Ashley "Brotha Ash" Woodson, of the Hill District, is a former hip-hop dancer/entertainer who's recently begun a multimedia-and-events enterprise aimed at bringing people together for positive vibes and purposes. After an early life of running the streets, he says, he's become a visible and vocal activist for African-American affairs in Pittsburgh. This past January he began putting it all together for the world to see on his Web site www.brothaashproductions.com.
So originally you were a dancer?
That's who I am. I'm a dancer first. Everything else is second. Dancing is in my blood. All my life I've been like the li'l Michael Jackson. Even though I'm 38 years old, I'm still a dancer because that's what I do. I don't perform any more. Who wants to see me now, even though I can still get out there and bug with the best of 'em?
What does Brotha Ash Productions produce?
We have events, then our Web site, where we promote other people's events and church news but we also have our own events. We have talent shows, fashion shows, trips to New York and Vegas. The third part is covering stuff. I'm not the [New Pittsburgh] Courier. I'm not the press, but I want people to see what's really going on in the community from a newsworthy standpoint. This may sound corny, but my whole thing in doing this is bringing us together -- black folks. I love my blackness; I'm proud to be black. I'm proud of who I am. What I am not proud of is what's going on in our communities. So, since I'm only one man and I can't really change the world, I can do my part by having drama-free events.
So what made you turn it around from your former street life?
I got tired of having nothing. I got tired of living the way I was living. From the door, I was raised with morals and values, and I chose to go out and live the street life and it was bad. I always had God in my life. One day in '98, I just turned it around, with his help, and I've been soaring high ever since. I always try to get people jobs wherever I'm at. There's a lot of cats out there talking about there's no jobs. There is -- you just don't want to do particular work. So I'm doing the best I can. I'm not trying to be God or the black savior. I'm just doing my part.
How do you bridge the dancing and entertaining you did with the activism you do now?
Through my Web site.
You can't dance on your Web site.
No, but from an entertainment standpoint, that's what I try to incorporate: events, cabarets, reunions, things of that nature. For me, dancing is over. It's over because I don't have time, and because I'm too old to get into it the way I wanted to 15 years ago. I did TV when I was younger, me and my brothers. We were called the Mini-Globesteppers. We performed for Franco Harris and the Jerry Lewis telethon, KDKA news and all that stuff when we were younger. Since I don't want to get out there dancing like I used to, I have to get in where I fit in. I want to be backstage instead of onstage. I know there will be some people who won't like what I have to say as far as being black and what we need to do to address certain issues. I'm cool with that. People put labels on me, but I don't consider myself an activist.
You're a journalist, of sorts.
OK, you just put that label on me. You know who I am to me? I'm just Brotha Ash. I'm just putting stuff out there for the community and I love it. I love being everywhere and covering events.
So how have the people from your former street life received what you're doing?
Things I'm doing now, which are all positive, I'm probably a cornball to most people. Some of the people I was in the street life with can't believe what I'm doing now. Some are hatin', but I can't do anything about that now. Only thing I can try to do is still try to be there for them. My main focus is to look out for us because no one seems to be doing that.