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Finding Purpose Through Broken Pieces

broken, Center of Life, community, resiliency
Broken stained glass windows at the Keystone Church of Hazelwood

In this moving tribute to Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood, Rev. Tim Smith describes the hope and resiliency of residents who have experienced pain and loss but are determined to pursue wholeness and justice in their community. As executive director of the nonprofit Center of Life and pastor of the Keystone Church of Hazelwood, Rev. Smith contributed his poem to the “I lived. We live. What Did We Miss?” exhibit at the building housing both the nonprofit and the church. Created and presented by Center of Life, Carnegie Mellon School of Design and the greater Hazelwood community, the exhibit features photographs, videos and personal mementos, and, like the poem, reflects both brokenness and aspirations for a better future.

You see here before you the broken pieces of two stained glass windows.
This is how they look today, but there was a time when they were new,
well put together, made for a purpose,
a thing of beauty for the eye to behold.

In many ways these broken pieces tell the story of Greater Hazelwood.
Once it was a vibrant, well-populated community that stood on its own.
For many, it was a thing of beauty, built for a purpose,
with grocery stores and barber shops, movie theatres and dance halls,
schools and places of worship, gas stations, playgrounds, swimming pools
and a steel mill that gave the community its identity.
Greater Hazelwood, made for a purpose, a thing of beauty…
But what was that purpose and what kind of beauty did it produce?

When something whose purpose is meant to work for all only works for some,
that something results in brokenness. But there is purpose in broken pieces.

The broken pieces of Hazelwood are its people.
Broken as a result of injustices and inequities. Broken but not beaten.
Broken but still powerful.

These broken pieces
are the vital clues to making a community with liberty and justice for all.
These broken pieces are the ingredients that produce righteousness, justice and equity. These broken pieces tell the truth about what this community really is and what it stands for.
These broken pieces are the light that shines through the darkest days.

With their many colors, shapes and sizes, these broken pieces are the people who have kept the lights on in the community while being underserved and forgotten. These broken pieces are the families who have persevered in the face of generational economic and racial discrimination.

These broken pieces are the countless African American boys whose lives were taken through gun violence. These broken pieces are the parents who never gave up on their children. These broken pieces are the pain of the past and the hope of the future. These broken pieces are the life and times of Greater Hazelwood families, along with families in other underserved and forgotten communities where the people now speak and say
“This is not normal; this is not right.”

It’s not normal or right for human beings in America to have vital resources withheld.
It’s not normal or right for any child to be relegated to a substandard education. It’s not normal or right for a child to be the absolute authority in his or her own life. It’s not normal or right for children to have easy access to illegal high-powered weapons and drugs. It’s not normal for parents to bury their children and it’s not normal for humans to kill other humans.
But this is what happens when liberty and justice is not for all.

Greater Hazelwood was built on a system where liberty and justice was not for all. Therefore, that system was simply wrong and in the end, it produced what it was set up to produce. Brokenness. But the best present and future hope to bring about what is right and good for any community are the people of the community. Greater Hazelwood has come together with a shared hope and a vision for a community designed intentionally with liberty and justice for all.
And the good news is we don’t have to start from scratch as long as we remember that the picture of a greater Hazelwood can be discovered through the broken pieces.


“I lived. We live. What Did We Miss?” opens to the public Saturday, May 20, from noon to 4 pm. at Center of Life, 161 Hazelwood Ave., Hazelwood. Regular viewing times will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Arrangements for evening showings can be made by calling 412-521-3468. The exhibit is the first in a series of visual presentations portraying life in Hazelwood and efforts to pursue justice, equity and wholeness in the community.

Written by:

Rev. Tim Smith
Executive Director, Center of Life