Since its inception more than a century ago, the National Council of Jewish Women’s Pittsburgh section has worked to improve the lives of women, children and families. Whether by creating the city’s first free kindergarten, launching the Center for Women with the Jewish Women’s Foundation or partnering with 30 social service agencies, schools and community organizations to provide children with new clothes through the Back 2 School Store, the organization has aimed to better the community.
NCJW Pittsburgh is continuing that tradition by partnering with Pittsburgh Allderdice High School’s Black Student Union for a Feb. 18 presentation titled “Why Racism is Systemic: Black Health and its History.”
The program will not only honor Black History Month but also enable young student leaders to explain the policies and practices that have created race-based disparities, according to Kate Rothstein, NCJW Pittsburgh’s programming and communications manager.
NCJW Pittsburgh’s interest in systemic racism was largely fueled by the efforts of Allderdice’s Black Student Union, which delivered four similar talks to school faculty last year following the George Floyd protests, according to Rothstein. The student-led discussions were well-received, she said, and because NCJW believes it’s important to “shine a lens on gender and racial equity, we thought this is a good presentation to provide to our constituents.”
NCJW Pittsburgh is happy to provide a platform for teen leaders to “share their lived experience,” she added.
The Feb. 18 program is generating a lot of interest, said Lydia Blank, marketing and communications consultant for NCJW Pittsburgh.
As of Feb. 16, more than 65 people had registered to attend.
That response, Blank said, points to members’ desire to uphold the organization’s more than century-old commitment to “standing up and speaking out on behalf of women, children and families.”
Founded in 1894, NCJW Pittsburgh has advanced numerous education, public health and political reforms. Its history — which includes working with the Allegheny County Council on Civil Rights, a local coalition of nearly 50 human rights organizations — is helping NCJW Pittsburgh plan for the future, Blank explained.
Last summer, the organization began a realignment process where programs were considered through a lens of gender and racial inequities, and which confirmed NCJW Pittsburgh’s commitment to advocacy and “unlearning,” Rothstein said.
Conversations with other NCJW sections nationwide helped solidify these goals, she added, but reading a 2019 report from the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission helped local members identify a focus for programming moving forward.
That report, authored by five local researchers, notes that while Pittsburgh’s white women make only 78 cents on the dollar to Pittsburgh’s white men, Pittsburgh's Black women make only 54 cents on the dollar to the city’s white men. (According to 2017 federal poverty line classifications, a family of four making less than $25,750 annually, and individuals making less than $12,490, live in poverty.)
The 2019 report also shows that Pittsburgh's Black women are five times more likely to live in poverty than Pittsburgh’s white men; And, Pittsburgh’s Black women are twice as likely as Pittsburgh’s white women to live in poverty, with more than one-third of Pittsburgh’s Black women living below the federal poverty line.
Apart from economic disparities, the report identifies local differences in health outcomes. For example, Pittsburgh’s Black women experience twice as many fetal deaths as Pittsburgh’s white women; 18 out of every 1,000 Black pregnancies end in fetal death compared to nine out of every 1,000 white pregnancies.
Rothstein, who, like Blank, has two children at Allderdice, said the 2019 report and the upcoming address from Allderdice’s Black Student Union offer insights into young people’s experiences in the city.
Within Pittsburgh, Black girls are less likely to pass Advanced Placement courses than Black girls in 98% of cities, according to the report. Additionally, “compared to Black women in other cities, Pittsburgh's Black women who finish high school are less likely to go to college.”
Friday’s virtual program with Allderdice’s Black Student Union is the first of several related events, with future lunch-and-learns focusing on policing, housing injustice and racial bias in the media, Rothstein said.
These topics are timely and important, Blank said, and align with NCJW Pittsburgh’s mission.
“We are an organization that supports women, children and families, and this means listening to incredible teen leaders,” she added.
The Feb. 18 program, said Sara Segel, NCJW Pittsburgh’s interim executive director, aligns with the organization’s goal of amplifying social justice issues affecting women, children and families.
Rothstein agreed, before praising the presenters: “We can all learn from these students, and NCJW is grateful to them for joining us in this way.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.