The first Saturday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day marks the 18th annual Summit Against Racism, a day-long conference that promotes dialogue on race and ethnicity, as well as gender and sexuality.
Event organizers are expecting more than 400 guests, the best attendance in the event’s history.
Tim Stevens, a former president of Pittsburgh’s NAACP branch, started the event after the death of Jonny Gammage, an unarmed African American man, who was killed by police during a traffic stop in 1995.
This year, Leon Ford will present the keynote speech. Ford, then 19 years old, was shot by police during a traffic stop in 2012, after being misidentified as a suspect in a crime.
William Anderson, spokesperson for the summit, said the event tries to overcome the barrier of geographical segregation in the city and have a meaningful conversation about race.
“Pittsburgh is divided, basically, by Penn Avenue. Where the poorest communities live on, you know, one side of Penn Avenue, and the more affluent communities live on the other side. We’re trying to bring these communities together so we can have an open, honest discussion,” he said.
Seventy-five presenters will be there this year to lead workshops on a variety of issues affecting residents.
“We’ll be dealing with 'Zero Tolerance' in our schools, talking about issues such as mass incarceration and dealing with immigrant and refugee experience in Pittsburgh,” said Anderson.
There will also be a “Know Your Rights” workshop led by community leaders and Pittsburgh police officers. The seminar will teach residents about what to expect and what to do when interacting with police officers.
Anderson says there are practical steps that can be taken to improve relationships between the police and the communities they serve.
“More integration of the police department and more hiring of more African Americans, and people of color and more community-based policing,” he said. “Then, that’s the way that we change things.”