Black-led community spotlight: Amber Sloan, champion for Homewood | Pittsburgh City Paper

Black-led community spotlight: Amber Sloan, champion for Homewood

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CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Amber Sloan in Homewood
For many people who were once incarcerated, starting a new life can be challenging. In 2020, the national recidivism rate was around 50%, meaning half of those released from prisons were rearrested and incarcerated again within three years of their original release. The other half? They’re folks like Amber Sloan.

Raised in Homewood, Sloan has become a champion for her Pittsburgh neighborhood. In addition to doing violence intervention and reentry work, she says the most significant thing she does for other people is serving as an advocate: for those who have run-ins with the police, for children who need school supplies, and more.

“I came up with the idea for Made It in my prison cell.”

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In high school, Sloan says she was a basketball star with a four-year scholarship to the University of North Carolina. But then, during her last year of school, her mother died of a heart attack, and she became heavily involved with local gangs. Eventually, she became a leader in the gang she was a part of, and not long after, was incarcerated for over 15 years.

“When I was in prison, all of us would sit around and talk about what we would do when we got out,” Sloan says. “Some of us said we were gonna do hair and nails, I said I was going to make a difference. I came up with the idea for MADE IT in my prison cell.”

MADE IT, which stands for “Making Alternative Decisions Effectively Impacting Teams,” is Sloan’s program geared toward serving at-risk youth in Pittsburgh. It serves people between the ages of 13-24 years old and works alongside community leaders, school districts, and juvenile detentions to assist in impacting the lives of participants.

Sloan was also recently named a Community Success Coach for CCAC’s Homewood Campus, which is a position she officially starts on June 16, and serves as a committee person on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

“When Leon [Ford] got shot, who is my nephew, of course, I got into the advocacy thing, but my goal was always come back and change my community,” she says, referring to a 2012 incident when Ford was shot and paralyzed by Pittsburgh police.

Sloan says she is especially excited to get started working with CCAC because she’ll get to help people who are coming home from prison. In a city where she says there are few resources geared toward this kind of reentry work, Sloan is ready to roll up her sleeves.

While she says she might not be the most popular advocate doing the work she does, Sloane says it is still important for her to help those struggling in her community. She talked with Pittsburgh City Paper about homelessness in Homewood, and how little is being done to help. Sloan says that many politicians have made promises about what they were going to do, but she says they either didn’t hold up their end of the bargain or they made things worse.

“You can’t just snatch somebody’s plate and say, ‘Figure it out,’ you have to say, ‘Here, I have a better plate for you,’” she says.

Sloan credits a 2018 incident with pushing her to action. An employee of Uptown pizza restaurant Pizza Milano was caught on video allegedly headbutting a woman and tackling her to the ground. Sloan had lost her wife to an overdose one year earlier, and she says it wasn’t until hearing about this woman’s assault that she “got off the couch.”

Sloan says that Pittsburgh still has a long way to go when it comes to making the city a more livable place for Black people.

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The case inspired a lot of community action, and when the employee walked away with a not-guilty verdict, many were outraged at what they saw as a failure of the justice system to protect a Black woman. That same year, Antwon Rose Jr., a Black 17-year-old, was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer, something she says was also a turning point in her life and in her work.

She says that Pittsburgh still has a long way to go when it comes to making the city a more livable place for Black people, and while she believes not enough is being done to protect and help the most vulnerable in the city’s Black communities, she is doing all the work she can to make a difference. If that means traveling to different neighborhoods, then she is willing to go there.

“I'm blessed, I'm anointed,” Sloane says. “My grandmother spoke over me while I was in prison, she told my sisters, ‘When Amber finds her purpose, she’s gonna change the world.’”

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