Collaborations that change lives

Sharnay Hearn and Ryan Scott are One Young World Ambassadors from the USA. They are both active community leaders in Pittsburgh, USA, who facilitate projects that raise the aspiration of low-income African-American residents of the city. Sharnay works to bridge the gap between the youth, young professionals, and elders in leadership roles. Ryan is the Associate Director for the Investing Now programme at Swanson School of Engineering through the University of Pittsburgh. This programme is geared toward underrepresented high school scholars interested in STEM majors. The program offers tutoring, academic advising, hands on science activities and engineering projects.

At a time when race relations in the USA are making the front pages of newspapers around the world, it is critical to ensure that people of colour understand the value they can add to their communities, their nation, and the world. We wanted to share our stories of adversity, and how collaboration can empower youth to overcome their struggles.

Ryan Scott and Sharnay Hearn: "How TandemEd changes the narrative."

The opportunity for global travel has allowed us to collaborate and help to impact others through self-awareness. One of the projects we as a team decided to partner with was an organization called TandemEd;  an organisation that supports communities to transform academic and social outcomes for their youth. It was founded by Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral students. They received seed funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and arrived in Pittsburgh in 2014 to begin their project. 

To get the project off the ground, the founders had been making phone calls and reaching out to established leaders in the community for support. But since we already had existing relationships, we threw a "Welcome to Pittsburgh Meet and Greet" tapping into our networks. We introduced them to leaders from government, the school district, universities, faith groups, and non-profit organisations.. 

TandemEd eventually partnered with the POISE Foundation, the oldest African-American philanthropic association in the country, to create TandemED Pittsburgh Community Initiative. The mission of the POISE Foundation is to encourage creative and sustained responses to the issues and programs which have a direct impact on the Black community in the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. They worked with TandemED to unite Black communities in leading youth and community development. The TandemED Pittsburgh Community Initiative includes Saturday sessions for youth that focus on leadership, marketing and branding skills.  

They facilitated a youth-led awareness raising campaign that promoted a positive vision of African-American youth. Young people used their creativity and media skills to produce commercials that changed the narrative on what it means to be young and black. Their commercials are broadcast on 18 channels and are expected to generate more than 500,000 impressions within the greater Pittsburgh area. Additional ads that are airing feature the youth participants sharing reflections on their values and motivations in life. 

The goal of this project is to change the narrative on the way that people of colour view themselves in a place where they often feel devalued and under-appreciated. We ask you, wherever you are, to share dialogue and bring forth solutions to inequality in all its forms.

You can watch the videos that the young participants produced here, here and hereWe have shared our personal stories of growing up in Pittsburgh below.

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Sharnay Hearn: “Perception: When you see me; what do you see?”

The question was posed to my network of friends and family “When you see me; what do you see?”  The responses I received were “professional, strong, independent, religious, visionary, community leader, political, inspirational, friendly, beautiful and the capability to have unlimited potential.” There was no mention of the most obvious; an African American woman. 

Many people see what I do, but do not understand why I exert myself to fit into the words that they used to describe me. There is more to me that meets the eye. What they don’t see is that I was birthed by a teenage mother who lived in poverty. My biological father was not in my life. Growing up I was surrounded by gangs and drugs in my community; watching my mother work and fight through adversary; devoted and compassionate adults in my community surrounded me. I was raised to believe that I could be anything that I wanted to be and go anywhere that I wanted to go. As I grew into adulthood the media would attempt to make me believe that this was not reality because in America, I am black, a member of a minority ethnic group.

In 2012, I learned about an opportunity of a lifetime coming to Pittsburgh: One Young World. As I scrolled through the list of delegates and returning ambassadors who had already secured their sponsorship; I again noticed that I did not see anyone who looked like me. I pondered and doubted if this was something for me, however I knew that this opportunity was too good to miss.

As I watched the flag bearers, listened to the Counsellors, and saw the great work and passion of the delegate speakers; internally I was asking “Why am I hear and why me?” The answer came to me: just like everyone else in attendance; life’s circumstances and inequality’s pushed us to be change agents in our communities. 

The little black girl born into poverty has become a woman lead by God into her destiny. I have travelled the world, sat in the room with two separate Presidents of the United States of America and Presidents from other countries; I have walked the halls of public and private collegiate institutions where racism was prevalent and I prevailed despite the obstacles that were in front of me. At the age of 25 I was provided an opportunity to begin a career working for the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s administration to be the voice for the community.

Ryan Scott, “Discovery of Self through Adversity”

As a young professional leader in the Pittsburgh area, there have been many challenges I have had particularly being a male of colour. I was fortunate enough to participate in the 2012 One Young World Summit in Pittsburgh, the 2013 summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the 2014 summit in Dublin, Ireland.  Each summit was extremely beneficial, and the experiences and friendships gained abroad truly assisted in my professional development. I am a team player who values people and is eager to work with many different types of people from around the world.

I have always been passionate about helping others in addition to education. I was always either counseling, teaching someone or learning something new. As the oldest child in my family, I always taught my younger brothers and sisters what I learned in school. I would sit them down and set up a teaching station and act as though I was their teacher. Although I still have a love for teaching in the classroom, my genuine passion is to work with students, youth, and families in order to help them improve their quality of livelihood especially through self-awareness and self-efficacy.

As the former Co-Director of the Black Male Leadership Development Institute, I have the opportunity to train young black males into emerging leaders through a series of workshops with a concentration on civic engagement, advocacy, and leadership development. Through this program, I have not only helped train leaders, but enhance my ability to lead by applying much of my research to the students. Students in this program not only come to me for educational advice but life skills. Being people of color and existing in a society in which sometimes they feel misunderstood.

As a young person I remember what it was like to feel “misunderstood”. Coming from a home where my biological father abandoned me, I grew to have tough skin very easily. Adversity came right away as my young mother and I were out on our own trying to make a way. Shortly after, my step-father who has later been coined as my dad came into the picture and for the first time I felt that sense of “family”.  My biological father was of Afro-Cuban decent so I had a difficult time trying to identify with that side of me because it was something that I never knew. Growing up in Pittsburgh there was a very little Hispanic population so the only thing I knew growing up was being black. Not that there was anything wrong with being black, just the idea of knowing there’s a whole other side of me I would never get to know.

As an adult I realised that the cards that I were dealt were a good thing. Perhaps things were supposed to happen the way they did so that I could come to self-awareness on my own. In addition, I am able to help other people and families who may have dealt with separated families, blended cultures, and self-identity through my testimony.