Lateresa Blackwell of Pittsburgh’s Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood is a university administrator by day. She also is the proprietor, along with her husband, of the Café on the Corner where, by night and on weekends, she runs a no-charge workforce development program for teens, focusing on hospitality and business.
Blackwell spoke with Elaine Effort about the program, called Kitchen of Grace, for our series 90.5 WESA Celebrates: 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories.
Below are excerpts of their discussion.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Lateresa Blackwell explains the origin of Kitchen of Grace:
Seeing our young people on the corners with just idle time and seeing some of the behaviors that they were beginning to demonstrate, we saw a need. And our young people trust us because we live here with them. Out of that they began to influx into the [Café on the Corner, owned by Lateresa and her husband Michael Blackwell], and we began to mentor them. Out of that mentorship began a relationship with our young people, and we began to entertain the thought of, "How can we wrap our arms around these young people and offer them some type of hope?"
We want our young people to be equipped, we want them to be empowered to be what we know they're capable of being. We know that society marks them as "at-risk," but we see potential in our young people if given the opportunity with the right tools and right resources to direct them in a path that's going to set them up for success.
What Blackwell wants young people to take away from their time with the program:
We know a lot of our urban youth and young people, the disparity that they are exposed to, they're lacking in areas. So, if we can empower them with those tools, we believe they can be successful.
My goal is to give them the tools and allow them to be able to make the decision of what direction they want to take. We have young people who enjoy cooking, and so, if they would love to go into the cooking industry, we want to guide them down that pathway.
We've actually begun a conversation with the Allegheny Community College [North Campus]—their culinary department—to be able to get our youth into their culinary program. If a young person wants to become an entrepreneur, we want to make sure they have the tools and the resources to be able to set themselves up to be in business for themselves. They go through a business plan, so they learn how to prepare a business plan with our CPA.
So, they go through those rotations, and they can make a choice on which direction they want. If they want to become an events manager, we have those tools and resources that will help them and guide them on that path.
Why the program is called Kitchen of Grace:
We come up in communities like this. My father was murdered in the streets; I was raised with a single mother as head of household and lived below poverty.
So, I'm paying it forward. Kitchen of Grace, because we built a new efficient kitchen, and we want the kids to see that it came from nothing and it became something beautiful.