Over the twenty years since he returned home to Pittsburgh from military service, Richard Carrington has dedicated most of his life to ending violence in communities decimated by poverty, by the War Against Drugs, by systemic racism and by a brutally inequitable justice system and industrial prison complex – by pressures that too often pit men and women who should be allies against each other, sometimes to the point of mutual murder. As member of the Coalition Against Violence, as partner to the Black Political Empowerment Project, as former member of the Citizen’s Police Review Board – and as a frequent target of racial profiling by the police – Richard has dedicated much of his life to building personal and systemic accountability within the black community, in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, and in the larger political framework of our mutual choices. He has just been appointed to the interim land bank board, reflecting the awareness that violence, blight, poverty and vacancy are all deeply interrelated, deeply reflective of a system that has often violently exploited, neglected, and abandoned black communities
When so many fathers have been sent away to prisons for nonviolent drug offenses, tearing apart the fabric of families and neighborhoods, many young men and women have called Richard Carrington, “Dad.” As the daily practice of mothering is inseparable from Joy Kmt’s activism and artistry, so Carrington’s days are fired and shaped by fathering. He has directly cared for multitudes of young Pittsburghers, not only through the organization he directs, Voices Against Violence, but by providing them his own home, his direct guidance, his tough love, his affirming respect:
…safety comes through example of “You matter to me. And because you matter to me, I will do whatever I can to make sure that you know that you’re safe”…the example of simple protection, concern and care, consistency….They know that the struggles come…but they have somewhere to come at the end of the day where nobody’s going to be belittling them, nobody’s going to be tearing them apart, nobody’s going to be exploiting them…
Few people are willing to give so much – in a field known for high burnout and self-protective professional boundaries, Richard speaks of how and why he has been able to so directly father so many neglected, traumatized youth scarred by abuse, violence, systemic poverty and Pittsburgh’s deep-rooted racism:
…I often tell people I wake up in the morning and I go about the business in the direction that God has pointed me in. I do it with the best of my heart…I simply have to follow the path…and what gives me an advantage over a lot of people who try to delve into this field of serving underprivileged and underserved and abused youth, is that the end of every day God releases that day’s activities from my mind…so when I start tomorrow…I’ve already forgotten what took place yesterday: I did it, I served the need, and I move forward and so I’m not dwelling on what happened yesterday – so I don’t have a lot of build up inside of me of 25 years of all the..negativity and corruption and just belittling of our kids. I don’t deal with that, I deal with their issue for today and I move on when tomorrow comes…
Most simply put, Richard is driven by a sense of mission. As he once risked potential death in his military service, he now lays his day-to-day life on the line in service to his mission to obey the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And his mission has borne fruit – he has seen almost every young person who has lived in his home complete high school, go on to college, and then commit to careers, to families, to community, to life. Voices Against Violence has had similar, clearly practical successes, with stunningly high graduation rates:
Everything was built around taking them to the next level, allowing them to see their future before we ask them to participate in it. Most of these kids can’t see their future…We teach them the importance of an education and that knowledge is power in the world that you live in. And unfortunately, whether it’s a good bad or a bad world, it’s the world that we live in. You have to adapt to your surroundings.
As with Joy Kmt’s wide-ranging explorations and reflections, what Richard shared in our conversation was too large to fit within the bounds of any clear cut compartment or topic – this audio post will be Part I, just nineteen minutes of the three hours he so generously shared with me, and of the days and months and years that he shares with his community – and his kids – our kids.
Audio: Part I, Richard Carrington the father (Nineteen minutes)