Partnering with the residents of the greater Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh- in my Senior Capstone project- I worked to better understand how loss affects the identity of a community and how, in the aftermath of loss, memory of place changes over time.
Working together with the Hazelwood community, I began to understand how race, privilege, and urban violence can give rise to misunderstanding, racism, and loss of social capital. Collecting artifacts and stories from community members, a meaningful narrative began to take shape, one designed to reveal the voices of forgotten lives, hopes, and dreams in this community.
“I lived, We live, What did we Miss” is an exhibit located in Hazelwood’s Center of Life church sanctuary that describes a neighborhood’s journey through loss, asking society how “we” have arrived to a world with such systemic loss. The exhibit questions the larger forces in our society, while bringing to light personal stories of loss within Hazelwood. Five interactive displays throughout the space were designed to encourage others to share their own story, becoming “a community empowered by our vulnerability, strengthened from our compassion, and engaged with the issues that matter to us.” It sets the tone for positive change, and recognizes the power of this community if given opportunities to learn and grow.
Below are the six areas within the exhibition and questions posed to the audience.
Aspirations We Hold
The people of Hazelwood are living and breathing stories of inspiration and resilience. From Olympic medalists to entrepreneurs, the community is filled with champions of hard work and talent. However, amongst these bright stars are also quieter voices whose stories of compassion and determination remain untold.
This area recognizes the different kinds of strength that live in Hazelwood. The audience is asked to read the inspiring stories of individuals’ success, while considering their own future ambitions on “What is your future self” cards provided.
Systems We See
As Americans, we are promised the rights of freedom, justice, and equality. But how are these rights fulfilled if communities struggle to put food on the table and keep their children safe? Battling systemic issues like poverty, racial inequality, and urban violence starts with open eyes and honest conversations.
This area asks the audience to read newspaper stories and community quotes about Hazelwood’s challenges alongside the promises from our Founding Fathers. The large table is designed to facilitate group conversations about where these promises fall short. Individuals are asked to join the conversation by writing thoughts on the cards provided or engage with conversation on social media.
Spaces We Shared
A community cannot grow without spaces to call its own. Although Hazelwood used to be a thriving neighborhood, it lost countless resources like schools, grocery stores, and jobs when the steel mills closed. Neighborhood treasures like ice cream shops and community swimming pools are now fading memories. By looking at artifacts from Hazelwood’s past, we reflect on what this neighborhood used to be.
In this area visitors are asked to remember the loss and change that has shaped the Hazelwood community and acknowledge the places where we can still continue to gather and grow. We would like to install a listening station for the audience to record their stories and memories.
Together We Remember
There are times when it is difficult to remember the loss of our loved ones because the pain is too great. However, when we can voice our grief to others, suddenly we are no longer alone. The countless individual stories of young lives cut short in Hazelwoodbuild a larger narrative of urban street violence. Coming together over this shared experience creates a system for support and healing.
In this space (memorial to victims of gun violence) individuals reflect on their own loss, and are asked to consider leaving keepsakes or share a memory of loved one in our community display. Our plan is to help Center of Life create a system to preserve items people leave in the memorial space.
United We Will
Hazelwood is a beautiful mosaic made up of unique individuals who each play a role in the community. Whether they are artists, activists, leaders, role models, or supporters, these people all share the desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Through the years, Hazelwood’s strength has rested on its ability to come together in difficult times.
In this area people are asked to reflect on their own personal identity, and consider the role they play in the community and how their contribution can impact community, society and our world.