When The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh set out to celebrate 21 years of its Clean Slate E3 nonprofit affiliate, including 10 years of the affiliate’s scholarship program, they wanted to have as the keynote speaker at their benefit dinner someone who’s a slam dunk. A sharpshooter. A winner on and off the court.
So, all they did was bring back a person who is one of the most decorated high school basketball players of all-time in Western Pennsylvania (at McKeesport High School), won two national championships in college (at the University of Connecticut), and played 15 seasons (and won three championships) in the WNBA.
Swin Cash, the pride of McKeesport, donned in a black dress, took her seat at Pittsburgh’s Grand Hall at the Priory, Oct. 30. She was greeted by old friends, supporters, and, after the attendees finished their dinner, delivered the keynote address.
Cash, expectantly, lauded the housing authority for its Clean Slate program, which it started in 1998 in an effort to inspire the housing authority’s younger adults and children to steer clear of the national drug epidemic and the gang-related crime that engulfed many American cities. Years later, Clean Slate expanded into Clean Slate E3, which, among other initiatives, awards scholarships to HACP residents. In the past 10 years, Clean Slate E3 has provided almost 40 HACP residents with scholarships for post-secondary education, totaling more than $225,000.
Clean Slate E3 has managed its scholarship program in partnership with the local NEED (Negro Educational Emergency Drive) since 2012.
“Clean Slate E3 aims to assist the most deserving public housing residents to achieve self-sufficiency through educational advancement,” said HACP Executive Director Caster D. Binion, who also serves as Clean Slate E3 president. “We have hundreds of exceptional students in our communities who depend on scholarship dollars to advance their education and we are extremely pleased to be able to contribute toward their growth.”
Binion also said the benefit dinner was anticipated to raise an additional $80,000, “which will be used exclusively for providing additional scholarships for HACP residents.”
Included in the $80,000 of estimated funds from the benefit dinner is the establishment of the Officer Calvin Hall Memorial Scholarship, in 2020. Binion said the scholarship will be provided to a resident of Northview Heights or Allegheny Dwellings, the housing authority communities Officer Hall served in the past year. Officer Hall was shot and killed in July after authorities determined he was attempting to defuse a situation on Monticello Street in Homewood.
Officer Hall’s family was in attendance at the benefit dinner.
As for Cash, she’s busy these days as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Team Development for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. She previously was the director of franchise development for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, the final team she played for in the WNBA before retiring in 2016.
Cash told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview that getting the position with the Pelicans “was a lot at once, but it was a beautiful experience. I had known (Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations) David Griffin from working with him at Turner (Broadcasting), and he had talked about this vision he had, and he sold me on it, and I had an opportunity to see the direction that I wanted to go and pivot in. I think it was the right team, the right situation at the right time for me to pivot from what I was doing.”
It’s not lost on Cash the many people around here who consider her a true success story. For young Black women, Cash is someone they look up to.
As Cash spoke with the Courier, she recalled how, earlier in the day before the benefit dinner, she took a stroll over one of the Downtown bridges, and spotted Heinz Field and PNC Park as she thought and prayed. “One of the things that kept coming to my mind is that life is like a bridge,” Cash said. “You start out on one side, you never know what obstacles and things are on that side, but you’re always trying to push to get to the other side. And I think my life has been like that.”
Cash (whose legal last name is Canal after marrying Steve Canal in 2015) recalled her early days growing up in McKeesport; her mother, Cynthia, a former McKeesport hoops star as well, always by her side. “I dealt with a lot of situations a lot of kids deal with today—the crime rate, being slighted in certain ways where you don’t have as many opportunities as other kids…”
That’s a primary reason why, in 2005, Cash started “Cash For Kids,” an organization designed to “motivate, educate and elevate kids,” according to its mission statement.
More than 2,000 kids across the country have been impacted by Cash’s organization.
“You’re always on one side trying to get to the other side, so what work are you putting in?” Cash said. “Pittsburgh has so many bridges, so as I kept walking I kept thinking, you’re always going to come to a situation where there’s a bridge in your life and you can make the decision, either fight to get over it, or are you going to stay put?”
For Cash, her mentality was obviously to fight to get over it. “I was always a fighter,” she said. “I always used people’s negative, or motivation of why I couldn’t achieve something, to do it.”
Cash tells youth to do what she did—find your “hustle.”
“Yeah, I was talented with basketball, but my hustle was everything else,” Cash told the Courier. “My goal (with basketball) wasn’t just to be in the WNBA or go to the Olympics, my goal was to get an education because I knew my education meant I’m going to make money.
“For kids, what’s your hustle?” Cash said. “Do you know how to do hair? Can you do hair and also get a scholarship and be able to balance that? Do you want to start getting into tech? Do you want to be more innovative? Do you want to create games? Coding? If you’re trying to get over that bridge, what’s your hustle? Find your hustle. We all got a hustle. I used sports as my hustle. Sports didn’t use me.”
SWIN CASH, a McKeesport High School basketball star who won collegiate and professional basketball championships, at The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh’s Clean Slate E3 benefit dinner, Oct. 30. (Featured Photo by J.L. Martello)
by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
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