By Gregory Allen
I really didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived at Center of Life in Hazelwood. Since, typically, my work is not assigned to me, and I tend to do narratives one could say I was a little out of my element. But I did have some experience with documentaries in the past so I wasn’t all that worried. Pulling up to the building was a bit eerie. Just one street over was where one of my brothers lived…a brother that I had lost due to gun violence. It was hard for me to revisit those streets without being haunted by his ghost. According to their website, Center of Life (COL) is a faith-based community empowerment organization that serves residents in the greater Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.
I interviewed Pastor Tim Smith, the founder and executive director of Center of Life. I was very impressed with him. He was very intelligent and grounded and relatable and we immediately hit it off in the interview. We talked about his vision, some of his own challenges growing up, and some of his aspirations for the local community of Hazelwood. I was fascinated to learn that though his father was a minister he had come from the business world before he took over the church through which he founded Center of Life.
During my last interview with Tim, I went out on a limb and asked him something that had been nagging me: if he knew my brother, Jermaine Woods. His whole countenance changed immediately and this sort of shocked look came over his face. He exited the room for a moment and then came back. “Jermaine was your brother?!” It turns out that Jermaine Woods, my brother, used to be an active member of Center of Life and was even a close friend of Darnell. For some reason it felt really good to talk about my brother with these men–even cathartic. So I am glad I did. As I left COL that day it occurred to me to consider what the chances were that my first Game Changers assignment would give me the opportunity to not only meet an incredible group of people making productive contributions to the African-American community but also gain some closure on my brother’s murder five years ago. Though I was somewhat disappointed that I somehow couldn’t incorporate this into my film, on a personal level this did demonstrate to me how fully invested Tim Smith was in the Hazelwood community and that he was in fact a living, breathing game changer.