This year will mark the 15th anniversary of the death of Jonny Gammage, a man killed while in police custody Oct. 12 1995. Each year the Black and White Reunion, created in response to Gammage’s death, holds the Summit Against Racism to confront the status of race relations in Pittsburgh and work to improve them.
“Today we hope to have a fruitful conversation of where do we go from here with regard to race relations in the Pittsburgh region and how can we more effectively implement changes many of us seek,” said BWR founder Tim Stevens.
Ironically, this year’s Summit Against Racism on Jan. 23, fell on the weekend after Jordan Miles, an 18-year-old Creative and Performing Arts High School student, was beaten by three police officers. This incident took much of the focus at the summit and was used to help participants develop their skills in racial equity advocacy.
“The way we work together is we need to work together at creating change,” said Harvey Holts, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “Better race relations will come if we are working together towards a common goal.”
Although some said the actions of the police officers in Miles’ case seemed to be racially motivated, they admitted police brutality is an issue for people of all races. Whether Black or White, many of the participants said they sometimes feel more fearful of police officers than protected by them.
Representatives from the Citizens Police Review Board, Human Rights Coalition and Regional Equity Monitoring Project explained how they are working to address social injustices, including police brutality like that faced by Gammage and Miles.
Kenneth Miller, who led a session on skill building, said the best way to fight racial inequity was to take concerns to your elected officials.
“How do we move a racial equity agenda? By delivery of testimony,” Miller said. “Public hearings are an opportunity for you to address your elected officials.”
Beyond combating institutional racism, the summit also addressed how to improve race relations in one’s daily life. Participants engaged in a series of conversations with people of other races to discuss their differences, while also examining how each race is subjected to racism.
“I was thrilled to see during the exercise we had almost 50/50 Black and White,” said Ann Mason, BWR treasurer. “When do you go to any event in Pittsburgh and see that. I also think we had 50/50 youth and adults.”
Several session facilitators and participants also touched on the causes of racism and how it continues to be passed on to the younger generation.
“If we’re really honest with ourselves we must come to the conclusion that the education system has failed us,” said Major Mason, Ph.D., a member of the BWR coordinating council. “It has failed to teach us the strengths and history of other cultures.”
There will be a followup and strategic planning meeting Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. at East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
Proceeds of the summit help fund the Jonny Gammage Memorial Scholarship.