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Healthy Village Marks 5th Anniversary of Education, Outreach

By Tyler Pack
The Tube City Almanac
April 17, 2018
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Photo courtesy Healthy Village Learning Institute)

History tells us much. But the past is just one part of the story. The present and future are equally important. Organizations that understand this and build upon it are able to most successfully serve their communities.

The Healthy Village Learning Institute in McKeesport is an example of an organization that takes a holistic approach to lifting up its members and the entire community.

Located in the former St. Pius V. Catholic School on Versailles Avenue, the building overlooks much of the community. It also shares the lower level with a fitness organization called Akwaaba Fitness. Akwaaba is the Ghanaian word for “welcome.” 

The Healthy Village Learning Institute has just celebrated a milestone fifth anniversary. But the concept and the work to create it began long ago. The founder, Keith Murphy, has made it a nearly two-decade labor of love.

The institute offers arts, cultural, health and wellness activities for ages 8 through 21, including urban camping experiences and trips to Africa.

But adults are there as well to impart their experiences to male and female program members.

“We developed what we call The Council of Elders,'" Murphy said. “These are the folks we would call on to solve any of our issues and share their wisdom.”

(Photo courtesy Healthy Village Learning Institute)

The arts are well-represented. There are rooms in which paint is used as an expressive medium.

Music is another medium that is greatly explored. The drum is an extremely important centerpiece of Ghanaian musical and cultural life. Organization members have made several trips to Ghana to truly connect with the place.

The institute is able to operate financially through grants, endowments and donations. Murphy and his staff apply for many grants spend much time writing proposals advocating on behalf of the Institute for funding.

The Healthy Village Learning Institute also strongly emphasizes lessons in technology and high-demand areas. “We call our program STREAM, we go for science, technology, research, engineering, arts and math,” Murphy said.

In order to have the traditional and historical elements be understood, the institute has amassed a large collection of art and artifacts which are on display throughout the building.

The principal African country that is most represented in these artifacts is the country of Ghana. The spiritual and cultural traditions of the Ghanaian people are on display everywhere throughout the building. But there also is a strong emphasis on the entire African-American experience as a whole.

There are many common themes and messages represented by the collection. In the Ghanaian culture, equality between male and female is of extreme importance. Instead of depicting one gender or the other, many of the artifacts are paired, with one figure representing male, the other female.

Although the historical aspect of slavery and its impact is a negative one, it still is a part of history that cannot be ignored. At Healthy Village Learning Institute, the topic is treated with solemnity and reflection.

Actual chains worn by slaves are displayed and present a physical way of helping someone grasp the suffering they faced. There also are pictures showing some of the violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan.

But historical achievements and beneficial contributions to society are also celebrated, Murphy said. One display lists inventions and the names of the corresponding African-Americans that invented them. There are always positive examples like that all around to inspire the program members.

In Ghanaian culture, higher education is something that is strived for and celebrated, Murphy said. Healthy Village Learning Institute's focus is always on helping people advance and learn healthy habits that will serve them well in life, he said.

For more information, visit https://hvliweb.org/.

Tyler Pack is a freelance writer from Glassport. This is his first story for Tube City Almanac. You can reach him at <tpack618@gmail.com>.

Originally published April 17, 2018.

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