K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Celebration

K. Leroy Irvis Celebration

6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
Connolly Ballroom
Alumni Hall

Register Now!

The national theme for Black History Month 2024 is "African Americans and the Arts." This year, the University of Pittsburgh will celebrate the accomplishments of six individuals who have made contributions to the Pittsburgh artistic community and who have demonstrated their commitment to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion across the Pittsburgh region.

Seven members of the Pitt community — a few with familiar names, others not so well-known — will be recognized for their volunteerism and commitment to equality and justice during the University’s annual K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month celebration.

Six of the honorees were nominated by members of the Pitt community and their names were selected from more than 50 entrees.

The seventh is Larry Glasco, associate professor of history, whose books and articles on the history of Black Pittsburgh have been widely shared and highly influential.

Tickets are free, but an RSVP is requested.

Senior University leaders are scheduled to attend and Chancellor Joan Gabel will congratulate the winners via video.

Awards are being presented to members of the community in the following categories:

Aspiring Ally: Jamie Upshaw

Jamie Upshaw is the executive director and founder of Autism Urban Connections Inc., which meets each month at the University of Pittsburgh’s Community Engagement Center in the Hill District. She first established a support group in 2015 after learning that resources for family members of people with autism were absent or severely lacking in Black, majority-minority, and economically disadvantaged communities. In 2018, the support group became a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation and is currently the only autism organization in Pennsylvania focused on supporting Black and African-American families. Its mission is to provide education, support, advocacy, and empowerment, with an emphasis on self-care to families of those diagnosed with autism.

Campus Leadership (Undergraduate): Ian Kehinde

Ian Kehinde, a junior in the Swanson School of Engineering, exemplifies the best of the University of Pittsburgh, according to those who nominated him. He is the host of “Let’s Talk Social Innovation,” a weekly podcast that features the unsung social innovators and change-makers in our community. Kehinde created the podcast after reaching out to the Frederick Honors College and Center on Race & Social Problems and with their help uses the “Let’s Talk Social Innovation” to shine a light on diverse change-makers in the community. His guests differ in race, religion, ability, and sexuality; however, their love for their communities is what bonds them, and advocates say that “Ian is the glue that holds it all together.”

Creative Changemaker: James T. Johnson Jr.

James T. Johnson Jr. — better known as “Dr. J” — has promoted and supported Black and African American music initiatives in Pittsburgh for more than 40 years. Classically trained as a violinist, Johnson was teaching at Grambling State University when he was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh in 1977 by Nathan Davis, founder of Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program. In 1982, Dr. J. and his wife Pamela founded the African American Music Institute in the city’s Homewood neighborhood. Since that time, AAMI has provided workshops, lessons, and public performances for approximately 300 young people every year. Dr. J. has maintained his connection to Pitt as well, teaching the Music Department’s popular and respected course in “African American Music.” Dr. J also mentors graduate students, many of whom have become workshop leaders and event participants at AAMI.

Inspiring Leadership: Luana Reis

Luana Reis, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages & Literatures in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, is dedicated to empowering Pitt and the Pittsburgh community by bringing together diverse groups of people through poetry. In 2017, she created Addverse, a safe space where people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and identities come together on Friday evenings to share the spoken and written word. Reis has helped Pittsburghers and members of the Pitt community connect with the international creative community across languages and social barriers. Her own poetry, scholarship, and translations have been published internationally and her work has been recognized locally as part of the Envisioning a Just Pittsburgh project. She is also a resident artist with the Pittsburgh Latinx Artist Residency.

Social Justice Advocate: Medina Jackson

Medina Jackson  (SOC WK ’03G) is director of engagement for P.R.I.D.E. (Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education) in Pitt’s Office of Child Development. her peers say that Jackson has consistently advanced the efforts of teaching artists by engaging them in work with young children in the community — in particular, during P.R.I.D.E.’s Pop-Up Mini Art Festivals. Outside of those festivals, she brings artists to community programs in order for children and families to see Black artists, and to have art experiences that support positive development of young people. Jackson plays a leading role in similar work with the Black Transformative Arts Network, which links local teaching artists with non-profit organizations and provides resources to both artists and programs.

Unsung Hero: Curtiss Porter

Curtiss Porter (A&S ’69, EDUC ’84G) was instrumental in organizing students at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including through the development of what later came to be known as the Black Action Society. Along with August Wilson and Rob Penny, Porter was part of the Black Horizon Theatre, and helped write one of its first productions, “Evolution to Revolution.” During a long and successful career that included leadership roles at the University of Connecticut and Penn State, Porter was an advocate for arts education and the preservation of Black history. In recent years, Porter has helped to perpetuate Wilson’s legacy and contributed to a documentary about the playwright’s life and work.

Also being honored is Larry Glasco, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and a chronicler of Black history, race, and ethnicity in American life.

