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Black Lives Matter Movement Continues ‘The Spirit Of John Lewis,’ Says Longtime Pittsburgh Activist

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA
The protests that have taken place in recent weeks are the kind of "good trouble" that John Lewis encouraged, says fellow activist and former freedom rider Sala Udin.


On today's program: Pittsburgher and longtime activist Sala Udin remembers Congressman John Lewis; advocates say holding businesses accountable for ADA compliance often falls to people with disabilities, not the city; and how Montgomery County is using contact tracers to get the coronavirus under control. 


Remembering civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis
(00:00 — 5:48)

Lawmakers on the floor of the House of Representatives held a moment of silence Monday for their colleague, Congressman John Lewis. The civil rights leader represented Atlanta in the House for 30 years. He died Friday night after a battle with cancer. Lewis was a lifelong civil servant, often getting into what he called “good trouble.”

“Even though he was soft-spoken, he was insistent upon challenging quiet norms,” saysSala Udin, a Pittsburgh school board member, former city councilor, longtime activist and former freedom rider.

Udin and Lewis first met at the March on Washington in 1963, where Udin says Lewis helped inspire him to join the movement. Udin was 20 years old at the time.

A new generation of activists is stepping up to continue the legacy Lewis left behind, Udin says.

“When you look at the persistence of the Black Lives Matter campaign that is on fire in every major city in response to the televised murder of George Floyd, that’s the kind of persistence and fire that John Lewis brought,” he says. “It is in the spirit of John Lewis getting into ‘good trouble’ that puts them in the street, makes them block highways and block traffic, and confront riot gear police. But they still have the persistence to trouble the waters and get into good trouble.” 

Pittsburgh needs to do more to enforce ADA compliance, says disability rights advocate
(5:54 — 12:15)

Accessibility is an afterthought, says Paul O’Hanlon, co-chair of theCity-County Task Force on Disabilities. It’s been three decades since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, and advocates say Pittsburgh is still inaccessible.


“Oftentimes, decisions are made about what the city wants to do and then they consider accessibility after that,” O’Hanlon says. For example, the recent expansion of sidewalk dining has presented new challenges for blind people and those who use wheelchairs.

“It’s sort of a shame after 30 years of the ADA being the law of the land that getting through on the sidewalk is becoming more and more difficult,” he says.

O’Hanlon says that the burden to make public spaces accessible and to hold businesses accountable often falls to people with disabilities. “But, you know, I just want to get in the door. I don’t want to spend my life suing businesses,” he tells The Confluence.

Accessibility to public places should be part of the first steps to make Pittsburgh more equitable, O’Hanlon says. 

Inside one Pennsylvania county’s efforts to track down COVID-19 cases
(12:20 — 18:01)

Contact tracing is one critical tool to stop the spread of coronavirus until there’s a vaccine or viable treatment. Despite Pennsylvania bringing down new COVID-19 cases since they peaked in April, the number of positive infections are creeping up again.

Keystone Crossroads’Laura Benshoff took aninside look at contact tracing in Montgomery County, the first place in the state where the virus was discovered.


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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