Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit confronts the past, dreams of a liberated future

click to enlarge A watercolor painting in grey and blue portrays a series of words and hands, all surrounding a face partially covered by a blanket.
Courtesy of Carolyn Nicole Hunter
Pittsburgh’s 25th Racial Justice Summit
In the fight for racial justice in Pittsburgh, one annual event has worked to give people the tools and facilitate conversations about how to properly confront the issue — the Racial Justice Summit. For its 25th year, the Summit will continue this mission with a new set of workshops, panels, and more.

Kevin Jarbo, who led the programming committee for this year’s Summit, spoke with Pittsburgh City Paper about what attendees can expect from the latest event, taking place Fri., Jan 20-Sat., Jan. 21 at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. This includes a keynote featuring Auja Diggs, a leader of the local, youth-led organization Black, Young, and Educated, and Dr. Noble A-W Maseru, the associate dean of Equity and Inclusion at Carnegie Mellon University.

Also speaking as part of the keynote is Amber Thompson, founder of de-bias, a Pittsburgh-based AI platform touted as the "only public platform assessing discrimination, bias, and inequities systemically and connecting to business outcomes." According to the de-bias website, the technology is being used by a number of local organizations, including the Lawrenceville Corporation, the University of Pittsburgh, the Perry Hilltop Citizens Councils, and others.

“We’re looking forward to a dynamic conversation among the three of them that is going to be intergenerational, but then also bring in multiple different perspectives related to doing work towards anti-racist goals, [prison] abolition, and liberation for people as it pertains to racial justice,” says Jarbo, who currently works an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at CMU.

The two-day Summit schedule will offer workshops and networking opportunities, as well as a "community resource room where folks can engage and learn more about different opportunities to get involved in racial justice work, but also take advantage of resources provided by community vendors and other organizations that provide different services and goods to folks,” Jarbo says.

The Saturday workshops will cover a wide variety of topics, including gentrification and the displacement of Black Pittsburghers, multi-racial solidarity, and organizing.

Regarding gentrification, Jarbo says some workshops will consider how Pittsburgh might work to remedy the large-scale displacement of Black people over the last 20 years. “A couple of workshops are dedicated to asking, ‘Well, how do we bring these exiled folks effectively back into the city of Pittsburgh? And then, what does that actually, structurally look like, for people to be able to move back into the city and to be able to afford it, and be closer to their jobs and closer to their families and closer to their broader community?’”

This year’s event also features “a bunch of workshops that are focusing on issues that go far beyond the Black and white dynamic,” Jarbo says. This includes building solidarity with the region’s Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and mapping police department policies and practices towards the Latino community.

Other programming will consider antisemitism and Palestinian liberation.

“We like to have a global perspective with the summit that has this sort of international reach, that puts really challenging conversations in the same space for everyone to participate in,” says Jarbo.

Although the Summit covers a lot of heavy content, Jarbo says there will also be time for fun and wellness, including a “justice jam dance party” on Saturday night.

Jarbo says everyone who wants to learn more about racial justice work is welcome at the summit, regardless of their level of experience.

“The summit is meant for everyone in the city of Pittsburgh and beyond to be able to attend and engage in any ways that they can," Jarbo says. "I think if you're new to this, it might be a little daunting to see the program and try to figure out what you want to do. And maybe you will get worn out by even just attending one [workshop], and that's totally fine. We want folks to start to be in this space and work towards the issues that they're interested in, things that attract them to getting more deeply engaged in the work.”

Tickets are available on a sliding scale from $0-50, and all proceeds go toward the cost of hosting the Summit, as well as to the Jonny Gammage Scholarship Fund for law students of color interested in studying civil rights at the University of Pittsburgh or Duquesne University law school.

“I think we can all be anti-racist,” Jarbo says, “and starting to show up in spaces like this is the first step towards living out the values that we're reaching for in terms of creating a better society.”

Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit. Fri., Jan. 20-Sat., Jan. 21. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 616 N. Highland Ave., Highland Park. Tickets available on a sliding scale of up to $50. linktr.ee/PittsburghRacialJusticeSummit