Godfather of baby shot, killed in Downtown Pittsburgh last year to open community center in his name

PENN HILLS, Pa. — A tragedy inspired a new movement in Pittsburgh that took a big step forward on Friday.

“For me, it’s being able to create an experience that my godson didn’t get to have so being able to open up a space that we honor and name after him where young people can come and be free,” said Kahlil Darden, the Founder & CEO of the Young Black Motivated Kings & Queens (YBMKQ).

This spring, Channel 11 News spoke with Kahlil Darden, 22. At the time, the 2019 Penn Hills graduate told us by the end of 2023 he wanted to open a community center for kids to help curb violence and keep them safe.

“I was there when the YMCA was pulled out of the community, and you saw that young people didn’t have the opportunity to go anywhere else, they didn’t have anything else to do,” Darden said.

On Friday, he closed on a building, 7300 Ridgeview Avenue in Penn Hills.

“The name of the community center is going to be the Young Black Motivated Kings and Queens: De’Avry A Thomas Community Center,” Darden explained.

It’s a name that means so much to Darden. De’Avry was Darden’s 18-month-old godson. In 2022, the toddler was shot and killed in Downtown Pittsburgh. A tragedy that Darden said fueled him to keep going.

>>> Shooting of Baby De’Avry: 18-month old shot, killed in Downtown Pittsburgh

Now his foundation will transform the 2500 square-foot outdated center into a community hub equipped with a gym outdoor field, and an art and recording studio; enough space to house the 1500 students he serves yearly.

>>> Family of 18-month-old Baby De’Avry looking to preserve his memory, share his story

“Her reading has improved, and her math has improved,” said parent Keonna Rawlings.

Rawlings’s 12-year-old daughter has been enrolled in the foundation for two years - time her mother says has helped her grow academically and emotionally.

“It gives her a sense of hope that she actually can be somebody in this world,” Rawlings said.

Darden said that the foundation plans to begin construction in January and plans to have the center opened by March 2024.

“I think ultimately young people need love and as long as they have that, and they have someone who cares about them,” Darden said.

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