In so many ways, John Fetterman is an unlikely mayor of a struggling old steel town outside of Pittsburgh. First of all, he doesn’t necessarily strike one as mayoral. He stands 6-foot-8, weighs 350 pounds, sports a goatee and has a fondness for tattoos.
He isn’t even from hardscrabble Braddock, Pa., but was drawn there in 2001 to work for AmeriCorps after earning his master’s in public policy from Harvard (yeah, that Harvard). Fetterman’s first assignment was getting young people to earn their GEDs. He became the Mayor of Braddock in 2005 (by a single vote) and has held the position ever since.
He has the town’s ZIP code, 15104, tattooed on his left forearm and gets inked on the right arm with the date of every murder that takes place in Braddock. He is uniquely down for his town, which includes being arrested for protesting — and refusing to leave private property — when his town’s hospital was shuttered.
Fetterman is tied to his town’s 16-to-24 age group and all those who have passed through that age range since his arrival. And when the Pittsburgh Promise was announced, he made it a goal to bring that kind of commitment to his town, where population has been dropped for decades.
Fetterman founded Braddock Redux, which intends to mobilize teens and young adults to build a better Braddock and create opportunities. Now, under that umbrella organization, he has launched the Braddock Promise.
Money is the issue, it is always the issue. His solution? Crowdfunding. Fetterman’s goal is to raise $250,000 and, to date, the initiative has yet to raise its first one percent toward the goal, but the vision to change outcomes in Braddock isn’t a sprint. It’s more like a marathon.
“We want to give students an incentive to continue to go to school and get good grades,” Mr. Fetterman said. “It isn’t a hypothesis or theory, this is what works, and we want to bring it to Braddock. Why wouldn’t you want to be able to tap into the population that is coming out of Woodland Hills that doesn’t have the advantages of someone living in Squirrel Hill?”
A wise man wouldn’t bet against Braddock or Fetterman. In fact, he’d instead watch and learn.