At first glance, the 6-foot-8, tattooed white man with a shaved head and dark beard might seem out of place as the mayor of a predominantly black community.
But when John Fetterman starts to bear his inner appearance, speaking passionately about his work to bring about change in Braddock, where many live in poverty and where graduating from high school means beating the odds, it's easy to see how the 42-year-old fits in.
"I never expected to go for politics. It just evolved that way," said Fetterman, who spoke to Summerbridge Pittsburgh students on Diversity Day Friday at Sewickley Academy.
About 80 students are attending the academy program on the Edgeworth campus this summer. Summerbridge is affiliated with the Breakthrough Collaborative, a national organization that aids underserved students throughout the U.S., in order to improve their educational trajectory.
Fetterman, who attended Harvard University and holds a master's degree in public policy, answered questions from students about his life and spoke about the importance of getting a good education.
He also talked about how diversity energizes a community. Fetterman brought along his wife Gisele and two kids, Grace, 1, and Karl, 3, to show what a diverse family looks like. His wife is from Brazil and speaks three languages while Fetterman is of German descent.
He also spoke to students about standing up against bullying and the importance respecting each other’s differences.
"Be a positive influence in your community," he said.
Since becoming the mayor of Braddock in 2006, Fetterman has had a bold vision for revitalizing his impoverished community. He has worked to help individuals who didn't finish high school obtain a GED. Using an unorthodox approach, he attracts young artists, entrepreneurs and urban farmers to the streets of his town. His efforts have landed him on television shows, such as the Colbert Report, in newspapers such as the New York Times, and on the cover of Atlantic Magazine, labeled “America’s brave new thinker.” He has also won the coveted title of “America’s Coolest Mayor.”
Through his continued efforts working with the greater Pittsburgh area, Fetterman has made an impact bringing Braddock back into the spotlight by using his community as the backdrop for movies and most recently the Levi’s jean commercials.
His commitment is visible on his left arm, where the numbers "15104" display Braddock's zip code, and on the right, where the dates of five murders that occurred in the town are marked.
"I think that he's pretty cool," Husia Ma'at, 12, of Penn Hills, said after the presentation. The seventh grader stopped Fetterman for his autograph before other students surrounded him to talk.
Fetterman said he was honored to address the Summerbridge students.
"Any chance I have to talk to young people, I always relish the chance," he said, "because that's how I got my start, working with young people."