The project, done in partnership with the local literary nonprofit Crossing Limits, made its debut last night during a special unveiling ceremony and reading on the seventh floor of the Heinz 57 Center. On display were original poems paired with artwork by Shuman residents. All the pieces will appear on the interiors of PAT buses.
What started earlier this year as an open poetry contest done in partnership with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh resulted in 60 winning entries that were then illustrated by Shuman’s youth artists. Along with established writers like Lori Jakiela, the poems came from local contributors of all ages and experience levels, some of whom read their works during the event.
The Crossing Limits website describes I Too, Am Pittsburgh as utilizing the public transit system as a “mobile creative space highlighting imagination, civic engagement and the importance of crossing imaginary and perceived divides.” It also listed possible themes for poems, including home, belonging, migration, identity, solidarity, peace, collective work, neighbors, humanity, and crossing divides.
“It became pretty obvious that the poems are about neighborhoods and communities … and public transportation is pretty much about the same thing," said PAT communication officer, Jim Ritchie at the event. "We’re in communities, we’re in neighborhoods, we connect people to places, we help people reach opportunities in their lives.”
While some poems spoke to the writer’s own experiences growing up in places including McKeesport and Homewood, others confronted issues like gun violence and trauma caused by events like the 2017 shooting of Antwon Rose II by a police officer.
Also present were Crossing Limits founder Carol Elkind, who said her own son – now 36 years old - had a stint at Shuman, and Shuman arts facilitator, Gerry Florida. Over the last few years, Florida coordinated a billboard project that displayed artwork on the back of PAT buses, including pieces by Shuman residents. She believes that making their art public can help kids at Shuman feel less isolated when they “mainstream back into communities” and minimize negative stereotypes associated with being a youth defender.
Shuman deputy director, Lillian Reese-McGhee, addressed this, saying, “Our kids have talent and I don’t want people to forget that they are people, they are worthy, and worth a lot. We want them to feel that, we want them to know that, and we want the community to recognize that these are kids who need a little help and had a bump in the road in life like we’ve all had.”