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Meet 6 local heroes of Black resistance

  • Community Impact
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Our City/Our Campus
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Social Work
  • Swanson School of Engineering

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.

“A Night of Celebration: Honoring Local Heroes of Black Resistance” will be held at 6 p.m. in the Connelly Ballroom of Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15260. The event is free and open to the public, but registration in advance is requested. Light refreshments will be served.

The six people to be honored include Pitt affiliates as well as Pittsburgh-area residents, said Cheryl Ruffin, institutional equity manager for the University and a member of the K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month planning committee. Well over 100 nominations were received from the community, she said.

The national theme of Black History Month, as chosen by a prominent group of historians, is “Black Resistance.” Clyde Wilson Pickett, the University’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, said that “resistance” isn’t just about conflict and strife.

“It isn’t just the way that the media portrays resistance,” Pickett said. “It’s the day-to-day way that you live and the way you act and engage with others to include diversity, equity and inclusion in everything that you do. The telling of Black history is a big part of that resistance. We’re excited about honoring these people who have made an impact in the community, and we’re excited about the community joining us to acknowledge their contributions.”

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 ’54), 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.

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 at Pitt’s Center for Parents and Children. She came to Pitt after nearly two decades of working at regional social service agencies and has helped 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 and 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 and Social Problems and research assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

Selam Mekbeb-Gillett, “Campus Leader”

A junior majoring in psychology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, 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 Dean’s Award at the David C. Frederick Honors College annual research fair.

John Moon, “Creative Changemaker”

As one of the original paramedics for Pittsburgh’s history-making Freedom House Ambulance Service, Moon helped change the face of emergency medical care across the United States. Later, as assistant chief of Pittsburgh EMS, he 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 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, Pettigrew 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.


—Jason Togyer, photography by Aimee Obidzinski