Laura Ellsworth decided to create the Eradicate Hate Global Summit soon after Oct. 27, 2018.
“When Tree of Life happened, I, like everyone else in the city of Pittsburgh, thought, ‘what do I have to bring to the table to help?’” Ellsworth recalled.
She wanted to find a way to create real-world solutions to battle hate — not just antisemitism, but anti-immigrant hate, anti-LGBTQ+ hate, anti-Muslim hate and all other forms of hatred.
Ellsworth, a former candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, is an attorney at the law firm Jones Day. As first partner-in-charge of the firm’s Global Community Service Initiatives, she leads the firm’s rule of law initiatives around the world — in 43 offices on five continents — which includes a hate crime task force that represents victims on a pro bono basis.
“In the context of that work, I had seen fabulous people working on the field in different disciplines who weren’t talking to one another,” Ellsworth said.
After realizing that those people should be in conversation, working together to create initiatives and solutions to counter hate around the world, Ellsworth reached out to a longtime friend and adviser — chancellor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, Mark Nordenberg.
“I said Mark, ‘Can we do this together? Will you help me build this idea in my mind’s eye?’” Ellsworth told the Chronicle.
Nordenberg was already working on healing the wounds of the largest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, serving on the Victim of Terror Fund committee created by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to oversee the distribution of the more than $6 million donated to the community after the shooting at the Tree of Life building.
“Laura called and said, “We’ve got to do something to make certain that Pittsburgh becomes better known for the way it responded to the attack, as opposed to simply being the site of the attack,” Nordenberg said.
From those initial conversations, the Eradicate Hate Global Summit was born.
Beginning Oct. 18, the city’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center will host the three-day conference featuring a bevy of world leaders, media figures, academics and more.
Keynote speakers will include, among others, former President George W. Bush; CBS news chief, Washington correspondent and host of the podcast “The Takeout,” Major Garrett; Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt; former Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas; CNN personality Fareed Zakaria; and former Pennsylvania Gov. and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
The conference will host more than 100 featured speakers and panelists, including local experts Kathleen Blee, University of Pittsburgh professor and co-chair of the Collaboratory Against Hate; 10.27 Healing Partnership Director Maggie Feinstein; and Carnegie Mellon University professor and Tree of Life member Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg.
Nordenberg said that one of the things that differentiates this summit from other anti-hate programs that have been held in Pittsburgh is scale. Ellsworth, he explained, has reached out to people in Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and Europe.
“The reaction from people who are devoting huge parts of their life to this has been the same: No one has done this. No one has brought us together from disparate geographic locations across disciplinary lines with different strategic approaches to counter the spread of hate. She has unlocked a wellspring of interest, commitment and enthusiasm for this project.”
As proof of that commitment, Nordenberg pointed to the fact that the speakers, who can command thousand of dollars in fees, are appearing at no cost, and are even paying their own travel expenses.
Ellsworth said the speakers were moved by the authenticity of the invitation.
“It is real, and it is personal to people here and important to them,” Ellsworth said. “They want to see things get done, they want to see the needle move. They don’t want to just come and talk and go back to their desks. This is structured in such a way to drive change and check in at a future summit and see if you accomplished things.”
Ellsworth stressed that not only recognized experts will be featured at the summit. For instance, she said, families impacted by hate will also participate.
“One of the panels we were talking about yesterday involved mothers whose children had been recruited online into white supremacist movements playing video games upstairs in their bedroom and the parents had no idea,” Ellsworth said.
The isolation created by COVID-19 has exacerbated online recruitment into hate groups, Ellsworth continued, and that is part of the reason she was adamant the summit not be virtual. In almost all instances, speakers will be appearing in person.
The same goes for attendees. Ellsworth said it’s important that people experience the seminar in person and have the opportunity to “engage with these people and share their own ideas.” She said there is a livestreaming opportunity, but those participating remotely will miss the chance to experience the summit in person and meet the people, “which is a huge part of what we’re trying to do.”
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge assisted in helping recruit government officials to appear live, Nordenberg said.
In a statement to the Chronicle, Ridge said it’s because of the ubiquitousness of hate that a solution-driven conference like this is needed.
“You can throw a dart at just about any map and it will land on a region impacted by hate-driven acts of violence,” Ridge said. “That’s how pervasive this challenge is and why the Eradicate Hate Global Summit is so important. I’m pleased to be part of the Summit’s worldwide mission. While we can never truly eradicate hate, I’m confident we can weaken it at its sources and achieve a better, safer future for us all.”
While both Ellsworth and Nordenberg are pleased with what they’ve planned, they realize the summit can’t be a simple one-and-done endeavor.
Nordenberg said the expectation is that, in future years, the summit will move to the Collaboratory Against Hate, a joint research and action center created by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, dedicated to combating extremist hate groups.
“This is going to be a challenge,” he said. “Part of that challenge will be fundraising but what I think we’re doing is sufficiently distinctive that, while the initiative is physically located in Pittsburgh, there will be people from more distant places who care deeply about stopping the spread of hate.”
The Eradicate the Hate Summit takes place Oct. 18-20 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Those interested in registering for the three-day conference can do so at eradicatehatesummit.org. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com