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'270 Pages Of Proof' That Young Black Pittsburgh Can Write Its Own Success Stories

Consultant Brian Burley says his new book YNGBLKPGH (Young Black Pittsburgh) is proof that his community produces a lot of success stories and that the next generation can go even farther.

The book highlights 140 black professionals from the city. Each wrote an open letter to fellow young, black Pittsburghers.

90.5 WESA’s Virginia Alvino Young talked to the author about his book and the social movement Burley says he hopes it will create. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


An open letter to young black Pittsburgh written by Branden Ballard.

We often hear about the need for representation and positive role models from young people of color, but why did you want to create a tangible book?

Over the last eight years, I’ve spent time working on a consistent basis with the 100 Black Men of Western Pennsylvania, where we go over things from financial literacy to professional development in some way, shape and form for young people. The idea and the premise for the book came from a conversation I had with a young person. She said, “Hey, we see you, and we see the people that you bring in with you to show us that these types of things are possible, but unfortunately when you bring your friends in or you bring these other people in, they come in and then they’re gone.” And the consistent representation that our young people see, whether it be on the news or social media, where folks who look like them, and especially young folks who look like them, aren’t necessarily doing the things or achieving the types of goals they had for themselves. So the idea for the book more than anything came from a space of countering that narrative.

The book was a DIY, self-published project. The final product is a coffee table-sized book, which features 140 people politicians, artists and professionals in Pittsburgh. Every other page is a copy of a handwritten, personal letter.

Hear Reginald Robinson read his open letter to young black Pittsburghers, which he contributed to the book YNGBLKPGH.

Your letter ends with, “We love you, and are rooting for you.” Why did you include the letters in the book?

They’re my favorite part. They’re the entire reason this project was created. I came from a loving family, but our young people might not necessarily get to feel that love. I can’t count how many times I read in this book, “We’re rooting for you,” or, “I love you,” or whatever positive reinforcement we’re giving to these young people. And the great part about it as well is that it’s honest. It was really important for them to be handwritten, because it made that sort of genuine personal feel. You don’t get to hear I love you all the time, and that can have a big effect, especially when it’s people you could look up to or could reach out to, and especially if it’s people that are from your city. All these people are from Pittsburgh. And then on top of that, it could have been more. This isn’t everyone who’s doing anything in Pittsburgh who looks like them. We’ve kind of set ourselves up now. We get a lot of questions about when volume two is coming. It’s like, alright, we’ve got to do the work of volume one of getting this book in front of these kids.

Is there more coming from the project YNGBLKPGH for school-aged youth or young professionals?

We have some programming that we’re working on moving forward. We actually were in a couple of Pittsburgh Public Schools. I think one of the biggest impacts we can create through this project is a proof element. This is 270 pages of proof, and I think we have the opportunity to bring these folks into these schools so you can see, “Hey, you can be a doctor. You can be a dentist.” From a young professional standpoint, we have a lot of programming that we’re kind of rolling out over the summer months, so I don’t want to let the cat completely out of the bag, but we’re working on some big stuff. I’m excited about what’s to come.