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Why I Left: Pittsburgh Has An Expiration Date

Raymar Hampshire loves Pittsburgh, but he's not quite convinced Pittsburgh loves Black people

I was lured to Pittsburgh to join a fellowship in public affairs. I stayed to attend a top grad program at a prestigious university. I left, because graduation.

I realize this seems crass when the reason why I left can be summed up in a couple of tweets. Between those tweets are rich memories. The reality for me, and many other transplants, is that Pittsburgh has an expiration date. Pittsburgh was where I had some of my best memories. It’s where I fell in love with the arts, discovered pierogies, developed great friendships, met my future wife, and became a born again Steelers fan.

I came to Pittsburgh not knowing shit about Pittsburgh. As a Fellow, one of our first assignments was a community study of the Hill District. At this point, I had barely spent 48 hours in Pittsburgh. We interviewed politicians, residents, business owners, and developers over the course of a two weeks. It was here that I learned about the Crawford Grill, August Wilson, and how a historically Black neighborhood was ripped apart when the city needed space to build an arena, because hockey. At the end of our two-week-long study, each Fellow presented their findings during a community meeting at the Hill House. It was there that I stood up and said to audience of mostly white onlookers that the problem with the Hill District, is not the Hill District, but the city’s general lack of compassion and love for Black people. Here I was, the only Black man in a cohort of sixteen Fellows, parachuting into a new city with sealed boxes still sitting on my apartment floor, telling white people that the city didn’t care about Black people.

I still feel this way.

The author and fellow members of a Pittsburgh Black runners group after Great Race Pittsburgh

The author and fellow members of a Pittsburgh Black runners group after Great Race Pittsburgh

Because the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s “People to know around Pittsburgh in the New Year” only featured one Black person, a college basketball player. Because people like Terrance Hayes and Darrell Kinsel aren’t celebrated and cherished the way they would be in other cities. Because La’Tasha Mayes should have won that race. Because if Cynthia James ever decides to come back, I’d hope she’d be president of a foundation. Because Justin received noise complaints at the Shadow Lounge. Because what the fuck is a “East Side”? Because why isn’t Bill Strickland the mayor? Because why don’t more people know about Bill Strickland? Because when I showed up to move into my loft, the landlord looked shocked that I was able to afford it. Because the Post-Gazette wants me to believe that slavery was not that bad. Because Jordan Miles. Because my response is, “For who?”, when I read about Pittsburgh’s latest “Most Livable” city accolade.

Because this “because” list is getting old.

And because despite Pittsburgh’s well-documented problems with race, I still have many more positive memories. As an entrepreneur and founder of SponsorChange, I was able to receive seed funding and partner with key organizations in order to launch my venture in a short period of time. As a student at Carnegie Mellon, I was able to receive additional funding for my venture. I was also able to quickly get involved in many community initiatives and even served on a few non-profit boards. I credit this level of access to community opportunities to the Coro Fellowship Program — it was here that I was able to develop many personal and professional relationships.

I want friends who are doing dope shit to get recognition they deserve. I want Pittsburgh to let them be great.
The truth is that the city was very supportive to me, so much so that I considered staying after I graduated. In the end, there were just more career and development opportunities pulling me away. I now live in Washington, DC or as some would say, “The Chocolate City.” I like to refer to it more as, The Chocolate City with a Marshmallow Inside.” DC and Pittsburgh are two very different places with very different cultures. I love both cities for very different reasons; it’s actually futile for me to compare the two. The reality is that I live in a bigger city with more of just about everything. I live in a destination city, which means I’ve hosted many out-of-town friends who are here to attend important national conferences, to see Kendrick Lamar in concert, to see and be seen at the Congressional Black Caucus, to find love at Howard Homecoming, to hear Nas perform at the Kennedy Center, to see Obama get inaugurated back-to-back, to pass out at their bachelor party at Ozio’s, to post a selfie on Instagram with the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. And sometimes, these friends even come just to visit me.

I love DC, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Pittsburgh. I want more investments in Black-owned businesses there. I want more Black people in leadership roles throughout Pittsburgh. I want my friends who are doing dope shit to get the recognition and opportunity that they deserve. I want Pittsburgh to let them be great. I want Pittsburgh to be great.

About the Author

Raymar Hampshire is a management consultant and social entrepreneur. His social venture, SponsorChange, helps raise crowdfunding to reward volunteers with student loan payments. He’s an advocate for access and affordability of higher education.

Comments

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  • Squish

    As a lifelong Black Pittsburgher, I can say with 100% certainty that there were no lies told in this article, and in your assessment of Pittsburgh.

    I, too, will be leaving Pittsburgh soon, for many of the reasons stated in this article. “Most Livable for who?”

    I ask myself that question daily.

  • Brandi Taylor

    I have no idea how I bumped into this article. Honestly… I thought I was scrolling my timeline. But SALUTE…from one Coro Alum to another. Well put….

  • Brooke Bigbodybenz

    The realist article I have read thus far!!!! I tip my hat to you, very powerful 100%!!!

  • williteverend

    Why leave if you’re so invested in making it better? Maybe that’s part of the problem? All talk and no backing. Many come for higher education and take their degrees elsewhere to fund other cities (such as D.C), who clearly have more opportunities already. Stay and help create some change with your fellow men and women. These decaying neighborhoods could use some help. Like others, you’ve chosen to leave. No point in preaching if you don’t plan on acting to change it.

