Without inner change there can be no outer change. Without collective change no change matters.—Reverend angel Kyodo williams
The murders of unarmed black men by police in the United States and Pittsburgh are nothing new. White Pittsburghers became knowledgeable about police brutality and police killings in 1995 as the result of the not guilty verdict and homicide of Jonny Gammage by five suburban police officers. His murder drew media attention because this 31-year-old black businessman was the cousin of a Pittsburgh Steeler. Like Eric Garner in New York, in 2014, Gammage’s death was the result of asphyxiation. Black Pittsburghers had long been aware of the fact that black males in Pittsburgh were in danger of being killed by police.
Tim Stevens, then President of the NAACP, Pittsburgh Chapter conceived and implemented the Black and White Reunion (BWR) in 1996. In the wake of Gammage’s death, it was a way to bring light, not heat, to the racial divide in the city. The primary mission of the group is to bring together organizations and individuals to do the collective work to dismantle the systems of oppression that impact the basic needs of black and brown people worldwide, and at the same time harms everyone regardless of social identity or socioeconomic status. A number of whites were inspired by the Gammage murder to join with the black community in addressing its struggles in this “most livable city.”
Thus, the work of the BWR involves bringing diverse communities together to work to develop alliances for justice and to eliminate human oppression, by promoting cooperation and collaboration on projects that impact nine areas of human activity——economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, gender, and war. To achieve progress in these areas, the BWR works with individuals, groups, organizations, neighborhoods, communities, local, and state governments, as well as corporations, local and regional unions, coalitions, churches, temples, and mosques.
The BWR’s existing programs are models of diversity and shared power. They include The Jonny Gammage Memorial Scholarship Fund, a voter registration project at The Community College of Allegheny County, and the Annual Summit. The Summit hosts an annual summer barbecue in an effort to bring diverse communities together.
More recently we have broadened our focus to include land and environmental justice, LGBTQA+ issues, and also actively work to include Muslim, Latino and Asian communities.
The YWCA is the fiscal sponsor of the Black and White Reunion.
If you don’t like the world you’re living in change it. Starting from you. Allow what you want to radiate out from you. To not do this, is to forfeit your capacity for love. We have an amazing ability to create a new world that radiates from each of us.
We, the Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit, believe that racism is a tool of white supremacy that operates on individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels.
Ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination are all aspects of racism.
Racism was used as a means to commit genocide against indigenous populations and to enslave Africans for economic gain.
Whiteness was created and is maintained, through laws and policies that advantage white people and negatively affect non-white people.
The ideology of white supremacy has shaped cultural behaviors and beliefs which produce cumulative and chronic adverse harm for non-white people.
Because it is passed on through our culture, racism shows up in personal interactions, even among those who are well-intentioned, often without awareness.
Racism damages relationships and causes psychological harm to both the oppressors and the oppressed.
The Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit organizes from a western-oriented position and acknowledges the shifting nature of white supremacy worldwide.
Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Summit & Community
Suggestions for creating an anti-oppressive and more inclusive culture throughout the Pittsburgh Racial Justice System. Many of these community agreements were created from the racial justice movement; the Aorta Collective has been especially important in collecting and sharing them.
One diva, one mic
Please, one person, speak at a time. (It can also be useful to leave space in between speakers, for those who need more time to process words, or are less comfortable fighting for airtime in a conversation.)
We make better decisions when we approach our problems and challenges with questions (“What if we…?”) and curiosity. Allow space for play, curiosity, and creative thinking.
Prioritize Black and Brown voices
Black and brown people are most impacted by white supremacy and the violence of everyday systemic and interpersonal racism. Avoid tokenizing, forcing a spotlight on someone, or believing that nonwhites speak for all people of their race/ethnicity.
What’s learned here leaves here; what’s said here stays here
Personal stories are shared in confidence and should remain in confidence, but the lessons learned and understanding gained from those stories can be carried into all your experiences.
Speak from your own experiences
Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing (“I” instead of “they,” “we,” and “you”). Instead of invalidating somebody else’s story with your own spin on her, his, their experience, share your own story and experience.
No one knows everything, together we know a lot
This means that we all get to practice being humble because we have something to learn from everyone in the room. Each member of your group has something to learn and something to teach. Together, you can create a fuller experience.
Move up, move up
This intention emphasizes the value of a space where everyone is heard. Speak more if you tend to be a listener and listen more if you tend to be a talker. Sharing your ideas and listening to others are both valuable actions.
We can’t be articulate all the time
As much as we may wish we could! Often people feel hesitant to participate in a workshop or meeting for fear of “messing up” or stumbling over their words. We want everyone to feel comfortable participating, even if you don’t feel you have the perfect words to express your thoughts.
Acknowledge the difference between intent and impact
When we say things, communication often gets waylaid. This intention creates room for differing perceptions. Before reacting, remember that others probably have good intentions, even if their words were triggering. Be mindful of how your words are taken by others. Your intention might be different than the impact that results. Take care that you are responsible for the impact as well.
Don’t expect closure, expect commitment
Racism wasn’t built in a day and we can’t topple it in one! We encourage a lifelong commitment from the participants here. That’s how much work we have to do and how necessary each of us is for creating a different and just world.
The key to a safe and successful team is honoring your commitments to the group. If you cannot go through with a commitment, make sure to let people know and find someone to take your place.
Take care of yourself
Literally, this means ensuring your basic needs are met (hunger, thirst, etc). Additionally, this means addressing emotional issues that come up. If something triggering occurs, let someone know and discuss what’s going on.