Racial Justice Awards remember Dorothy Height

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At the 19th annual Racial Justice Awards on Nov. 17, the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh honored six individuals and one institution for the work they have done to reduce racial disparities.

“Tonight we honor people and organizations who have made significant contributions toward equality and social justice,” said Magdeline Jensen, CEO, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh.

Honorees
HONOREES—From left: Greg Dietz, Curtiss Porter, Donna Baxter, Dina Marie Lebanc, Sister Sheila Carney, Peggy Harris and Rev. John Welch. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart.)

As she has done in past years, Jensen provided historical context for the evening’s award ceremony. This year she focused on the recently deceased Dorothy Height who has been known as the leading female voice in the civil rights movement.

“What is not well known is Dorothy Height’s history with the YWCA,” Jensen said. “As I read about her, it seems to me that her experiences with the YWCA are a metaphor for our journey toward social justice.”

Jensen took the audience through a timeline of Height’s life, highlighting her involvement with the YWCA over the years. Her experience began as a child when she joined a girl reserves club as part of the YWCA youth program and was met with racism at a segregated swimming pool. Years later, after centuries working with the YWCA, she reached her retirement after 40 years with the organization, including 33 on the national YWCA staff.

“In my judgment, Dorothy Height’s history within the YWCA parallels the history of our own organizational change,” Jensen said. “From discriminating against her at the age of 12 at our Pittsburgh pool, to leading the association to eventually display the words “Eliminating Racism” on our organizational logo, Dorothy Height’s story within the YWCA is not a story of redemption. Instead, it is a story of organizational rehabilitation.”

DorothyHeight
DOROTHY HEIGHT

The YWCA gave awards in four categories including community engagement, company/business, education, faith and youth achievement. The Sisters of Mercy were recognized for founding McAuley Ministries, a public charity working in West Oakland, Uptown and the Hill District.

Soul Pitt Media CEO Donna Baxter was recognized in the category of company/business for her dedication to promoting positive images of African-Americans through her minority community website and quarterly magazine.

“There is a rich Black history in Pittsburgh. There’s lots of things going on right now and I’m happy to be here,” Baxter said. “A lot of people support this and it takes a lot of people coming together. I thank the Y for year after year doing whatever they can to eliminate racism.”

Curtiss Porter, chancellor of Penn State Greater Allegheny, was recognized in the category of education. Over the years he has played a key role in the National Urban League and during his time at the University of Pittsburgh he established what is now known as the Africana Studies department.

“If racism was effective I would not be here,” Porter said. “I’d like to thank the YWCA for their tremendous efforts in eliminating racism.”

Reverend John Welch was recognized in the faith category for his work as president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. PIIN launched the “Holy Ground” campaign to address regional equity, racial profiling, immigration, neighborhood blight, and ethics in government.

“We were successful in getting the city of Pittsburgh to institute an anti-racial profiling policy,” Welch said. “I have to thank the many other organizations in PIIN. While I’m thankful in receiving this award, I take it as a challenge.”

In an effort to encourage youth activism, the YWCA honors young men and women for their commitment to racial justice. This year’s recipient Dina Maria Labanc, a senior at Shaler High School, was recognized for creating Peer Bridges, an organization that educates students on unity and tolerance.

“Every awardee has blown me away and inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing,” Labanc said. “Thank you to the YWCA and all the people here for supporting the cause and being change makers.”

Peggy Harris was recognized in the category of community engagement for her work with Three Rivers Youth as president and CEO. Greg Dietz was recognized in the category of education for his outreach work at Shaler High School with the Youth Advocacy League.

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