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Written by Leah Lizarondo
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman has launched a $250,000 Crowdrise campaign for The Braddock Promise—and becomes the first municipality outside of Pittsburgh to offer its residents a college scholarship, administered by the Pittsburgh Promise.
This is the latest effort in the mayor’s ongoing campaign to renew the town that has struggled since the fall of the steel industry in the region.
The Crowdrise campaign aims to raise funds for 9 Braddock students graduating this year. In the fundraising video, the mayor talks about coming to Braddock in 2001, helping youth complete their GEDs. Fetterman saw many with great potential but lack of resources to fund a college education limited their opportunities. Since then, one of Fetterman’s goals has been to “do something about this gap between ability and ambition and the reality of attending college. The Braddock Promise would alter the trajectory of this community for generations,” he says.
The Braddock Promise — managed by The Pittsburgh Promise and The Pittsburgh Foundation—will offer the same Promise scholarship benefits to children in the municipality. Kids who attend Braddock’s public schools, Woodland Hills and Propel Braddock Hills, will receive up to $10,000 a year to fund their college education if they meet the 90% attendance and 2.5 grade average requirements.
The Braddock Promise gives Shiane Adams — mother of Raemon Prunty, a straight-A student from Braddock — a renewed sense of optimism. “If this door was opened, more kids will see this and say, we do have hope.”
The Braddock Promise from Braddock Redux on Vimeo.
Fetterman also hopes that The Braddock Promise will begin a movement throughout the county. “One of the important things is that it opens the dialogue to offer the Promise to other communities like Wilkinsburg.”
Fetterman adds, “The need is so much stronger—as Pittsburgh continues to grow and become more livable, you are going to create this ring of poverty around the city. How absurd is it that a kid growing up in McKeesport doesn’t have access to this? It’s so important. I understand that you have to draw boundaries somewhere but to me the county is much more reasonable than the city line. There are a lot of school districts in the county that are struggling and this is just one more thing that can be done.”
The Braddock Promise is a significant salvo in the Mayor’s third term in office—a tenure that has been characterized by a nationally documented entrepreneurial and envelope-pushing approach to urban renewal.
The past years have brought the beautiful Naia Page Community Center, The Free Store and The Braddock Youth Project—whose longstanding relationship with the community the Mayor credits as key in contributing to the youths’ successful transition to college with The Braddock Promise.
Early entrepreneurial entries in the town Include Ink Division printing and Fossil Free Fuel, one of the first alternative fuel companies in the region.
Last year, Kevin Sousa’s Kickstarter record-setting Superior Motors brought attention to the town. Its projected Spring 2015 opening is one of the most anticipated in the industry. But Sousa is not the only food industry talent to put down roots in Braddock. The Brew Gentlemen brings craft beer enthusiasts from all over the region and—also set to open in the spring—The Braddock Oven, as envisioned by young baker Shauna Kearns, will be one of the first of its kind on the East Coast.
Last month, the Allegheny Health Network opened an Urgent Care facility in Braddock, five years after the UPMC hospital in town closed down. Fetterman says, that “made the ribbon-cutting so symbolic. It’s been five years to come back full circle and in a way that is much better for Braddock strategically.”
This year, Braddock continues its transformation from abandoned town to a place of possibilities.
According to Fetterman, a Strip District-based technology company has bought property in Braddock with plans to move its headquarters in town.
Bill Barron, a developer whose projects have played a significant role in Lawrenceville’s renewal, has taken on the redevelopment of Braddock’s Ohringer building into a mixed-use facility. Fetterman underscores the significance of the project slated to begin this year. “Ohringer represents the first time that we have been able to bring in a private developer who will create commercial and residential spaces without the assistance of a lot of government entities.”
Last year, Trek made leases available for the Creative Studios at 501 Braddock Avenue at the heels of “The Overlook,” its housing development on the former grounds of the UPMC hospital.
The arts, what many consider an optimistic canary in urban development, are also making strides. Street artists have long been attracted to the town’s grit and their work punctuates the one square mile town. Unsmoke Systems, in what used to be an abandoned building, has been hosting independent art exhibits for the past few years.
The spring will bring two major theater productions to Braddock. Bricolage will produce an experiential performance that will take the audience throughout town on a bus. Barebones Productions also announced that its May 2015 production, American Falls, will be shown in Braddock.
Community work continues.
Boilermakers Local 154 has launched its “Guns for Opportunity” program, naming Braddock as the first location. The program will exchange free training in the union’s welding program for firearms surrendered.
Bridget Miller, working with Gisele Fetterman, will bring The Erase Project to residents. The project will offer free removal of gang-related and inappropriate tattoos that may prevent individuals from getting jobs or simply moving on with their lives.
To his gentrification critics, Fetterman minces no words.
“Displacement? 90% of all the people who have lived here have already left. You can’t get 90% of people to agree on something these days. But at one point, 90% of people in Braddock agreed that it’s not the place they want to live.
“This isn’t a case of pushing the ‘wrong’ people out and bringing the ‘right’ people in. Let’s bring people in to re-energize the community and in the meantime, we have an unflinching commitment to improve the quality of life for all residents—through the Promise, through the best summer youth employment program in the county, the community center, new playgrounds, The Free Store. There is a balanced approach in what we do,” he says.
“Everything that we do is based on keeping in the balance—if we don’t bring in these things, we are not going to grow a community and we don’t want to create the stereotypical nest of social service agencies and payday loan shops. That doesn’t help grow neighborhoods.”
Fetterman says it’s just the beginning.
“It will never be done. It is constantly evolving and growing. I’d like to think we’ve got a good head of steam and we’re headed in the right direction—to continue to move in a positive trajectory and become a place where people desire to live.”
“Braddock is coming back from a very difficult place. It hit bottom around a decade ago. The return to some semblance of normalcy and some positive energy is something we never take for granted,” Fetterman says. “I never stop and say well we’re almost done because we have so much work still.”