From the Bottom To the Top
Dreams die quickly on Jackson Street, where every family is fatherless and, each spring, every house floods. For popular basketball player Ron Jackson, high school is a dream, but his grades are in the pits, and he can’t pull his life together. At 16, he’s out of school and into trouble.
Jackson is the wayward protagonist in From the Bottom to the Top (Jackson Street Dreamer Publications). The book is fiction, but much of the story is crafted from the hard knocks that author Ron Howard (EDUC ’07) grew up experiencing in Brownsville, Pa. His mother was an alcoholic who “did the best she could with the problems she had,” he says. When Howard was 12, his father was murdered. So, when the fictional character Ron Jackson becomes involved with prostitutes, murder, drug money—and slowly, over time, redemption through faith—it is as if the book’s author is holding a mirror to his own life.
Howard began From the Bottom to the Top four years ago by speaking into a tape recorder, his memory reaching back to when he was 4 years old. His story unfolded in a language that is sometimes raw and graphic. But when he finally put his words on paper, he had 16 chapters and a lifetime of cautionary tales. He created “Jackson” to shield his family and himself from some harsher aspects of his journey. Lamenting all he did without ending up dead or in prison led Howard to believe that God was “watching over” him, pushing him away from the streets.
Now, Howard works as a Pittsburgh youth counselor, encouraging kids to make positive changes in their lives. He was inspired to reach out, he says, when he was unable to keep his estranged teen son from gang life. His soon-to-be-published second book, Children on Layaway, tells true stories from his work as a counselor. He’s also in a Pitt applied developmental psychology program, pursuing a master’s degree in program design and leadership in the School of Education.
“Believe in change” is the message appended to every chapter of From the Bottom to the Top. In the final chapter, Howard amends it to: “Believe in change, and you will.”
Finally, it seems, he has left Jackson Street behind.
—By Jim Heinrich
In Mommy’s Garden: A Book to Help Explain Cancer to Young Children
For a mental health class at Pitt, Neyal Ammary (GSPH ’03) had to develop a resource for children. Remembering a school friend whose mom had died of cancer, Ammary wrote In Mommy’s Garden (Canyon Beach Visual Communications) to help explain cancer to children who have a parent with the disease. This vibrant picture book is about a family garden and a young girl whose mom has cancer. “Cancer is like the weeds that grow in our flower garden,” says the mom as the book begins.
Talking Steel Towns: The Men and Women of America’s Steel Valley
Outside a steel mill, everything is covered in ash. A steelworker sees a red monarch butterfly, the only color in the scene, and hears God telling him, “It’s not so bad, Marty.” Martin Conners, 55, is one of many workers whom author Ellie Wymard (A&S ’68G) interviews in Talking Steel Towns (Carnegie Mellon University Press) to capture the struggles of Pittsburgh’s steelworkers spanning from the Homestead Strike of 1892 to the steel bust of the 1980s.
The Sunnybrook Ballroom
On the stage in the majestic Sunnybrook Ballroom, trombonist Tommy Dorsey introduces a new vocalist, an unknown blue-eyed chap named Frank Sinatra. Frank sings until the wee morning hours as couples in tuxedos and evening gowns dance under a curvaceous ceiling of hanging draperies. In The Sunnybrook Ballroom (Arcadia Publishing), Author Thomas Sephakis (CGS ’92) uses photographs and historical text to capture this famous dance hall, which opened in 1931 and is now a historic landmark in Pottstown, Pa.
The White Dove:
A Celebration of Father Kino
In this meditative poetry collection, author Jane Candia Coleman (A&S ’61) enters the mind of Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary who spread Christianity in Mexico and the Southwest territories from 1681 to 1711. As Coleman traveled those same regions, researched Kino’s life, and read his diaries, she found herself writing The White Dove (High Plains Press) in an imagined voice that was not her own, but Kino’s. These contemplative poems reflect the missionary’s love of the land he traveled in search of spiritual fulfillment.
—By Holden Slattery