Eradicate Hate Global Summit brings together over 1200 academics, professionals in Pittsburgh

Over 1,200 academics, activists, professionals and global government officials gathered together in the David L Lawrence Convention Center for the third annual Eradicate Hate Global Summit

Eradicate Hate Global Summit 2023. Photo by Evan Levine.

David Shapira said the Tree of Life shooting, the worst antisemitic event in U.S. history, helped him redefine success as not about avoiding tragedy, but about how one responds to it.

“Successful people are people who acknowledge the tragedy, learn from it, get up and try and do something about the future,” Shapira said.

He said the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which began its three-day run Wednesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, is rooted in that definition of success.

Over 1,200 academics, activists, professionals and global government officials are expected to participate in the event, now in its third year. The summit is grounded in the memorialization of the Tree of Life massacre and pursuing hard action initiatives to combat hate-fueled violence. 

Early in the day, Shapira, a board member of the summit, asked the attendees to take a moment of silence to commemorate the Tree of Life shooting victims.

The summit was founded in the wake of the Tree of Life massacre in 2018. As community activists looked for a way forward, attorney Laura Ellsworth and University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg formed a group to discuss how to combat antisemitism.

Photo by Evan Levine.

In 2021, the first summit launched as a direct result of that group. In its first year, the summit featured 100 speakers — including George W. Bush — and hundreds of attendees. This year it’s operating on a much larger scale.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, addressed the attendants in his keynote speech Wednesday to emphasize the growing and changing threat of hate-fueled violence. He noted there were 500 mass shootings and 30,000 gun deaths in the past year alone.

“Today, our nation faces an evolved and expanded threat environment, one where individuals are radicalized to violence based on ideologies of hate, anti-government sentiment, conspiracy theories or personal grievances,” he said.

Nordenberg, the summit’s co-board chair, gave opening remarks and moderated the first panel of the morning titled “State of Hate.” There, several speakers with independent organizations and government agencies characterized the proliferation of hate groups and hateful rhetoric globally.

Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the ADL documented nearly 4,000 antisemitic incidents last year — the highest number since the organization started recording in 1979. The ADL reported a jarring 82% increase in antisemitic events in Western Pennsylvania in 2021.

“We have to recognize data drives policy,” Segal said. “To be able to break down these datasets to have a better understanding of what is happening in the landscape and how they are connected to one another is critical to finding ways to push back against violence.”

Photo by Evan Levine.

In addition to the plenary sessions, over 20 working groups will meet in private to discuss targeted initiatives to pursue year-round. Chuck Moellenberg, president of the summit, said the conference is emphasizing working groups this year as mechanisms for real-world change.

“The working groups are the engines that drive the global action and they will prove the value of unlocking disciplinary posts,” Moellenberg said.

Bill Isler, president emeritus and former CEO of the Fred Rogers Co., and Debra Cohen, an executive in residence at the Forbes fund, are the current co-chairs of the “Community Education Through Film” working group.

In an interview, Cohen said her group worked closely with the South Allegheny School District last year to use film as a vehicle to educate the public about combating hate globally.

“We hope this isn’t obviously a one-off,” Cohen said. “We hope this is a long-term initiative where once we are in the communities and we begin these discussions those who are in the community can become more invested in trying to really spread the message.”

Darcus Shorten, a homicide detective for the Houston Police Department and a summit attendee, said her work is centered on dredging up cold cases of African Americans murdered in the 1970s. She said her supervisors sent her to the summit to learn new approaches to cases that lack physical evidence and are often based on insensitive police reports.

Shorten said she knew that “we were dealing with an element of hate crime,” but after attending the “State of Hate” plenary, she said she had no idea it was on such a global scale.

“So what have I learned?” Shorten asked. “One, I have learned that hate is transcending. Two, I recognize that hate is a dynamic based on fear. And three, the only way we can get it solved is to work together, pass laws and put them in jail.”

Photo by Evan Levine.

Just outside the doors of the summit’s main room, attendees also had the opportunity to interact with other professionals and visit various informational tables. The four tables included the true-crime podcast “Stoppable,” a table dedicated to guided meditation hosted by Awaken Pittsburgh, an information table on the FBI and an origami table hosted by the Paper Crane Peace Project.

Heather Dearman, CEO of the 7/20 Memorial Foundation, attended the event and operated the origami table on Wednesday morning. She said the Paper Crane Peace Project was founded in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting in 2012 and seeks to support survivors of mass killings by sending them wreaths of origami cranes with heartfelt messages on them.

Dearman, whose cousin lost her daughter and unborn child in the Aurora theater shooting, is also part of the “Survivors in Action” working group and said she thinks the summit does a good job of promoting tangible actions. Dearman also spoke at the “Survivors in Action” panel Wednesday afternoon.  

Among the other plenary sessions on Wednesday was a panel titled “Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Trial: Claiming Our Voices in the Judicial Process,” where survivors and relatives of the victims recounted the recent trial. Jodi Kart, who lost her father in the attack, shared her experience in the courtroom, including the fear that came with being in the same room as the perpetrator.

“I just remember walking into the courtroom and to the right, seeing the jury box and seeing those empty seats, and knowing that 12 strangers were going to make this decision for us,” Kart said. “And I realized for the first time how impactful a jury truly is.”

Ellsworth emphasized that the summit seeks to encourage people to act and use the knowledge they learn at the various panels and workshops to combat hate around the world.

“My ask of each one of you is don’t sit there and listen, this is not a conference where you sit there and listen,” Ellsworth said. “This is a conference where you sit there and you ask yourself, ‘What can I do? How can I do it? And who do I need to meet in this room that will help me get this done?’”

The summit will continue through Friday afternoon. The last day is dedicated to the working groups and break-out sessions intended to provide attendees with tools for combating hate in their professional fields. In-person registration for the summit is still open. People can also register for free with an email to tune into the live stream.

Betul Tuncer and James Paul are students at the University of Pittsburgh serving as Pittsburgh Media Partnership interns this semester.