Homecoming: Hill District, USA

A New Home

Things continue to change, but the neighborhood tries to return to some of it’s old form.

 Marquel Jackson (b. 1986)

Marquel Jackson (pictured, right) and his sister Shaashia in the early 1990s. Courtesy of Marquel Jackson.

“I’m from on the Hill, down on Forbes Avenue. That’s down low, down by Deraud and a lot of places down there. When I lived down on Forbes, it’s funny—we lived in a shelter before we moved into the apartment across the street. My mom wouldn’t want us to get picked on or teased or anything, so we would go up the street to catch the bus and everything. But we would wait and walk slow so nobody would know we were in this women’s shelter. I was in like second grade. Probably after a year we got back on our feet, and my mom surprised us. We came home one day, she surprised us with the crib, and here we were right there on the corner of 2001 Forbes Ave.

In the shelter, they had a playground and stuff, so I didn’t really get to go and explore ‘til we moved. We saw prostitutes, drug addicts, people using in our backyard, you’d run back there—[but] that’s what made the Hill. A lot of those people had jobs, a lot of those people was a somebody before they ended up getting on whatever. It taught me a lot of things. I saw a lot, and it’s the reason why I’m how I am with people. You never know nobody’s story. Everyone has a unique story, and I think the Hill has a lot of unique stories.

Sometimes I ride around just to ride around. I like riding around and seeing them old projects. [Thinking about] cousins, and places I been—up through all that. Sleepovers, countless late night Hide and Go Seek games, Release the Den. Certain things that we all did. When you start digging and pulling layers back, you find so many things about this part over here, and I’m sure other parts too. This is a special area. That’s what I want people to understand. The Hill District as a whole is a family for real for real. It’s one of them things that you probably don’t get elsewhere, but you can sense it here. I just don’t think you can talk about Pittsburgh and not talk about the Hill. Don’t water down the culture. Be proud.”



Lauren Pugh (b. 1988)

Lauren Pugh pictured with her brothers in the mid-1990s. Courtesy of Lauren Pugh.

“I’m adopted. My mom got me when I was like two, and adopted me I think when I was like four, five. She’s the only mother I know. She adopted me and four other children from different families in the child welfare system. When I tell people that I lived on the Hill and I say Iowa St. (in the Upper Hill), they say “Oh you live in the good part of the Hill.” I didn’t realize that things were so split up until I [got older] and was able to understand.

I know that the Hill District has a historical background with stuff that pertains to art and music, and I don’t wanna taint that, [but] I didn’t experience any of that. By the time I came around all that stuff was gone. Things started getting really bad. I didn’t have a very positive experience on the Hill. That’s why I never go back. My little brother, for some reason he has this attachment to the Hill. I’m like, we didn’t run the streets. We had the same experience, but I guess to him that’s home. We don’t even have friends to come back to. Especially him. All his friends are either in jail or murdered. 

But at the end of the day that’s where I grew up, that was home. It’s just odd to me, because I just feel like it’s not going to look or be anything like it was. All that sense of culture that I know got wiped out that I learned about, it’s only gonna be worse. Sometimes when I’m sitting in traffic around that area I’ll sit and I’ll read the storefronts of what they used to be and I’m like damn. These were all businesses here and this area could have been progressive for black people,. Now it’s gonna be progressive for a whole ‘nother reason, because the white man done pushed his agenda all up in here. It just looks like a has been; something that was very prevalent and up and coming, but it had black folks attached to it, and now it’s just not. And I know why.”



Tia Torres (b. 1994)

Tia Torres pictured (seated, first on the left) and her pre-school class at the Hill House in 1999. Courtesy of Tia Torres.

“I grew up all over the Hill. My mom’s side is from the Hill, I think they moved up here the Great Migration. They been up here for a minute, so it’s [like] somebody will recognize you. I think everyone that’s from the Hill, we’re all pretty strong because sometimes you have to be. But I don’t know, I love the Hill. I wouldn’t wanna be from anywhere else. There’s just so many memories. There’s a lot of talent in the Hill, there’s a lot of promise in the Hill. It just needs a little light. 

