James A. Brown

James A. Brown (Photo: Ken Neely)

James A. Brown (Photo: Ken Neely)

James A. Brown, the Youth Development Director for the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, is helping young people in Homewood maximize their creativity with the proper resources. Brown knows what it’s like to make big changes and dedicate endless hours to become better at what you love. He grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and attended Vassar College, graduating with a degree in sociology. But he decided to take a different route, moving to Pittsburgh to pursue a
Masters in Musicology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Since arriving to Pittsburgh, Brown has made great use of his training. Brown previously worked as a music production instructor for Arts Greenhouse at Carnegie Mellon University, a character development program for high school students that integrates musicianship, hip-hop, and social justice. In 2007, he co-founded Rhyme Calisthenics LLC with Pittsburgh rapper Thelonious Stretch. Rhyme Calisthenics is a game-show style event that tests the lyrical abilities of local rappers. The game show has hosted more than 50 events in both the United States and Canada. Brown has encouraged local teenagers to be similarly as innovative. For 10 years, he has led the YMCA Lighthouse Project, a program allowing teens on the East End of Pittsburgh to explore their creativity through media arts. Because of its success, the Heinz Endowments supported Lighthouse with a $1.5 million grant last year. Lighthouse then moved from Westinghouse Academy in Homewood to the Creative Youth Center in the Homewood-Brushton YMCA. The center features recording studios, creative suites, and other art technology used by students. The first phase of construction was completed in 2017, and the following phases will include an art studio, film lab, and youth employment center.

Brown is also giving back through his work behind the scenes. He has been a member of many local committees for the arts, including the Heinz Endowments Transformative Arts Program, which allows teaching artists of color and young artists to receive funding toward their own creative projects. He has also worked on the Y-USA Neighborhood Action Team Project, which brought together schools, non-profits, and businesses to develop strategies to address the
achievement gap, and the City of Pittsburgh’s My Brother’s Keeper Committee, which focuses on eradicating education gaps for young men of color.

Throughout it all, Brown has never stopped honing his own talents. He plays the keyboard and still produces music. In 2007, he released a hip-hop/soul album called Fieldwork as Armstead Brown, his middle and last name.

Homewood-Brushton YMCA has been fortunate enough to benefit from Brown’s leadership as the Youth Development Director. Young artists from Homewood can be sure to find a haven in 3the many local initiatives that Brown has spearheaded.