Last year, local journalist Ervin Dyer created American Heroes: The Homewood Project, in an effort to bring positive attention to African-American men doing good work in their neighborhood.
Dyer spoke with 90.5 WESA contributor Elaine Effort about the project and how he hopes to move it forward.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
ELAINE EFFORT: What is the Homewood Heroes project?
ERVIN DYER: I think that too often, places like Homewood, for a lot of different reasons—it could be race, it could be economics—they are seen as separate and distinct communities, pulled away from the larger fabric of American communities and America in general. And so we wanted to have a project that brought Homewood back into the conversation, back into the fabric of what it means to be an American, to show that there are people—in this case African-American men—who are in the community and making a difference. And they are taking care of their families, that they’re working to solve problems, they have been longtime businessmen, spiritual leaders, and educational leaders in this community. So it really was quite a deliberate attempt to make the men visible and to show that, yeah, they have a presence in this community and also they have a presence in the larger American society.
EFFORT: How did you choose these local heroes?
DYER: We did not choose them. And that’s important—the community chose them. We understand the value of history, but we wanted contemporary figures who are still present and still working and still making a difference in the community. So it was really quite thrilling for us to see the community respond and say, "Yes there are heroes here and we want to help you guys to sort of lift them up."
EFFORT: What do you hope that young people will get out of this?
DYER: That we can present them with models that, when they are discouraged, there are people here to help you. There are people here who are working to make a difference. We want a chance to connect you to these people who can inspire you to be creative, who can encourage you to stay in school, to encourage you to be a brother, to be a better student, to find that first job.
EFFORT: Does the project continue on?
DYER: So, for the Homewood Project, we had a wonderful banner that for like six months hung in the YMCA in Brushton. That part of our effort no longer continues, however the work that the heroes are doing—that continues. If they were teaching and leading before, they are still doing that, that has not gone away.
What we'd like to do is to have people understand that in every community, there are heroes. We would like to seek funding and engage this project for other communities, like Hazelwood, the Hill District, and Beltzhoover. So those communities have the opportunity to say, "Yeah, there are heroes here."