Diversity Panel

Submitted photo

Mario C. Browne, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Urban Sciences Diversity, speaks during a panel discussion at Upper St. Clair Township Library to talk about diversity following the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. He was joined by Rabbi Ron Symons of the South Hills Jewish Community Center; Diane Ford, a South Hills-based consultant; Al-Walid Mohsen, board president at the Atahweed Islamic Center; and Priyesh Shah, president of the Gujarati Samaj or Greater Pittsburgh.

In responding to the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Rabbi Ron Symons said the Greater Pittsburgh Area cannot focus on anti-Semitism alone. Rather, he said, its communities must band together to address hate in all of its forms.

Speaking earlier this month at the Upper St. Clair Township Library, Symons and a panel of others took aim at the specious concept of race, saying our differences are cause for celebration and not division.

“There is systemic racism,” Symons said. “And that’s the privilege that we need to do away with.”

Panelists discussed living in a South Hills that is growing more diverse and they examined the intricacies the differences between and within their respective communities. Al-Walid Mohsen, board president of the Atawheed Islamic Center, said for example while many view the Islamic community as uniform, it is actually composed of families from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds.

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Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

Isabel Smith, left, hugs her friend, Ruby Ashman, during a candlelight vigil Oct. 27 at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill after 11 people were killed at Tree of Life Congregation earlier that morning.

Speakers also discussed the unconscious biases and social safeguards that bar minorities from career and housing opportunities. Diane Ford, a South Hills-based consultant and recruiting specialist, said the accessibility of opportunity is as important as the availability.

Ford also said that when individuals embrace their differences is when they become empowered.

“God has created us for a great purpose, and in order for us to fulfill that purpose, we have to be me. You have to be you. We have to allow our uniqueness to shine forth,” she said.

Panelists likened the United States not to a melting pot of culture, but to a salad bowl. Its cultures do not homogenize as some suggest they must, the panelists said, but co-exist distinct from one another.

Citing a portion of the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Symons said that it may not be possible to change the minds of those who profess hate, but that his work and the work of his fellow panel members is to steer society’s younger and more impressionable members toward positive behavior.

“We believe not just in tolerating pluralism and diversity, but embracing it and loving the fact that we’re in a salad bowl,” he said.

For The Almanac

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