K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Celebration

A Night of Celebration:
Honoring Local Heroes of Black Resistance

6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023
Alumni Hall, Connelly Ballroom
4227 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

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Six Pittsburghers who have been champions for equality, inclusion, and anti-racism initiatives will be honored Feb. 22 at a celebration at the University of Pittsburgh.

The honorees, and the categories for which they are nominated, are:

  • Val Chavis, “Unsung Hero”: Chavis is the service and outreach coordinator and early childhood community collaborative coordinator in Pitt’s Center for Parents & Children. She came to Pitt after nearly two decades of working at regional social service agencies and has helped to lead the University’s efforts to connect families with resources and programs around the region. Chavis’ knowledge of the Pittsburgh social-services ecosystem benefits both residents as well as providers.
  • Ron Idoko, “Social Justice Advocate”: Idoko is the driving force behind the University’s annual Diversity Forum and led the creation of the Racial Equity Consciousness Series. In 2020, after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of in-person events, Idoko helped move anti-racism programming onto virtual platforms. Today, he serves as associate director for the Center on Race & Social Problems and assistant research professor in the School of Social Work.
  • Selam Mekbeb-Gillett, “Campus Leader”: A junior majoring in psychology, Mekbeb-Gillett has emerged as a key advocate for Black students at Pitt. Shortly after arriving on campus, Mekbeb-Gillett began interning for the Black Action Society and rose to executive secretary and vice president. Mekbeb-Gillett also takes direct action to correct injustice and inequality. Her research into implicit biases in psychology courses earned her the Research Fair Dean’s Award from the David C. Frederick Honors College.
  • John Moon, “Creative Changemaker”: As one of the original paramedics for Pittsburgh’s history-making Freedom House Ambulance Service, John Moon helped change the face of emergency medical care across the United States. Later, as assistant chief of Pittsburgh EMS, Moon pushed the city to recruit and train additional Black paramedics and emergency medical technicians to better reflect the population being served.
  • Yvette Moore, “Inspiring Leadership”: As director of the Pitt EXCEL Program in the Swanson School of Engineering, Moore oversees a comprehensive effort to recruit, retain and develop undergraduate talent and make sure that Black, women and minority students complete their degrees. Over the past 16 years, Moore has personally mentored scores of students, including those who faced great personal and professional obstacles, and continues to serve as a connection to Pitt for many alumni after they leave campus.
  • Chenits Pettigrew Jr., “Aspiring Ally”: Since being named the assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2006, Chenits Pettigrew Jr. has become one of the community’s staunchest advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion in medical education. His efforts helped launch the careers of many young Black physicians, and through his leadership in policymaking, he has been a force for positive change within the School of Medicine.

Emmy-award winning filmmaker Jumoke Davis, a Pitt alumnus who now works as the University’s director of video production, will debut a short video on the topic of Black resistance, and “hip-hop educator” Spencer Scott will provide entertainment.

In addition, artifacts from the August Wilson Archive at the University of Pittsburgh Library System will be displayed.

The annual celebration of Black History Month at the University of Pittsburgh is named in honor of K. Leroy Irvis (LAW 1954), a prominent Pittsburgh attorney who fought for civil rights and fair housing and later was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He served as Pennsylvania’s first Black speaker of the house from 1977 to 1979, and again from 1983 to 1988.

Registration in advance is required. Questions? Email diversity@pitt.edu.

About Black History Month | Search for University Events

The nationwide theme for this year’s commemoration of Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” Local honorees have been nominated by members of the Pittsburgh and University communities and six of them will be publicly recognized during “A Night of Celebration: Honoring the Heroes of Black Resistance,” the University’s 2023 K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month event.

“Historically, Black resistance to injustice, inequality, and oppression has led to lasting progress in civil rights,” Pickett said. “In the face of overwhelming opposition at times, Black Americans and people of color have advocated for change. Their sacrifices and persistence have benefited all Americans through improvements in education, legislation, health care, business and industry, the workforce, and society in general.

“We're looking forward on Feb. 22 to honoring some of our Pittsburgh-area changemakers and helping to bring greater attention to their achievements.”

Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community residents were nominated.


About Black History Month

Black History Month is celebrated annually during the month of February to acknowledge and celebrate the important contributions of people of African descent to our nation's life and culture.

Black History Month, which began as Negro History Week in 1926 under the leadership of historian, journalist, and educator Carter G. Woodson, is commemorated each year in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

This year’s theme: Black Resistance

Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life & History recommends a theme for Black History Month that can be adopted across the nation. The theme for 2023 is “Black Resistance”:

African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores. These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction. The 1950s and 1970s in the United States was defined by actions such as sit-ins, boycotts, walk outs, strikes by Black people and white allies in the fight for justice against discrimination in all sectors of society from employment to education to housing.

Black people have had to consistently push the United States to live up to its ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Systematic oppression has sought to negate much of the dreams of our griots, like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and our freedom fighters, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Septima Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer fought to realize. Black people have sought ways to nurture and protect Black lives, and for autonomy of their physical and intellectual bodies through armed resistance, voluntary emigration, nonviolence, education, literature, sports, media, and legislation/politics. Black led institutions and affiliations have lobbied, litigated, legislated, protested, and achieved success. (ASALH website)

‘Agency and Power of the Lived Experience’

The University’s Black History Month committee, which represents community members from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines, has adopted as this year’s theme, “Black Resistance: Agency and Power of the Lived Experience.”

In-person and virtual events during February 2023 will explore how Black members of the community, both at the University and throughout the Pittsburgh area, have served as positive change agents to resist and fight back on behalf of justice, inclusion, and equal opportunity for all.

Submitting your events

The entire Pitt community is encouraged to actively engage in the celebration of Black History Month. Any department, unit, or group that wishes to have their Black History Month program promoted across the University system should submit their information via the University calendar and use the “Black History Month” event tag. 

The K. Leroy Irvis Program

The University's signature event, the K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program, is hosted each year by the University’s chancellor. The program is named for K. Leroy Irvis, a 1954 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and one of the most important and influential men in Pennsylvania history. 

Details of this year’s K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month program will be announced shortly. Top

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