People who aren’t from the Hill should know that the Hill is never what you think it is from the outside looking in. There’s always a why or a because to people’s actions. The drug dealers would be putting on firework shows for us—probably because we didn’t feel safe or wanted downtown for the fireworks and stuff like that. But it’s also like, contradictions or oxymorons. These are the ‘bad people’ in society in that they aren’t supposed to be near children or have any influence on children, but they were also like, everyday people’s dads. A lot of people on the Hill lived lives due to of course displacement, but also underserved needs. No one that I knew was a drug dealer because they just wanted to be a drug dealer.

In retrospect I see the decisions my mom made in terms of where to live because I didn’t know we were struggling when I was a kid. I did not know. My mom tried for the longest to stay in the Hill. I think the housing situation was difficult because we literally almost lived on every side of the Hill possible. Then my mom was like one I can’t afford it, or these landlords are trash. Or, this isn’t a safe environment for us to live in in terms of the house. So she moved out. I was so happy when we moved back, even though the house was trash. It was so horrible, transportation [was bad]. But it was just like, home again. I can’t explain the feeling, whatever it is. It just felt right.”



Darice Sanford (b. 1994)

Darice Stanford (pictured, left) with her cousin in the early 1990s. Courtesy of Darice Sanford.

“We got the best memories from our worse house. (Laughs) We used to have cookouts. Like where we’re at now is nice and it’s newer, and they’re about to remodel it again because someone else just bought it. But our old house with the kitchen falling and the ceiling, something always wrong, landlord [was] trash, we had to do everything ourself—we had the best memories. We had cookouts all summer, everyone knew where I lived so we would just sit on our steps. Everyday someone was just knocking on the door seeing if I was coming outside, to the point my mom just left the door open so they could scream through the screen. 

You just face so many different types of people in the Hill. Don’t know their background is or whatever. You find out something negative about them or whatever it may be, and it’s like dang, but they’re cool. It teaches you not to judge as much. Makes you think critically. I don’t know. The Hill made me a better person ‘cuz I really don’t be tryna judge anybody. I be like, aight. Drug dealers, and crackheads are the ones who inspired me to go to school way more than any pastor or whatever it may be. 

I hear my grandma tell me, I hear other older people say this whole Centre was just filled with businesses, they were real big on jazz. So I wanna see that happen. But what I see happening is—I see rich people ‘tryna buy the Hill, basically. I see ‘em try to kick us out. I think that’s what they’re gonna try to do with my complex actually. I wouldn’t put it past ‘em. As soon as we come back they’re gonna raise the rent tremendously high. I think we could stop it, keep it for us. I hope that happens. I hope they just don’t take it over, whitewash it.”



DERRICK “D.C.” CLANCY (b. 1988)

A portion of the Schenley High School crowd at the 2006 PA State Championship in Hershey, PA. Courtesy of D.C. Clancy.

I've been living here all my life, so I'm fully connected. I was born up Elmore, Chauncey Drive is where I spent most of my youth, and then I moved on Terrace Street, which is [in the] Burrows area. My mom [Candice “Candy” Carpenter] pretty much was a typical mom from back in the day—don't play no games, respect was a big thing. You couldn't hide a report card, hide a progress report. She knew the dates, all that. Kept me involved in sports and stuff. I had to play. My Dad's name is Derrick Clancy too. He was pretty much working from 7am to 3:30pm, then jitney'ing all day. But he was there, he was home every night, anytime we needed a ride anywhere—any game, any practice, anything. He was a provider, a protector.

My mom played basketball for Brashaer. I get all my skills from my mom. I started playing basketball in the fifth grade for Vann. Playing basketball for Schenley was probably the best time of my life. People still talk about it ‘til this day. I think it's cause we were all from here. I think it was more of a show with us—those oops off the backboard, the dunks, the highlights. Four, five Division I players on one team. It was a long time since people seen that kind of dominance I would say. I think that just stood out. I think that's why people talk about us.