The author or co-author of four books, Glasco has appeared in multiple documentaries about the history of Pittsburgh and jazz and has served as a board member for the Senator John Heinz History Center and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. He recently completed biographies of K. Leroy Irvis and August Wilson, and is well-known as a passionate advocate for documenting and preserving the history of Black neighborhoods near the University’s campus in Oakland.

About the K. Leroy Irvis Celebration

The University of Pittsburgh’s annual celebration of Black History Month is named for K. Leroy Irvis (LAW ’54), a legendary crusader for civil rights and former assistant district attorney who was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1960. During his 28-year career as a legislator, Irvis sponsored more than 875 bills supporting issues in education, civil rights, human services, health, mental illness, governmental administration, and prison and housing reform. In 1977, Irvis was elected by his peers to serve as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives — the first Black speaker of any state legislature in the United States — and served in that role until his 1988 retirement.

Black History Month Calendar 2024

Friday, Feb. 2: Envisioning a Just Pittsburgh Art Showcase
Time: 6 to 10 p.m.
Location: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Description: Opening ceremony for the collaborative art competition that launched in June 2023 by Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh, and in community partnership with 1Hood Media, and the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Envisioning a Just Pittsburgh encouraged artists throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to share their visions for a just and equitable Pittsburgh

Thursday, Feb. 8: Black Health & Wellness Speaker Series
Host: Center for African Studies, Department of Africana Studies
Time: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Location: William Pitt Union 548

Description: Featured speaker, Dr. Derek M. Griffith is a Founding Co-Director of the Racial Justice Institute, Founder and Director of the Center for Men’s Health Equity, and Professor of Health Management & Policy and Oncology. Trained in psychology and public health, Dr. Griffith’s program of research focuses on developing strategies to achieve racial, ethnic, and gender equity in health. He specializes in interventions to promote Black men's health and well-being, and interventions to mitigate the effects of structural racism on health.

Thursday, Feb. 8: Taste of Culture
Host: Department of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Time: 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Location: Virtual Event

Description: Please make plans to join the University of Pittsburgh Department of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Physician Inclusion Council at UPMC and Pitt (PICUP), and the UPMC GME Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee as we host Taste of Culture, a Black History Month event featuring Pure Grub who will be providing FREE ingredient packages and a document of recipes for the virtual cooking class. Instructions on how to pick up your ingredient packages will be provided the week of the event by the event organizer.

Friday, Feb. 9: “Designing to Disrupt in Computing: Why We All Should ‘Color Outside the Lines’”
Host: School of Computing and Information: Office of the Dean
Time: 9:30 to 11 a.m.
Location: Virtual

Description: Featuring Dr. Niki Washington, This talk discusses the importance of technology disruption from the lens of people, policies, and practices in computing environments, including why computing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, how they impact technical innovation, and what we all can do to create and advocate for more disruption in spaces we navigate.

Tuesday, Feb. 13: Making Our Milestones Meaningful, Day of Celebration in recognition of our first Black PhD Recipient: Dr. William TigaTita
Host: Pitt Business
Time: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Alumni Hall, Connolly Ballroom

Description: This event is designed to capture and celebrate a significant moment in Pitt Business’ long tradition of excellence as it has educated, employed, and engaged members of minority communities. Please register and choose one or more sessions. You can attend via Zoom or in-person at Connolly Ballroom, Alumni Hall. The Pitt community and public are welcome to attend any of these three celebrations of Black achievements and Pitt’s history featuring William Tiga Tita, the first Black business PhD recipient.

Tuesday, Feb. 13: “Beyonce: Harmony of Love”
6 to 9 p.m.
Location: Office for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, 31st Floor

Description: Participants will go on a journey through Beyonce’s albums through dance and fellowship to celebrate safe and healthy relationships through the concept of self-love.

Thursday, Feb. 15: Changemakers in Art Series: #1
Host: David C. Frederick Honors College
Time: 4 to 5 p.m.
Location: C4C: Understory

Description: Discussion between Michael Sawyer and Damon Young moderated by Joy Priest

Thursday, Feb. 15: Changemakers in Art Series: #2
Host: David C. Frederick Honors College
Time: 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Location: C4C: Understory

Description: A discussion by Sherry Sykes, Morgan Overton, and Emmai Alaquiva on taking your art international; the impact of African American arts on the global stage; how to participate in that as a student and post-grad; using your art as a form of activism; and preserving democracy.

Thursday, Feb. 15: Screening: “Love Jones”
Time: 6 to 8 p.m.
Location: Community Engagement Center - Homewood, 622 N. Homewood Ave., 15208

Description: To celebrate Black Love, OEDI has partnered with the Community Engagement Centers to screen 1997’s “Love Jones” featuring Larenz Tate and Nia Long. 

Friday, Feb. 16: Changemakers in Art Series: Finding Your Rhythm
Host: David C. Frederick Honors College
Time: 6 to 8 p.m.
Location: O’Hara Dining Room

Description: An interactive, engaging look at the life of Emmai Alaquiva.

