YBMKQ unveils plans for a new community center in Penn Hills

Photo above courtesy of YBMKQ.

Growing up in the Penn Hills area of Pittsburgh, Kahlil Darden knew that it was vital for the young people of his community to get their voices heard. As a high schooler, Darden founded the first Black Student Union in the Penn Hills School District. Eventually, he launched the community-based nonprofit  Young Black Motivated Kings and Queens.

Through YBMKQ programming — including carer exploration, entrepreneurship and more — Darden helps Pittsburgh’s Black middle-schoolers and high schoolers become tomorrow’s leaders and show the community that they are active, motivated and empowered to be the change they wish to see.

The YBMKQ team is now taking this work to a new level by announcing the creation of a community center, which is tentatively slated to open at 200 Penn School Drive in Verona. Plans for the center include a reading room, study areas and state-of-the-art technology, including a computer lab, 3D printers and S.T.E.M. programming. Services will  include after-school tutoring, mental health counseling and sports programs.

The center will also offer cooking and nutrition classes, along with an art studio where students can paint, design clothing and jewelry, and create digital media, and is expected to include a co-working space. YBMKQ plans to partner with Penn Hills School District and other local organizations on programming for the center.

Darden was inspired to open the center as a way to give back to his community and help young people deal with the effects of gun violence. Having lost loved ones, including an uncle and young godson, to gun violence, Darden wants to “create an authentic space for people to grieve and be vulnerable.”

This project comes at an important time, as Allegheny County youth homicide rate doubled between 2020 and 2021. Research conducted last year by CeaseFirePA and The Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence surveying 400 at-risk youth found that 57% percent had lost a family member to gun violence, 46% have personally witnessed gun violence, and 86% are worried that gun violence will impact their family.

Last month at an event announcing plans for the center, residents were enthusiastic. They see the new center as a much-needed resource that will help to empower young people and create a brighter future for the area as a whole. Darden is committed to continuing to grow and expand the center’s programs and services in the years to come, with the ultimate goal of making a lasting and positive impact on the community.

The hope is that the center will open by August, but more funding is needed. Darden says the community can support this project by donating to the capital campaign on the YBMKQ website, hosting a fundraising event, and supporting YBMKQ’s upcoming Seventh Anniversary events in June.