you live in Homewood or Garfield, that’s pretty sad that at that age you’d feel that way,” said Berger.

Through Neighborhood Voices, SLB began producing the Crossing Fences Podcast, which highlights a connection between young male African American students and older African American males from their respective neighborhoods. The goal is to not only open a discourse between the student and interviewee about their community but to also create a parallel between interviewer and speaker – a sense of identity through shared experiences.

“I think the stories are really interesting,” said Berger. “I think the authenticity makes them rewarding to listen to.”

Photo courtesy of Saturday Light Brigade.

According to Schuler, majority of the interviews are between 40 to 50 minutes long. The students then select the portions of the interview they wish to share, trimming down a near hour-long clip to a concise 4 to 6-minute long selection.

“They get to decide what they want to keep and they do understand what will be beneficial for the community to hear,” said Schuler. “We need these to be easy to listen to and easy to access.”

Since September 2017, Crossing Fences has delivered 23 episodes chronicling shared connections from 10 neighborhoods. An episode featuring former Northview Heights resident, Darrell “Baldy” Goodwine debuted on the Crossing Fences Podcast in November of last year. On the episode, Goodwine discusses how close-knit Northview Heights was when he was a child especially through neighborhood sports.

“It was more of a family back then and there’s a little separation now,” said Goodwine in regards to the Northview Heights he grew up in during the 1970s and 1980s in comparison to today’s. However, Goodwine acknowledged that despite the generational differences he feels a commitment to stay involved with the community’s youth through programs like Crossing Fences in order to help bring all of its residents together.

“We’re all Northside and need to bring togetherness,” said Goodwine.

Goodwine who now resides in Brighton Heights believes in giving back to the community of Northview Heights – the same community that helped raise him. Current Northview Heights resident and Crossing Fences participant Deine McCormick described Goodwine as a mentor and a “role model.”

“[He] helped show me how the older community was,” said McCormick about Goodwine’s mentorship. “We can change from that and avoid these challenges.”

McCormick, who currently attends Perry Traditional Academy, will be pursuing an education in computer science at Tuskegee University in Alabama following graduation. McCormick credited the podcast experience for piquing his interests in both community and technology.

“Those connections allow for a stronger relationship between the men and the boys, but also the entire neighborhood,” said Berger.

The success of Crossing Fences has lead the team at SLB to look into a ‘sister’ series. “Girl Talk,” a podcast documenting the oral history between young African American girls and older African American women with connections to the Hill District, will be launched in summer 2018, according to Schuler.

“I think people are really interested and enchanted by true, authentic stories from real people in their own voices including downs as well as ups,” said Berger.

Currently, new episodes of the Crossing Fences Podcast can be heard Saturday mornings at 11 a.m.