Participants in the Creating Confluence workshop confront difficult topics such as racism, implicit bias, equity and inclusion. Photo by Leigh Solomon Pugliano.

anupama jain pauses her conversation to sip a blood orange soda at B52 in Lawrenceville.

“This is really very good,” she says, and her smile lightens the serious discussion.

As founder and principal consultant of Inclusant LLC, jain helps clients and participants in workshops to acknowledge and address topics that make most people uncomfortable. Most people find it difficult to talk about racism, implicit bias, equity and inclusion.

“All of us are guilty of leading segregated lives,” says jain, a part-time college professor who lives with her husband in Squirrel Hill. “A lot of conflict that comes up is because people are operating on unexamined assumptions and stereotypes about other people.”

It is something jain learned at the tender age of 5, after her family settled in Newark, N.J., from India. (In her native Hindi, names are not capitalized.) “I am a female, brown immigrant . . . and people made me conscious of all those things, and not always in nice ways. I was an outsider; I didn’t belong.”

In a March poll by Gallup, 42 percent of Americans say they personally worry “a great deal” about race relations in the United States. That’s up seven percentage points from 2016 and represents a record high number over a 17-year span, Gallup reports.

As it was especially in the 1950s and 1960s, race relations is once again a serious social issue in America. The 2016 presidential election exposed intense partisan division and hostility, bringing rise to a chorus of voices advocating for people to be less afraid and more accepting of one another.

jain and others in Pittsburgh who champion civil rights and social justice say their work goes beyond race relations to embrace others who are marginalized: people with disabilities, those on the autism spectrum, the LGBTQ community, the homeless, immigrants and newer targets of hatred such as Muslims. Here are some of their messages:

Liana Maneese, founder of Good Peoples Group. Photo by Njaimeh Njie.

Live with integrity

Activist and entrepreneur Liana Maneese sees anti-racism as a practice. Her company, The Good Peoples Group, teaches clients to “take things past diversity and inclusion. A lot of times, it’s just about giving information, and then there’s no further action. How do you apply that information? How do you actually live this?”

Maneese, the Afro-Brazilian adopted daughter of white parents, is proud of forming a multicultural company that teaches individuals and groups to develop humility and compassionate intelligence. Good Peoples’ website shouts in boldface type: “We educate individuals to confront themselves, live with integrity, and disrupt oppression through our hands-on programming.”

“There’s a certain mindset that comes with wanting to solve a problem,” says Maneese. “If you solve a problem such as hunger, for example, lots of nonprofits would be out of business. But in a city as small as ours [there is] no reason we should have the poorest black population per capita in the nation. There is suffering we’re not acknowledging.

“We tend to blame things on everyone—‘It’s systems.’ No, systems are people. You’re complicit in whatever is happening, good or bad.”

jain finds the term “intersectionality,” coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, fitting to describe how one’s gender, race, ethnicity and other social identities intersect with systems of discrimination. Like Maneese, she believes that overcoming intrinsic racism requires practice. Inclusant recently hosted the first in a series of workshops titled “Creating Confluence”—another will be held in September—aimed at bringing people together in a city where an undercurrent of segregation threatens to roil Pittsburgh’s new economy.

“There is more work than any one company or person can do, so I want to create a pipeline of diversity trainers. And if I could be arrogant for a moment, I want to be able to say they’ve learned from the best,” says jain. “Because this is hard—its unpredictable, it’s human, it’s dynamic.”

Chaz Kellem, the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s senior director of advocacy for race, gender and equity. Photo by Chris Mielo.

Diversity broadens us

Chaz Kellem, the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s senior director of advocacy for race, gender and equity, senses elevated conversations about diversity and inclusion since President Trump took office. In one recent week, he conducted six diversity training sessions. He tries to “break it down for people” to help them understand why diversity, inclusion and equity are important.

“We learn the most from people who don’t look like us. We learn the most when we least expect it,” Kellem says. “Diversity broadens solutions to problems, generates new ideas. It can impact the bottom line. We can become more intelligent about the world and cultures, which ultimately makes us better. We can be more successful in jobs and college experiences; we all can prosper.

“I’m a person with a disability; I’m an African-American male who works for a women’s agency. I’m living proof that diversity works, that diversity matters.”

Though he acknowledges that many people “are really concerned for the future,” worried that social injustice and violence may be increasing, Kellem remains positive—in part because he believes young adults are “fascinated by what makes us different but also by what makes us the same.

“There’s power in that,” he says. “These kids are the future, and I’m confident and proud of the growth we’re seeing in our community when we look at our young people. I want to stay positive in that humanity is on the rise. I feel good about where we’re going, but we still have a lot of work to do. I don’t want to be doing diversity work in 10 years—I want diversity to be so included that it emerges automatically and doesn’t function as a separate entity.”

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.