  • Emotions Whitfield

    Agree

  • June 29th

    Sounds like Pittsburgh could use a smart brotha such as yourself. Not sure how knowing that a ditch needs dug in Pittsburgh but taking your shovel to DC, where there may be some ditches that need dug too, but certainly there are many men with shovels is the answer. Guess I would’ve much preferred that you elected to roll your sleeves up and put your shovel to use in Pittsburgh versus an article telling us how you took your shovel to a district that has softer soil, more land and more opportunity. But congrats on your numerous accomplishments and graduating from an impeccable University!

  • Lexi T. Russell

    I’ve lived in Chicago. I’ve lived in Philadelphia. I work in Baltimore and commute there frequently.

    But I live in Pittsburgh. Why? Because I want to see Pittsburgh be great. My husband and I started a small business here that is completely monopolized by the big white contracting companies. These same companies that are responsible for the gross gentrification that we see taking place along Penn Avenue… That same gentrification that is moving further and further east. Why did we decide to start our General Contracting business in Pittsburgh? Why not go and work for the big guys guaranteeing us both 6 figure salaries with our experience and background? Because we love Pittsburgh. We are not afraid of those big, white companies. We will be he largest minority owned General Contracting company in Pittsburgh.

    We are committed to being here. We are committed to making a space for us and people like us. We are going to challenge the status quo here.

    Pittsburgh is home.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      What type of GC work? Residential or Commercial?

    • pgh girl

      What about giving some well deserve ex criminals a job. That’s part of the problem also. You have people trying to turn their life around but no one once to hire them. Then they go back to what they know….the streets . I’m speaking from being born and raised in pgh and being a felon. 1 job gave me a chance and I worked for them for 10 yrs! The people you help when no one else would , would be your best and most dedicated employees .

      And I’ve been saying this for yrs !!

  • Ronald Wright

    Im a 4th generation Washingtonian thank you for the love. But our beloved city has its issue’s this is not the DC we have grown up in. The black area of the city were left in ruins for nearly 35 years after the riots and city services were the worst. The rest of the country cpuld not understand and the federal government treated hated the fact we selected on sereral occasion a black mayor who was more like us than any elected official. However now the city gets love, mad love because young white folks are here and they recieve all the wonderful luxurious services that black folks were denied during the the late 60, 70, 80 and the 90. Now poor blacks are ignored, economically pushed out or marginalized. But im glad a few black folk can enjoy the city. This isn’t the city we grew up to love that why im out.

  • Kevin

    Maybe the problem is not a lack of love towards black people, but lack of black people. Pittsburgh is one of the least diverse cities in the country, so naturally there will be less black “People to know” and less black businesses. It does not have to be a black/white issue.

    You then go to say that you left for DC because of career opportunities, because it is a bigger, more exciting city?

    • dottyeyes

      Too lazy to look it up, but I think numberwise, Pittsburgh is around the U.S. average of percentage of black people, isn’t it?

      • WerewolfDad

        Its 26% in the city and 8% in the metro.

  • Brad Herr

    I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a Black American, but this resonates with me because I’ve found much of the same to be true of Pittsburgh as it concerns people under a certain income level. Pittsburgh as a “most livable city” is pretty much referring to a handful of neighbohoods. The rest are ignored, under-funded, broken down places that don’t even have so much as local grocery stores. If you live in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh is great. If you’ve only been able to afford a home in Marshall-Shadeland, you’ll also wonder what’s so great about PGH.

  • Brent Quarles

    I was a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh until an opportunity presented itself in 2004. Thanks to my loving, and very understanding wife, we have lived in a number of great places, some large and some small. I can honestly say as a black man born and raised in Pittsburgh, that I have never seen the problems that I personally experienced in Pittsburgh in any other place. I lived in Atlanta back in the mid 80s’, Honolulu for about 10 years, Medford Oregon of all places and most recently Dallas, Texas. Pittsburgh is the only place where I have been pulled over by the police “you look like a suspect……….”, the only place where I was followed by security in a retail store, the only place where someone road down the street and screamed the N word as they passed by, etc. I could go on and on with examples of things I have only experienced in Pittsburgh, but I think most of you will understand my point. I used to be proud to say I’m from Pittsburgh, but now when asked, I say I was born in Pittsburgh, but no longer consider it home. To those of you that live in Pittsburgh, I mean no disrespect. I feel the way I do from actual experiences, not because of media hype.

  • Jamie

    As someone who was born and raised in Pittsburgh this article couldn’t be more true if i had written it myself. I left the city nearly 3 years ago i still have alot of family and friends there, so i still go home to visit. However I have no intentions on ever going back. I too am in the DC area and i have had far more opportunities here than i would have ever had in Pittsburgh. Thanks for writing this piece.

  • WerewolfDad

    So here’s my question (because I’m honestly ignorant about it).

    Why is DC considered better for black people, when the city as a whole is only a bit more diverse than pittsburgh, the neighborhoods show the same level of diversity, and the overall integration/segregation index is worse?

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-most-diverse-cities-are-often-the-most-segregated/

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