When Eric Howze, his cousin Rachel Howze, Carla Robinson and Ashley Holly signed up for the Pathways to Freedom Program they knew they would meet civil rights legend Rosa Parks. They didn't know they'd be "Touched by an Angel" as well.
The four Pittsburgh youngsters recently taped an episode of the CBS drama with Parks and other youngsters involved in her educational and historical program.
They were sworn to secrecy regarding the plot, but it is safe to say that it has to do with Parks and the youngsters who participate in Pathways to Freedom. The program helps youngsters 11 to 17 explore the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and Canada.
When producers for the show contacted Parks about appearing in an episode, she requested that some of the young people in her program be included. Students from various regions across the United States, Canada and the Bahamas were selected, including the lucky four from Pittsburgh. CBS flew the students to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they spent four days taping the segment set to air Sunday.
"It was a great experience to see how it is on the set, how it's organized behind the scenes," said Rachel Howze, a seventh-grader at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
Ashley Holly admitted she had the jitters at first. But, said the sophomore from Greater Works Academy, "After we had [done a few takes], I wasn't nervous."
Schenley sophomore Eric Howze was most impressed with the mountain scenery: "The landscape was astonishing."
In addition to meeting series star Roma Downey, the group also met actors John Ritter and Charlie Robinson, best known as the tipstaff on the old television show "Night Court."
None of the young people had speaking parts, but that doesn't mean their voices won't be heard in the episode. They sing songs they usually sing on the bus while traveling.
The four students have participated in Pathways for the past two years through the Homewood Brushton YMCA.
More than 40 youngsters from the Pittsburgh area traveled last year to Detroit, Ontario and Nova Scotia as part of the program. Candidates for Pathways must write two qualifying essays, agree to participate in fund-raising efforts and have a grade point average of at least 2.1. They must also attend a series of workshops to prepare for the journey. This year's Pathways to Freedom will begin July 30 and continue through Aug. 13.
Anyone interested in additional information about Pathways to Freedom should contact Renae Foreman at the Homewood Brushton YMCA: 412-243-2900.