I was born to follow my maternal grandfather and his legacy of advocacy. I couldn’t have guessed, though, that it would take decades and life-or-death medical needs to place me in a city where his impact was felt, and where my own activism could flourish.
An organizer during the New Deal era, my grandfather, Victor Richard Osuchowski, connected Pittsburgh workers with the steelworkers union while it was still just a committee, and helped put sweatshops to an end throughout Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. His spirit and legacy live through me, in my work. I seek to empower people in the same manner that he did.
As a child growing up in Delaware, I advocated for children like me with the Epilepsy Foundation of Delaware. I tried to educate teachers and be a peer mentor to students with epilepsy.
It was at age 31 that I made the eight-hour move to Erie, seeking to escape toxic roots from my childhood that just wouldn’t let go. Erie felt perfect — I loved the snow and independence, and began advocating for better transit.
But my years in Erie took a toll on my health. Managing my seizures, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and chronic kidney disease means that just staying alive comes at an incredible price. I’d likely be dead in two or three months without my medicines. My Medicare plan quite literally keeps me alive by granting me access to hospitals, medical care and my pharmacy, even though it prevents me from taking a job — or moving up in the world like I’d love to — for fear of disrupting these benefits.
Ten years after moving to Erie, I was told I’d need to go to Pittsburgh or Cleveland for additional medical care. My first response was, “Why do I need to go somewhere else for the medical care I need? I ought to be able to have sufficient care right here, in Erie.” I didn’t want to leave the city that had become my home.
Sometimes, though, we must let go of the things and people we love in order to better ourselves. And it didn’t take long to love Pittsburgh and her people, too. She saved my life.
When I was deciding where to move to, the idea of living in Pittsburgh was enticing enough. As a lifelong Steelers fan, the thought of sports did pop into my head. Being able to go to a game in my own city would be divine.
More importantly, Pittsburgh stood out for the AHN Lupus Center of Excellence. “Center of Excellence” is a bold statement for a center focused on lupus, but it’s what helped me decide to make Pittsburgh my new home. I had many friends in Erie whose lives were extended tremendously because they received care in Pittsburgh, and that made a lasting impression.
I officially moved in 2016. With that, a descendant of my grandfather found their way back to a city he advocated for.
Every day there is someone trying to make Pittsburgh their home. That success depends on many things: people, connections, the compassion of those connections and the belief that this person is worth investing in. These are just a few of the things that I encountered as I made my way into our great city.
Only those who have looked up the full prose by Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” will know that the Statue of Liberty’s name is Mother of Exiles. Pittsburgh is another mother to all who wish to live differently. She took me in and nurtured me. I see Pittsburgh as a place where dreams become reality, and I want to help others experience that reality.
What does advocacy mean to me? Empowerment. For myself, to have knowledge is power, and to have freedom is divine. Having a reason to fight for something confers purpose. To see purposes fulfilled is proof that with enough organization, anything can be accomplished.
Humanity is nothing without first being humane toward other humans.
This is why I want to help Pittsburgh.
The city’s beauty ought not to be only for those who can afford high-priced apartments. So I advocate for those living in substandard housing, especially for all of the tenants at Pressley Street High Rise and the almost obsolete condition of our building. I believe true, affordable housing is a civil right. I am concerned that the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP], instead of making improvements in places like Pressley or breaking new ground for current tenants, is spending funds to create mixed-income apartment buildings. I believe everyone, regardless of income, ought to be able to have housing that they can be proud of, and I take this message to HACP, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and Pittsburgh City Council.
[Editor’s note: A spokesperson for HACP said the agency said its properties are kept in “habitable and proper working condition,” with repairs, maintenance and capital improvements made to its portfolio on an ongoing and as-needed basis. “We are trying to meet the housing needs as fast as we can,” the spokesperson added. “Our mission is to provide multiple types of affordable housing to everyone, as creatively as we can.”]
Before I moved to Pittsburgh, I researched its transit options because that, and walking, would be the primary ways I’d get around. These were the days of Port Authority (not yet renamed Pittsburgh Regional Transit) being reliable 24/7. I had never seen a transit system more reliable. I loved how Pittsburgh treated her people, because by loving transit, Pittsburgh loved all of her people.
Those days are far gone now, with how Pittsburgh is treating her transit riders. I’ve been with people who were waiting an hour or more at a stop for a bus that never came — and the next one won’t come for at least an hour, if not more. So many times I see on Twitter, several hours ahead of schedule, that a bus line is out of service.
I attended a Pittsburgh Regional Transit [PRT] information session a couple of weeks ago, which was enlightening and horrifying at the same time. I spoke at the Jan. 18 public hearing regarding the Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] system which would end several bus routes that are both desirable and flexible.
[Editor’s note: PRT has indicated that its staffing shortages, and resulting service reductions, mirror those experienced by most other transit agencies. The agency has loosened hiring practices, offered incentives and recruited a large operator class, according to a spokesman. The spokesman added that BRT aims to improve transit service and reliability.]
Yet, I persist in showing my love to Pittsburgh through transit advocacy. I know the days of reliable transit can come back to Pittsburgh, when we the people stand up as a whole. Of course, this would also require PRT to listen to — not just hear — people. I encourage anyone affected by PRT, who has not felt listened to, to please get in contact with the Federal Transit Administration’s Region 3 Office. I used to work with Region 3 officials when Erie’s transit riders were not happy when the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority [EMTA] went through changes.
When one person prospers because of livable conditions, it is a success story. When an entire population prospers, it is a beacon of light to millions of people who still struggle. It says, “Come here! You can live here and thrive here. You can prosper here . You can ensure the viability of your families for generations to come here.” This is what viability and livability really mean.
I love this city, and I know the system can change to help all her people. I will help change it to do just that: Help all of her people.
Aim Comperatore is an independent advocate and writer with degrees in criminal justice and a love of legal research. If you want to reach Aim, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach the Federal Transit Administration’s Region 3 Office, covering Pennsylvania and nearby states, call 215-656-7100 or write to FTA Region 3 Office, 1835 Market Street, Suite 1910, Philadelphia, PA 19103. At this time, there is no direct email address. To reach out to the Federal Transit Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590 or 202-366-4043. To reach the FTA’s Office of Civil Rights, call 1-888-446-4511.
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