Summit targets racism, job hires

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When Chenits Pettigrew Jr. took a job recruiting minorities for higher education more than 35 years ago, a friend advised him against it, saying it would be too short-lived to make it a career.

Dr. Pettigrew is still at it, now the assistant dean of student affairs and director of diversity programs for the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"There's still work to be done," he told more than 200 people yesterday at the ninth annual Summit Against Racism sponsored by the Black & White Reunion in collaboration with the Black Political Empowerment Project and the InterCultural House.

Inside the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, speaker after speaker echoed the same thought -- more needs to be addressed to provide equal opportunity.

Speakers included Nusrath Ainapore, outreach director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh; Esther Barazzone, president of Chatham College; Jane Downing, senior program officer of The Pittsburgh Foundation; Evan Frazier, executive director of the Hill House Association; Lourdes Sanchez Ridge, president of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Valerie McDonald Roberts, county recorder of deeds.

Later, Dr. Pettigrew said that he thinks today it is harder for someone like him -- a black man who grew up poor in a single-family household and went to public school, Vann Elementary then Herron Hill Junior High and Schenley High -- to be successful than it was when he was growing up. He cited various reasons, from legal challenges to a shortage of resources for urban schools.

Dr. Pettigrew went on to earn a bachelor's degree at Westminster College, a master's at Pitt and a doctorate at Pepperdine University.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and county Chief Executive Dan Onorato also addressed the group.

Mr. Ravenstahl complimented the work being done by city police Chief Nate Harper, who is black and was appointed by the mayor in October. The mayor said he is committed to diversity in his administration, not just in top hires but at all levels. "We know it's important," he said.

Mr. Onorato said he has made board appointments that go beyond a single minority or female nominee and other changes.

"We've made a lot of strides," Mr. Onorato said. "We have a long way to go."

Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, known as B-PEP, told the group that the summit grew out of concerns over the 1995 death of Jonny Gammage, a black man who died in the custody of white suburban officers after a traffic stop.

Those who attended yesterday were urged to sign letters urging District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to investigate the death of Jerry Jackson, a black motorist who was shot in the Armstrong Tunnels by former Pittsburgh Housing Authority police Officer John Paul Charmo in 1995. Mr. Charmo pleaded guilty in 2001 to involuntary manslaughter.

Mr. Zappala previously had been asked to investigate. Mr. Zappala believed his office had a conflict of interest and referred it to state Attorney General Tom Corbett, who in July declined, saying he didn't think there is a conflict.

The letter also asks why no one has been charged in the death of Charles Dixon, who died during a fight with police in December 2002 at the Mount Oliver Fire Hall.

Another letter participants were asked to sign will go to City Council members asking them to "codify standards that will help prevent future abuses of power" by Pittsburgh police officers."


Eleanor Chute can be reached at echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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