A few weeks ago, I decided to pack up and leave Pittsburgh, PA. My wife and I didn’t arrive at the decision easily, but it was ultimately the best for our family. After applying for 147 jobs (115 private/32 public) over a 2 ½ year period, I realized Pittsburgh wasn’t the bastion of opportunity as many media outlets claimed.
Akin to other cities I’ve lived since graduating college in 2003, I knew challenges related to employment opportunities would persist. Several Pittsburgh natives forewarned me of the unique challenges ahead, yet I remained full of ambitious perseverance. At first, I thought I could overcome Pittsburgh being among the most difficult cities for educated African-American males to find employment. I thought I could overcome the federal worker stigma (lazy) or the fact that I didn’t graduate from Pitt, Duquesne or CMU. Although my resume was deemed “as close to perfect as possible” and “absolutely nothing our agency can do to improve this beautiful resume” by top resume writing firms, self-doubt crept in. That much rejection began eating away at my confidence although I was excelling in other aspects of my life.
I’m a “pull myself up by the bootstraps” kind of guy, but I’ve also learned over time that no man is an island. For every gracious person I had helping me navigate the multi-layered labyrinth that was Pittsburgh’s inner circle, another five seemed to be working against my efforts; whether it was employment or standing up my nonprofit, Urban Light Initiative. In addition, other complexities began to persist including my DC job requiring more face-to-face office hours.
Those shortcomings, coupled with my inability to support my family between being split in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. made the next life decision inevitable. Consequently, the gaping disconnect between Pittsburgh’s Mayor Peduto’s noble rhetoric regarding diversity and the reality of the private and public sector’s inaction led to the decision to put myself and my family in a more supportive situation.
I wasn’t interested in the financial strain the DC area can put on young families, so I remain a “super-commuter” to ensure our financial stability while my wife completes her graduate studies and children secure and more balanced lifestyle being surrounded by loving family. Additionally, I’ll be able to return to my initial cause, which includes making small, yet positive impacts wherever I’m present. Thankfully, the DC area has been more receptive and willing to capitalize on my altruistic abilities.
Therefore, Urban Light Initiative will cease to exist. I will return money to all donors by the end of January, and I will re-release my book, Broken Child Mended Man, in early spring without language pertaining to the nonprofit. Over the course of the next couple of years, I will focus my efforts on writing several books, volunteering and speaking engagements related to empowering our at-risk youth.
While I hope to return to Pittsburgh in some sort of limited capacity after my keynote speech in April, the Urban Light concept is not feasible in Pittsburgh at the moment. It's sorely needed, but the lack of the right people for a project of such magnitude and the complexity of counter-agenda politics were too much to overcome. I hope you will come to understand my decision as more of a dream deferred than something that is impossible to achieve. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh has a lot of significant barriers that don’t coincide with ambitious problem-solving outsiders looking in.
As I stated before, my family comes first and foremost, so it was necessary to tend to their needs before venturing in to provide opportunities for others. There were only so many hours in the day, and spending 11-12 hours on the road commuting back and forth weekly to DC didn’t afford the time Urban Light Initiative deserved.
Ultimately, the failure rests upon my shoulders, and I can only learn from that. However, I plan to fuse positive connections in my new hometown of Philippi, WV and during my evenings in Washington, D.C. I wish each of you nothing but success and positivity in the future. Farewell, Pittsburgh.
Adam Starks, Ph.D.