Alumni Spotlight: Dr. John Wallace

"I am from Homewood, a predominantly African American neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Homewood is where I was enrolled in Head Start in 1967. Like many other neighborhoods across the country, it was once a vibrant place to live; however, it has suffered the downward spiral that happens due to decades of disinvestment. For so many kids in my neighborhood, the value of education was not in question. The barriers were the lack of opportunity and access. Attending Head Start gave me a boost to cross some of those barriers, energizing an inner zeal for learning.

After high school, I earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Chicago and then a master’s and a Ph.D.from the University of Michigan—all in sociology. I settled in Michigan and began my career and family. An opportunity arose to join the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. At that time, I had spent my career committed to researching the social and economic challenges that disproportionately impact neighborhoods like Homewood. It made sense to accept the post. It allowed me to return home, leverage my work in higher education, and mobilize resources and interventions to strengthen and create more opportunities for my community.

Today, through key partnerships, we are helping make Homewood a desirable place to live again. We are investing in the people who live there and creating pathways to vitality from cradle to career.

Two of these efforts are the Homewood Children’s Village (HCV) and the Oasis Project. HCV is a two-generational approach to weaving community partners together to deliver integrated educational support, economic opportunities, and social-emotional development throughout the entire life journey from birth to young adulthood. The Oasis Project is the community development arm of the Bible Center Church, where I am the senior pastor. Rooted in the centrality of faith-based organizations—particularly in historically Black neighborhoods—the Oasis Project leverages the church as a trusted institution. The project’s focus is building opportunity across education, employment, entrepreneurship, and the physical environment. Oasis manages social enterprises like a shared-use community kitchen and a coffee house, community education programs like an urban garden, an entrepreneur training program, and a Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics (STEAM) after-school program.

There are many parallels between the work of Head Start and my work in Homewood, and that makes me proud. Head Start ignites the fire to learn among low-income children, like myself, who go on to ignite that fire for others who will go on to illuminate the world." — Dr. John Wallace, University of Pittsburgh

Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come. Join the network here.

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