Image banner for the Humans of Youngstown story by Jennifer Rodriguez. The banner features the words Humans of Youngstown as overlay text, and the six images are broken up into two horizontal lines, with three images on each line. Line 1, Image 1: Chris Huntley, Founder of Cuzin’s Lawn Care, with his son at Huntley's YSU graduation ceremony. Line 1, Image 2: Joseph Napier,Founder of YoLife Media; Line 1, Image 3: Rebecca Ann Banks, YSU grad student. Line 2, Image 1: Graig Graziosi, reporter for the Vindicator newspaper; Line 2, Image 2: Lisette Encarnacion, Host and Model; Line 2, Image 3: Ciera Parish, Corporate Attorney.

Humans of Youngstown

Humans of Youngstown

By Jennifer Rodriguez

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio: The city of Youngstown is made of interesting, hard- working, talented and motivated human beings. Like any other city, it is the characters of the people who reside in Youngstown making the city what it is. From the growing streets of downtown to the thriving university, all the way to La La Land and the tracks on Southern Boulevard, Youngstown is unique and shines bright with the citizens who have been changed by it, and who have changed it themselves. These are just a few of the humans of Youngstown.

“Only 37 percent of teenage moms earn a high school diploma. Only 1.5 percent of teenage moms earn a four-year college degree. I realized that I was not going to become one of those statistics.”

Ciera Parish“Being a wife and a mother, and trying to balance my career is challenging at times. I’ve been a mother now for 11 years, a wife for four yearsSometimes it feels like my work is never done. I worked hard in high school to graduate, I worked hard in undergrad to graduate, I worked hard in law school to get a position with the firm I am at, and now that I am here, I have to work hard to build up my practice and make a name for myself within the legal community. I’ve only been an attorney for 2 years now. My daughter remembers how we used to struggle and how we used to live. She remembers the bad neighborhoods, the Section 8 housing, the used and donated items we used to receive. I am glad that she was old enough to see the struggle because now she knows where she came from and she also knows how far hard work can bring you. Although I’ve been in Cleveland for the past five years, Youngstown will always be home. Youngstown raised me. Youngstown is full of stories like mine, with successful men and women who have made something out of themselves regardless of the odds that are against them. Our city is an amazing city, because despite any issues it may have, our city still produces extraordinary men and women. This is because nothing comes easy to you in Youngstown and you have to work hard, grind and earn your own success. That hard work, in turn, creates determination, ambition and strength, which are all ingredients for success.” – Ciera Parish, Corporate Attorney.

“I always viewed my relationship with my son completely separate from anything else. Nobody can affect our relationship but us two.”

Chris West“I grew up on the East Side of Youngstown. Not too many of us had a mom and dad, most people just had their mom. I still struggle with some stuff with my son, trying to get through to him and teach him different things, even teach myself different stuff. I just kind of had to make it up as I went along and do what I felt was right or what I thought was right. With just the basics in my mind.  From popping up at his school to be sure he isn’t slacking, to being at every doctor’s appointment, school play and basketball game. Everything that I lacked or that I missed or that I needed, I have to be that and more. We go to the park, we play catch, we just got a basketball hoop so we play basketball now, we talk. A lot of people get swept up in the same things as their environment, because they follow. You do what you know. You follow what your friends are doing. If your friends are committing crimes, you’re going to commit a crime. When I moved out of the projects it was then that I realized there was more to everything, more to life and what I knew. That little bit of exposure, it was enough for me to realize; I love where I come from, what I learned and the people. But, you can love it and not actively participate in it.”  – Chris Huntley, Founder of Cuzin’s Lawn Care

“I wanted to do something that would allow me to travel with a purpose.”


“I always knew that I wanted to travel. Growing up I watched Star Wars and Indiana Jones, there was a lot of adventure and a lot of travel and I was like ‘I want to do that.’ When I was younger my dad worked in Cleveland so I would frequently go up to Cleveland with my dad and travel around a little bit with him… I learned from an early age that there was a lot of cool stuff outside of my home, which made me want to see more of it… When I was 16 I took a trip with the church I was at to Tijuana. That really opened my eyes a lot because it wasn’t just traveling outside of Youngstown to like New York or something, it was traveling to a different country. I saw a lot of poverty while I was there but I also saw a completely different culture, which I really fell in love with… A lot of times I don’t really plan this stuff out, it’s just sort of opportunities, every trip that I’ve gone on has been an opportunity that I’ve said yes to. I’ve been to Canada and Mexico, Sri Lanka, Dubai, the Maldives and Ireland. I’ve been all over the states. I am a writer that values the truth and values justice, that has a very bad case of wanderlust and I don’t think that wandering or aimlessness are bad words.” – Graig Graziosi, Reporter for The Vindicator

