All kinds of ideas were captured by the artist Emily Marko.
All kinds of ideas were captured by the artist Emily Marko.

As Grant Oliphant said in his wrap-up of the day: “It’s simultaneously too much and too little packed in the day and yet we barely scratched the surface. Echoing a major theme that day, he ended with: “If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.”

That’s a recipe for disaster

In a panel discussion with community leaders the next day, several key points were made, including the fact that the workforce in Pittsburgh is 85% white. “That’s a recipe for disaster,” said City Councilman Daniel Lavelle. “Young people want to move to diverse cities. That’s a problem here.”

Janera Solomon said, “This is not a black problem. It’s a Pittsburgh problem. We’ve got to be all in on this or otherwise it’s not going to work.”

She and others on the panel urged everyone there to take responsibility for making Pittsburgh more inclusive. “We’ve got to all take this personally. We’ve got to all become champions and say enough is enough. It’s time to step up. We need everyone to champion these efforts.”

We don’t want another report. We want action.”

In the morning session that followed, Tackling Tough Issues through p4: Local Conversations around Equity and Inclusion, participants weighed in on questions such as “Why is this important to you?” and “What critical change needs to happen to make this a reality?”

The conversation got more candid and much stickier in the last group discussion of the day, Defining a Just City, when everyone was tasked with naming a recent moment when their race was an advantage to them and another moment with their race posed a problem.

“Needless to say, those of us at the table who were white had a difficult time coming up with a negative race-related incident,” said Kim O’Dell of The Heinz Family Foundation. “Those who were African-American had plenty of negative examples. Some were shocking.”

Also on the agenda: Give one word that describes your neighborhood and one word that describes Pittsburgh. Where do you feel more comfortable, in your neighborhood or in Pittsburgh, and why?

Groups looked over other groups' ideas in the last session of the day.
Groups looked over other groups’ ideas in the last session of the day.
Groups looked over other groups’ ideas in the last session of the day.

In the end, ideas to make Pittsburgh more inclusive were scribbled on Post-it notes and gathered in a quick wrap-up that called out many: different neighborhood festivals and swaps to get people to experience other places, a Cross the Bridge Festival combining two neighborhoods, storytelling events around neighborhoods, and assigning people as neighborhood ambassadors. They were as simple as saying hi to a new person every day. And as intriguing as house-swapping for the weekend. Think about it: a family from Fox Chapel could swap with a family from Homewood. How eye-opening would that be for all?

“I’m kind of in awe at the number of you who came today and stayed through the day,” Oliphant said in the final session with Mayor Peduto. “We both feel there isn’t a better community in America with folks showing up and wanting to be part of the solution.”

“In January we need to submit a resilience plan,” added Mayor Peduto. “Based on the issues we discussed the past two days (they) will now become part of looking forward 50 years into Pittsburgh. It’s going to take the leadership of everyone here. True leaders don’t create followers, true leaders create leaders.”

“This is an extraordinary moment in Pittsburgh’s history,” concluded Oliphant.

Every table had its own post-it board of ideas to make Pittsburgh more inclusive.

“Take away what we’ve heard and come up with plans,” he urged, “but please—in your own organization and your own life, take away what you can do.’

NEXTpittsburgh asked a number of participants what they thought of the conference and it was generally very positive. Many talked about the unusual opportunity to discuss race among a small group of diverse people. Others expressed hope that things — such as the 12-point plan for any development in Pittsburgh — would finally get done. One woman expressed concern that with so much emphasis on equity, would the environmental aspect of p4 get short shrift?

John Wallace, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who spoke at the conference, not only thought it was a great conference, but he also thought it would lead to something. “I thought it was a great meeting and convening of local and national experts,” he said. “As I mentioned in my talk, however, I think it is important that we decide that equity and inclusion are critically important to the future of our region and that we move beyond meeting and planning to implementation. I am extremely hopeful. We have the resources, the intellectual horsepower and the work ethic to truly make Pittsburgh most livable for all.”

Got an idea you want to share? Feel free to post in the comments below!

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.