Martell Covington is a multi-faceted man. Besides being a longtime mentor, teacher and coach in Homewood, he is also a film buff and has directed a seven-part YouTube series called LWB—Living While Black.
And while he is versed in movies like Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” he’s never seen Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”—but now that he has recently joined the staff of state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, as a legislative aide, he said he plans to watch it.
“I think everyone’s become more interested in politics in recent years, especially if you’re someone who wants to make your community a better place,” Covington told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Dec. 28. “The senator has a lot of initiatives and there was a plan in place, so I hit the ground running when I got here in November. There was no orientation—just go. It’s an awesome opportunity and I’m enjoying it.”
Covington attended Holy Rosary School in Homewood before attending Central Catholic High School, graduating in 2005 and going on to Howard University where he graduated with a degree in business administration. After that he returned to Homewood to where it all began for him—working at the Community Empowerment Association where he had attended youth and afterschool programs years earlier.
“I was one of the first Rites of Passage graduates. I started there at 7 or 8, learned martial arts, and volunteered there. I’ve seen it grow from a tiny place on Fleury Way to taking over the building where I went to grade school. It was like coming full circle,” he said.
If anyone was prepared to just dive right into a brand new job that ranges from community relations, constituent connections, attending meetings and coordinating with other legislative offices, it’s Covington. Prior to joining Sen. Costa’s staff, the 2018 New Pittsburgh Courier Fab 40 honoree had spent eight years working at CEA, most recently as assistant director of youth and family services, coordinating and running a variety of programs and activities.
“That’s the way it is at nonprofits. You wear a lot of hats at the same time,” he said. “But I gained a lot of knowledge there and I think it prepared me well for what I’m doing now.”
Part of what he’s doing now is what he’s done for years—being visible and active in the community, and letting people know they have an ear to Sen. Costa’s office because he wants to hear from them, too.
“The position came through my work in the community. The senator took notice and reached out through people I know, and I was persistent in pursuing it,” he said. “I’m still trying to mentor, being present in the community. I think it’s cool for young people to see someone like me in a post like this—the best reactions come from the young people.”
Rashad Byrdsong, founder of CEA, said Covington is “destined for greatness.”
“He demonstrates the characteristics of taking on the responsibility of an up-and-coming leader,” said Byrdsong. “He is what heroes are made of, being that he was born and raised in Homewood, to working for the Homewood community. We wish him well and great success working in his new capacity.”
But Covington’s community work extends beyond Homewood, and even beyond the confines of Pennsylvania’s 43rd Senatorial District—it extends all the way to Africa.
“I’m on the board of the Cameroon Football Development program, headquartered in Pittsburgh, and they’ve been working for about six years creating youth soccer programs there,” he said. “But it’s more than just sports, it’s health and wellness, leadership; things they may not get in their schools.”
The organization has programs running at six different sites in various cities and towns throughout Cameroon, and in 2016, Covington went to see them.
“After all the board meetings and fundraisers, it was fantastic to finally get to see it,” he said. “I spent two weeks there. There was a lot of good food, great music, and learning the history—not just from the officials, but people out in the villages, different perspectives from different parts of the country.”
One village, he said, was so remote it could only be reached by canoe or by “a trek through the jungle.”
“So we canoed in and walked back,” he said. “But walking down to Lake Barombi to get in the canoes, we heard some animal noises that made us quicken our pace. To this day, I don’t know what it was, but it still scares me to think of it. I can’t wait to go back.”