“I am a radio host aspiring to be a sportscaster and traveling evangelist”

ChrisGunther“I grew up in church, I’m a PK (pastor’s kid), my grandfather was a pastor so that was kind of the thing I knew eventually was going to happen. I honestly thought going to church was boring growing up… but as you get a little older you start to really figure out this wasn’t really a bad thing. When I was about 18 is when I really started to get more involved. I plan to continue doing ministry but not necessarily as a pastor. One of things I’ve learned is you can reach more people by treating them right than ever trying to tell them about their “sin.” I believe God places people in different positions… One of the things I’ve learned is to reach people doing the things I do, as far as either preaching in the city or having a radio show broadcasted all around the world or having open gyms in the community, and just talking to people and asking how they are and showing them who God is in the way you treat them.” – Chris Gunther, YSU Telecommunications Student

“I want to be someone that you remember, someone you remember in the city that made a statement and said, hey I’m here too.”

LissetteE“Me and my family moved to Youngstown when I was about five or six. We moved to the Eastside of Youngstown and I was basically raised on the Southside. I tried to go to college, I went to the University of Akron for respiratory therapy. I took that up for a while and then I actually went through a hardship with my mother passing away. So I ended up not necessarily dropping out of school, but I came back home. Then, I started going to YSU in 2012 for the same thing, but the program only takes like 25 people a semester and because of my mother passing away, my financial aid was all a big mess I was like ‘I’m done,’ and that’s when I started taking up modeling. To be honest, me taking pictures kind of reminds me of my mom. When I was little she always used to have me pose and do little things like that, so that’s kind of inspiring to why I got into modeling. I fell in love with hosting, because I wanted to model. I wanted to take pictures and be creative, I wanted to be hip-hopish, I wanted to be urban. I just want to be versatile. I want each avenue. I want to be an event coordinator, I want to throw parties, I want to host, I want to do everything. I’m eager to change the way people look at the entertainment industry locally, I want people to really embrace it. I am someone who’s local and trying to make it.”  – Lisette Encarnacion, Host and Model

“A lot of people say hurt people hurt people, but I think hurt people can help people.”

“I lived in one house all my life. Looking back on it, that’s something I should be thankful for: stability. I really appreciate what my mom and my dad [did] as far as stability wise. I remember my grandma, the two things we used to watch most were soaps and CNN. So, I was always interested in what’s going on in the world and events. I’m always one to keep my eyes on my surroundings… The way YoLife Media came about, while I was in college, I was a part of this student organization called the Male Empowerment Network. What it did was kind of put upperclassmen, sophomore and freshman in the same space to discuss their realities as far as what they face and deal with on campus everyday… Feeling like that dynamic, I felt like it was good to share your perspective, period. Whether it’s from someone on the street, someone you don’t really know that well, you can always gain perspective with a simple conversation. YoLife was spurred basically on creating positive images for the city and the best way to do that is through stories. I can see it being a beacon of light for multiple communities and bridging gaps as far as communication and ability for us to really target some issues and get the real stories. I see my city as authentic and we have been through a lot, but we’re not a science project. We’re not something you can just come to and shine light on for a little bit just to try and wrap your head around a full county issue. We’re unique… there is more we can take and move forward with as a city.”   – Joseph Napier, Founder of YoLife Media

“Looking back now, I think, ‘Boy, I’ve been a survivor from the beginning.”’


“I had my Brett in 91’ and my Bruce in 94’. I just loved being a mom and I always loved kids. The boys taught me things. I knew nothing about sports… I loved it [on campus] and I started bringing my boys here and bringing them to the sporting events, so that kind of began a tradition… Eventually, when I got a little older, I said, ‘You know what, I want to go to school’ and in 2009 I came back and started again… My son, Bruce, unfortunately tragically drowned in 2012 and he was 17, five days away from his 18th birthday. I thought about his personality, how he was. He was full of life. He was proud of me for being in college… I wanted to be a teacher, but eventually my path changed to social work and I graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies…But, I have to work with students some kind of way. So that is just my path now, but I just love Youngstown so much. Youngstown has so much interesting history. We’re everywhere. Youngstown means home… I also think it means tenacity. We don’t give up easy.” – Rebecca Ann Banks, YSU grad student


1 thought on “Humans of Youngstown

  1. So wonderful to hear that people in Youngstown are thriving and making a difference for themselves and those around them. Inspiring stories. Good to hear the positive instead of the everyday negative.

Comments are closed.