Race conference at Pitt emphasizes solutions

By Gwenn Barney

Pitt’s Race in America conference concluded Sunday morning after a full… Pitt’s Race in America conference concluded Sunday morning after a full weekend of events, but event organizers and participants hope the ideas discussed at the conference will grow to eliminate racial disparity across the country. Many of the speakers emphasized youth involvement in their communities, among other solutions.

In his welcome speech to participants on Thursday night, Larry Davis, dean of Pitt’s School of Social Work, explained that America’s current financial crisis represents the perfect time for a restructuring of country’s systems to improve racial equality.

“We believe now is the time to erase race-related iniquities, to rebuild in a more just and equitable way,” Davis told the nearly 1,000 people packed into Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall to hear keynote speaker and former NAACP chairman Julian Bond.

After Bond took the stage to rousing applause, he launched into an overview of America’s troubled racial past and present. Bond expressed that the solutions to such difficulties lie in action.

“There needs to be a constantly growing and always reviving movement for democracy,” He said.

After the speech, Bond acknowledged the importance of young people’s role in bringing about change to racial short-comings. He suggested that students don’t need to create new organizations or bylaws, but rather find a cause or organization already working toward a solution.

Bond indicated that one unattended problem young people should take notice of is housing segregation.

“If you are made to live in one part of town, you are locked away from jobs and other opportunities,” Bond said.

Julianne Malveaux, an economist and president of Bennett College, gave Friday night’s keynote address. She echoed Bond’s call to youth participation in racial matters, advising young people to look for the stories of individual struggle in America and use those as a platform for action.

“The main thing is to be committed to taking action,” Malveaux said. “Keep your eyes open, tell the story, and keep your flame alive.”

Bond and Malveaux were two of over 40 scholars and experts to make presentations at the conference. Many of them spoke at all-day sessions on Friday and Saturday, sometimes overlapping but seeming to share the same message.

The concurrent speeches were split into seven categories: economics, education, youth and the elderly, criminal justice, mental health and families, race relations, and health. Speakers at the events were asked by event organizers to be sure their speeches covered exactly what problems are at hand, why they continue and how to develop solutions at the local, state, and national levels.

Lambert McGuire, an associate dean in Pitt’s School of Social Work, felt that the conference as a whole went “fantastically well.” He emphasized that the importance of the conference was its use as a primer for future action, not immediate results. He said that before a person can take action they “first have to understand what the problem is.”

McGuire was especially pleased with the reaction of his students to the palpable information they learned.

“They keep on coming up to me and saying ‘Wow, this is really good,’” McGuire said.

Eric Eghan, a graduate student in the School of Social work, wants to use information he learned this weekend to improve living conditions in the Wilkinsburg, where he currently resides. Eghan had been planning to create an organization to encourage young black males to serve their community, but said that his participation in the conference has inspired him to escalate his efforts.

“It’s enhanced my desire to for research at the community level,” he said of the conference and its speakers.

The School of Social Work’s Center on Racial and Social Problems sponsored the event. They plan to produce a report and action plan for each of the seven areas of focus.