Monday, Feb. 19: African Americans and the Arts: A Vehicle for Social Change

Host: Swanson School of Engineering
Time: 12 noon to 1:30 p.m.
Location: Swanson School of Engineering, Benedum Room 102

Description: Throughout history, African American artists have used their creative works in forms such as music, painting, poetry, theater, film, sculpture, and photography to inform, edify, challenge, critique and change the status quo which, has resulted in social change. Join the Swanson School of Engineering in recognizing the contributions that African Americans have made in the area of arts.

Wednesday, Feb. 21: “The Letter to Martin Reincarnation Tour,” featuring the stage play “Words from the Trail”
Time: 7 to 9 p.m.
Location: University Club, Ballroom A

Description: “The Letter to Martin Reincarnation Tour” features the stage play “Words From The Trail,” a captivating journey that brings to life the echoes of the civil rights era while resonating deeply with the challenges we face today. This poignant stage play reimagines the 2003 version that once graced Elon University, transporting audiences through stories of conflict and reconciliation.

Thursday, Feb. 22: Open Mic Night: Envisioning a Just Pittsburgh
8:30 to 10 p.m.
Location: Cathedral of Learning, C4C: The Understory (basement, B-50)

Join us for a special open mic celebrating work that encourages, challenges, and expands our perspective of an equitable Pittsburgh.

Friday, Feb. 23: Equipoise General Body Meeting
Time: 5 to 7 p.m.
Location: Community Engagement Center - Hill District, 1908 Wylie Ave., 15219

Description: Come meet the Equipoise leadership committee, network, and find out how YOU can get involved!

Friday, Feb. 23: Black Art Expo: Black History Month Pop Up
Time: 7 to 10 p.m.
Location: 1Hood Blaxk Box Theatre, 460 Melwood Ave., 15213

Description: OEDI, 1Hood, and BlackArtExpo are collaborating to honor and celebrate the legacy of the Shadow Lounge, which was owned and operated by Pitt Alumni Justin Strong. The Shadow Lounge was a popular minority-owned lounge in East Liberty throughout the early 2000s that was a beacon for aspiring black artists and creatives. This event will bring together spoken word artists, musical performers, and local vendors in a unique “family game night” environment to mimic the energy of the Shadow Lounge as we honor Justin's legacy.

Saturday, Feb. 24: Black Lawyers Book Launch (AAAC)
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Location: Wesley W. Posvar Hall

Description: Join the ACBA Homer S. Brown Division as they celebrate the launch of the Division’s first-ever children’s book, “Black Lawyers of the Burgh.” This is a community event, and all are welcome. This fun-filled community event at W. Posvar Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus will include a DJ, face painting, giveaways, book signings and more. This event is a collaborative effort between OEDI and the AAAC, with many of the participating lawyers being graduates of Pitt Law.

Monday, Feb. 26: K. Leroy Irvis Award Banquet

Time: 6 to 8 p.m.
Location: Alumni Hall, Connolly Ballroom

Description: Join the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as we honor six extraordinary members of the Pittsburgh community with ties to the University of Pittsburgh. Each awardee has contributed to the artistic culture of Pittsburgh.

Registration Link
Nomination Link

Tuesday, Feb. 27: An Evening With Common
Host: Pitt Program Council and Black Action Society
Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Assembly Room of the William Pitt Union

Hip hop artist and actor Common is one Tony Award away from becoming an EGOT—Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony—winner. This event will include a 45-minute moderated Q&A followed by 15 minutes for audience questions. Tickets are FREE. Each student can pick up two tickets and must present their Pitt ID to receive the tickets. You and the person you get the ticket for must present Pitt IDs on the night of the event.

Thursday, Feb. 29: Black History Month Trivia Night
Host: SHRS Office of Alumni Relations and the SHRS Office Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement
Time: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Location: Forbes Tower, 4065

Description: First-annual Black History Month Trivia Night. Make sure to bring your knowledge and competitive spirit as we celebrate and acknowledge the greatness and diversity of Black culture through trivia in a way you've never experienced! We will be playing department vs. department to see who comes out on top! Light snacks will be provided.

Thursday, Feb. 29: Screening and Panel Discussion, “In Good Hands”
7 to 8:30 p.m.
Location: Cathedral of Learning, C4C: The Understory (basement, B-50)

In Good Hands is a short film about Dr. Diana Asante, a pediatric emergency physician dealing with the challenges of the last patients of her shift, patients from very different worlds: a white boy who has never seen a Black female doctor and an African American teenager arrested by an unsympathetic officer and facing possibly dire medical issues. 

All Month

Feb. 1 to 29
Displays at Hillman Library will feature artists with Pittsburgh ties, including:

August Wilson
John Edgar Wideman
Albert French
Damon Young
Billy Porter
Bill Nunn
Wiz Khalifa
Mary Lou Williams
Roy Eldridge
Dr. Vernell A. Lillie

Black History Month events at the University