For our civic leaders, especially our public officials in county and city government, those representing us and pushing for sensible action in Harrisburg and Washington, and most particularly everyone at the Allegheny County Health Department, thank you for your steady leadership and broad community-mindedness during this challenging time. If we are being reminded of nothing else right now, it is the critical importance of responsible, functional government and of scientific and medical expertise in public decision-making. As many of us have discussed directly, a host of philanthropic, corporate and community leaders stand ready to collaborate, in the best Pittsburgh fashion, on a response that serves the whole of our community, including, and most especially, the most vulnerable among us.

For all of us in this community, that means remaining mindful of unintended consequences and “ripple effects” that might seem minor to those in positions of privilege and power but that can swamp the daily lives of people who are already struggling. If schools must be closed, for example, let’s not forget that tens of thousands of our children in Allegheny County rely on schools for their breakfast and lunch, often the only meals of their day. Obviously, we must do whatever is necessary to protect public health, but let’s also feed the children, protect low-wage workers, and remain mindful of how many people in our society still have no health insurance.

Similarly, this is a time to be especially vigilant on behalf of those among us who are subject to demonization. Crises bring out both the best in the human spirit and the worst, which is manifested in judgment, finger-pointing, shaming, racism and xenophobia. Not only will those bleak instincts, far too much on overt display in recent years, not help us now, they will actively harm us. Let’s make decisions, individually and collectively, that are rooted not in ugly racial and ethnic fears but in science and medicine.

Let’s also think about what we can do to support those who are working to keep us safe and strengthen community right now. To our many friends in healthcare, thank you. Thank you for your training, expertise, competence and courage. And let’s also remember the role that nonprofits play in bringing this community together and holding it accountable to be a true home for all of us. Organizations in the social sector, be they in the human services or the arts, could be facing a perfect storm of heightened demands for services and dramatically diminished resources. We, everyone in Pittsburgh who has the capacity to support nonprofits through our time, talent and treasure, are the frontline against the loss of those essential services and resources. Let’s please give generously.

It is important for us all to remember that this moment will pass. Those of us who have been around a while know that. What will define us when that moment comes is how we respond between now and then. If there is a bright side to the challenges we face right now, it is that it provides an opportunity for a reset. We are being given the chance and the occasion to reacquaint ourselves once again with the importance of acting in the common good, of exercising shared responsibility, of remaining accountable not just to ourselves but to each other and to the society of which we are a part. It is the best of the human spirit we are being called upon to model.

That, very simply, is the power we have to meet a moment like this, and it is immense. As Lau Tzu wrote, “From caring comes courage.” The courage we need comes from knowing we are standing together, as one community and one people. What we will be proud of one day is how well we did that and how well we learned from the experience.

Where to begin? Simple: Let’s look out for each other, check on our neighbors and friends, support small businesses that are struggling, support good government, defend scientific expertise, fight racism, demand justice.

And, yes, please, wash your hands.

Email Grant Oliphant here.


Grant Oliphant

President