A Restaurant Unlike Any Other: A Unique Opportunity for Youth
When you think about taking your family or friends or staff out to eat, my guess is you aren’t thinking about how to solve one of our communities’ biggest social issues. By the end of this year, that will change, when Café Momentum Pittsburgh opens on Forbes Avenue downtown.
It’s not news that our juvenile justice system isn’t working very well for many of our youth, especially for minority young people. For many youths in Pittsburgh, their first interaction with the police occurs at a school-related event. Black-male students are four times more likely to have a police encounter at school as compared to their white counterparts; black females are seven times more likely. In these cases, the solution is to suspend, expel, or detain these students; they begin a relationship with the juvenile-justice system that can quickly spiral out of control.
Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 1990s, I witnessed firsthand the negative effects that police and the justice system had on people in my orbit. If not for the intervention of caring adults, I, too, might have fallen down that rabbit hole. We know that a disproportionate number of youths in the system are both black and poor.
This is where Café Momentum Pittsburgh enters the equation. We create opportunities where they don’t currently exist for youth. Our unique program combines traditional wraparound services with a paid internship in a fine-dining restaurant – offering an opportunity for our young participants to work with and learn from people they would otherwise not likely encounter. These interactions create a learning experience for everyone involved. Our youth get to show off who they really are and put on display their skills, talents, and personalities, all under the supervision of our trained and professional staff. In the same manner, we create an experience for people dining in the restaurant to see our youth in a different light. It’s in this fashion that we can rewrite the narrative around solutions to the juvenile justice system.
Combining our love for Pittsburgh with our desire to provide tangible opportunities for our youth, we will serve food that will compete with the best in the city, giving everyone who supports our work a chance to see lives changed. Every time you come for dinner, order catering, or buy merchandise, you are investing in the future of our youth and giving them an opportunity to choose a path toward a brighter future.
Every time you tell someone about the experience you had at Café Momentum Pittsburgh, you are choosing to be a part of a solution that has love at its core. Once you experience Café Momentum, you will be forever changed. You will look at the youth of our city in a way you didn’t think possible. You will want to follow the progress of your server or host, to continue to invest and see the lives of young people in our city changed beyond anything you ever imagined.
One day, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with that young person – only now, he or she will be an adult, with a career and family. Then you’ll truly understand the impact that your investment in Café Momentum Pittsburgh has had on these young people and on our city.
This work is about more than serving great food: it’s about giving deserving young people the chance to grow, to change, and to thrive. As we continue to share our work, Café Momentum will grow and pop up in other cities, giving us a chance to change how people view juvenile justice in this country. Together we can eat, drink, and change lives.
Gene Walker is the executive director of Café Momentum Pittsburgh, a Pittsburgh native, and a school board director for Pittsburgh Public Schools.