[After high school] I decided to focus on school, becoming a coach, and getting my degree. When I'm coaching I feel like I'm not working. I'm teaching, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. It just felt like my calling since I decided not to play no more. You want better for to the youth now, so that’s why I coach and give back. I’m just trying to make them do the right thing. [I tell them] even though you growing up and seeing some wild stuff, you could still prevail and make it out. No matter if you living up Chauncey on the second floor, or a five bedroom house, it really don't matter. It takes a little more focus and a little more drive, but you could do it from here. It could be done straight out the hood.



Khari Moore (b. 1992)

Khari Moore pictured c. 2018. Courtesy of Khari Moore.

“I never really understood concentrated poverty ‘til I got older honestly. Bentley [Drive] was always the calmest place. Francis [St.] was just—it was just the place to be. I couldn’t wait to get older and grow up in the projects. All my cousins had money, the females used to be out dressed fresh. Big cookouts, Kennard hoop games, basketball games going on all over the Hill. If it’s the street, we out on the corners. We out in front of somebody’s house on the porch in the projects. It was peaceful, even in its chaos and violence. I don’t know what happened. It just took a nose dive.

Growing up black in Pittsburgh for me and a lot of my peers it was like you gotta get out, you gotta leave. Ain’t nothing here. It’s like being black in Pittsburgh they reinforce that you don’t have a culture. And being a Pittsburgh native it kinda like, it keeps its own history away from each other. I really think a lot of people left the Hill, a lot of people died, a lot of the culture left. Not everyone who was a hood legend was in the streets. Some were just people that lived in the neighborhood. Might be an elder, might be an elder’s child that moved away, but stuff just left the neighborhood and other stuff just came around slowly. Very slowly.

A lot of people in my generation had fun and went on to do good things [with] a lot less resources and monuments to look at on the Hill. If you go back to segregation or right after, doctors and lawyers still lived next to the Section 8, welfare, poor person. That was your hope. There’s kinda more opportunities out here [now]—more ways to get to the opportunities—but we still didn’t have the people to look at and see. So it’s very [hard] for us to come out and actually be anything that has any type of influence outside of sports or entertainment. A lot of us that did grow out the concrete, we kinda grew under the concrete before we really sprouted.”



Daivon quinn (b. 1988)

Daivon Quinn outside of the Grayson Center (formerly Ozanam Center) near where he grew up on the Hill.

“I was born on the Hill District. The older people, the old heads in my generation—they used to try to warn us how the Hill was going to drastically change, and they told us we were going to see it with our own eyes in our lifetime. It's true. Just within the last five years stuff has drastically changed. First and foremost, they're knocking down all the project housing for the most part. They're building subsidized housing, and you got to have a long waiting list and stuff like that. It's also become harder to actually afford a home on the Hill District. They're making it unaffordable for certain ethnics.

The upbringing now—there's nothing to gravitate towards, to give you hope and motivation, especially for the youth anyway. We just need to do a little bit more as giving these kids something to look forward to. They're taking all their hope and chances away for the most part. I would just want the youth to know that there actually is hope and just don't never give up. Just keep fighting. If you stay positive, eventually positive things will come out. Just don't give up. That's what I try my best to tell them. If everybody opened their eyes and realized how short and precious life is, we can all come together and we will be more powerful in groups.

The neighbors that I grew up with, I'm still best friends with to this day. We're cool with each other's parents, cool with each other's kids. That's one thing I was able to grasp from the Hill, some type of love and sense of families. My grandfather William, he passed away about like five years ago. He was from Birmingham, Alabama, him and his wife. She passed away about two years before I was born. They migrated up here, came up here and settled down and made a Hill District family. That’s another thing about my best friend. His grandmother, who is still alive—she's from Alabama, too. So, me and him just always thought we were meant to be friends. Like, his grandparents was from Alabama. My grandparents was from Alabama. It was just like, we knew what it was. We knew we were different. We knew we weren't Northern people in that blood. We knew we was Northern people physically, but we knew inside of us, we knew we was different.”