Michele Rosenthal never expected that she would have a prominent role in the fight against antisemitism and hate. That changed nearly four years ago when her brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal were murdered in the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018.
Rosenthal became determined to do what she could to prevent other families from suffering the same pain and grief her family endured.
Like Rosenthal, Laura Ellsworth felt compelled to act after the massacre at Tree of Life building, which left 11 people dead and six seriously injured, including four first responders.
Ellsworth is a former candidate for governor of Pennsylvania and an attorney with 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 pro bono.
Ellsworth, along with her friend Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, wanted to ensure that Pittsburgh would be remembered for the way it responded to the attack at the Tree of Life building rather than the massacre itself. Their response was to create the Eradicate Hate Global Summit. More than 600 in-person and 1,000 online participants attended the inaugural three-day conference last year, uniting experts and leaders from around the world dedicated to eradicating all forms of hate-fueled violence and implementing effective solutions for change.
Rosenthal, a former community relations manager for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was one of the opening speakers at last year’s summit. This year, her role is different, as she brings her sports expertise to help combat hate.
The idea that sports could be an avenue to battle prejudice, bigotry and violence had its genesis last year. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, spoke at the 2021 summit and was impressed with the event. She called it “one of the most intriguing projects she’s seen anywhere in the world,” Ellsworth said. “She wanted the U.N. to stay really close to it.”
A month after last year’s summit, Nderitu told Ellsworth the U.N. wanted to focus on how sports could be used to combat hate and violent extremism and asked if the summit organizers had any connection to the sports world. Ellsworth knew Rosenthal would be perfect for the assignment.
A working group was created that met at the U.N. under Rosenthal’s leadership, Ellsworth said. That group will create an action plan during this year’s summit, working with leaders of various sports organizations including the MLB, NASCAR, NFL, Major League Soccer and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
That’s only the beginning, though.
“I just don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Rosenthal said. “We have an opportunity to use the platform of sports to make a difference and let the world know that any form of hate is just unacceptable. I think to use an analogy with sports, sometimes a lot of society stands on the sidelines. And we have to stop standing on the sidelines. We have to be a player in the game.”
The 2022 summit, which runs from Sept. 19-21, includes more than 100 sessions and more than 250 speakers.
The conference was purposely broad last year, Nordenberg said, to build a common knowledge base and community, so most of the sessions included the entire group of participants. This year, though, “about half of our time will be invested in plenary sessions that keeps the entire group together, but the other half of the time is going to be invested in these focus tracks that permit people to dig deeper, to focus on problems and discuss possible solutions,” he said.
The success of the initial summit, Ellsworth said, is evidenced by the people returning this year.
“You’re seeing the people who were here last year come back,” she said. “You’re seeing them bring their colleagues, you’re seeing them on panels with people who they’ve been working with actively in the year since the last summit. And, you are seeing them come back to Pittsburgh because the one thing we’ve heard again and again is, this is unprecedented and never happened anywhere in the world before.”
Unlike last year, the 2022 summit is open to the public. Those attending the event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center will have the chance to attend plenaries including the “State of Hate,” “Violent Extremism in the Police and Military” and several sessions about the May 14 Buffalo shooting at Tops Friendly Markets.
In addition to the plenaries, there are seven specific tracks throughout the summit, allowing for deeper conversations, including “Violent Extremism in the Police and Military,” “Prevention in Practice,” “Legal Strategies” and “Education and Public Awareness.”
Experts in the field of violent extremism and community leaders who will be presenting include Oren Segal, vice president, Center of Extremism with the Anti-Defamation League; John Tien, deputy secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism; and Christopher Buckley, a veteran and activist with Parents for Peace.
Ellsworth and Nordenberg said that the Eradicate Hate Global Summit has expanded beyond their expectations.
“I felt like we planted a seed last year,” Ellsworth said, “and I was really hoping that it would grow. What we unexpectedly experienced is that there is a field around us. There are so many people coming out of the woodwork to be a part of the summit and what this community has built. It has exceeded my hopes.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.