TO THE HILL
It's another sultry
night along Washington Avenue and the music from the nightclubs wafts
out into the street. At Mint the strip's most popular club saxophonist
Leo Casino and his band play to a packed house of young, sexy
hipsters. South Beach, Miami has been good to Leo: he*s made a great
living getting these kids (most less than half his age) dancing to his
R & B beat.
But tonight Leo
isn't focusing on the music or the beautiful people swaying to his sounds.
A phone call earlier in the day from a childhood friend in his native
Pittsburgh has brought troubling news. The man's son has been gunned
down. Despite violence being down throughout the city, an alarming number
of young black men are killing each other. By the end of the set, Leo's
promised himself that he'll return to the Hill District, the downtrodden
neighborhood where he grew up and try to find a way to keep these young
black men from killing each other.
Leo could have ended
up like one of these kids. When he returns to Pittsburgh, the memories
rush back: his mother, a prostitute, would shoot him up with heroin
as a baby, to quiet him. The nurse who found him at 6 months, rolling
around on the floor, eating his own excrement. The father he never met;
and his sister - kept in captivity by a pimp, forced into prostitution,
and eventually killed. Just think Leo would one day be voted into TownTalk
Magazine's "50 Best-Dressed Men in the World".
In Pittsburgh, Leo
organizes a town hall meeting and invites the media, community leaders
and young black teens, both at-risk kids and gang members. World-renowned
coroner Cyril Wecht speaks, talking about death in matter-of-fact, unglamorous
terms these kids don't hear in rap tunes. A woman whose 23-year old
son was killed by gang violence speaks about the death of her only child,
how she*s forgiven her son's killers - but more than anything, wants
the killings to stop.
Leo continues, explaining
how he turned his life around. Leo recalls being adopted by a loving
family (who often had guests like Lena Horne), finishing school and
going onto college, where he became one of the world's first Jazz Studies
Majors at Howard University and studied under Quincy Jones. Leo describes
how he's moved to Miami and had a successful music and 20-year film
career, including being inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame
at the Kodak Theater, Los Angeles, in 1998. And how he became something
of a real-life Forrest Gump meeting three U.S. 3 Presidents, corresponding
with a jailed South American Dictator, produced TV for Geraldo Rivera,
played for Paris Hilton.
The town hall concludes,
and Leo hopes he's reached some of these kids. He urges them to find
a family outside of the gang, and latch onto someone who will encourage
them in any way whether it's a friend, teacher, coach, etc. He finishes
by playing a tune with a local rap group: the song's message is uplifting,
without being corny; authentic, but hopeful.
OUT THE PHOTO GALLERY HERE
District native hopes film will stop the violence By
Ervin Dyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Casino" has been in show business for over 30 years. He began
studying music at the age of 9 in Pittsburgh, and had the good fortune
of playing with such hometown heroes as Stanley Turrentine, Sy Morocco
and George Benson. After overcoming a very tough childhood, he was awarded
a full scholarship to Howard University, where he completed the first
Jazz Major in the U.S. studying with legends Donald Byrd and Quincy Jones.
During his 30-year career, "Mr. Casino" has played with a who*s
who of the world*s great jazz, blues and pop musicians *including everyone
from Earth, Wind & Fire, Neil Diamond and James Brown to Jimmie Hendrix,
Jaco Pastorius and Bob Marley. "Mr. Casino" has written and
acted in numerous plays and musicals, including the plays I am Innocent
and Odyssey, and the musicals Land My Father Died and Funk Opera. Among
his film credits are Forsythe County (1989), "Soweto" (1988),
East of Overtown (in progress.) He can also be seen in the 1987 German
film, Otto, and in a 1986 episode of Miami Vice. He has played at numerous
events including the White House annual party, the American Cancer Society,
President Nixon*s Inauguration and has lectured on race relations at universities
around the country including U.C.L.A, Harvard Law School, the University
of Chicago and Moorehouse College. He holds an honorary Doctorate Degree
from Mallory College. "Mr. Casino*s latest CD, Better Days, is dedicated
to the victims and families of 9/11.
contact Dr. Leo Casino visit www.LeoCasino.us
or email him @ Casinoleo3@aol.com
epidemic of black-on-black violence
A 9-year old boy is gunned down while playing ball in front of his home*
A 16-year old is murdered while watching his mother*s booth at a local
North Side club is the scene of 3rd homicide in just 7 months*
On their own, these headlines are depressing enough. Sadly, the number
of murders in
Pittsburgh is rising. And the most outrageous part is that the vast
majority of these
murders are committed against blacks, by blacks.
· There were 114 murders in Allegheny County in 2004, tying the
all-time high, set a decade earlier.
· Of the 74 murders in Pittsburgh in 2004, 63 of these were committed
· Of the 63 murders against blacks, almost all were committed
by blacks, and in particular, by young black men.
to law enforcement officials, this rise in violence highlights two disturbing
the growth of dangerous street gangs in Pittsburgh, and the ease with
which young people can get guns. In fact, in 2004, 47 children under
the age of 16 were arrested for gun-related crimes in the city: up from
29 such arrests in 2003. With the recent lift of the assault weapons
ban and continued budget cuts to the city*s police department, the situation
will most likely get worse, before it gets better.
2007 Brotha Ash Productions. All Rights Reserved