Photo by Brian Cohen
Profile by Kyra McCague
According to Laura Ellsworth, a global partner at Jones Day, law school teaches people to solve complicated problems in a logical way, which is why she partnered with her former law professor Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg to create the Eradicate Hate Global Summit.
Immediately following the 2018 attack on three Pittsburgh area Jewish congregations, Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life, Ellsworth felt compelled “to figure out what [she] could personally do to make sure that didn’t happen to other people.”
“[I felt a need to make sure] Pittsburgh was remembered more for how we responded to it than what that person did to us, because our response, I think, is characteristic of what Pittsburgh really is,” she said.
The idea for the summit originated with Ellsworth’s worldwide work with top experts on addressing hate.
“I saw those people working in silos and not talking to one another,” she said. “I was the common denominator among all these global experts. And then when this happened, I thought, is there a way to weaponize them to all work more effectively and efficiently together towards some common goals rather than on their own?”
Beginning with the goal to unite these global experts, Ellsworth and Nordenberg reached out to community members to create the summit, which has taken place in Pittsburgh for the past three years, beginning in 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent summit took place Sept. 27-29 in 2023.
Since its inaugural year, the summit has steadily gained momentum to where they now believe that “this is sustainable.” For that reason, they went through the process of forming a non-profit in January 2023, including choosing retired lawyer Charles H. Moellenberg Jr. as president as well as a board.
Since the summit’s beginning, they’ve deliberately worked with victims and their families.
“One of the most moving moments in the two years that we were doing this was seeing the people who have been victimized from different groups coming together,” Nordenberg said. “We always had given the victims a platform to participate from the stage, and the first year they had an opening session and after that, you almost couldn’t break the bonds apart.”
At this year’s summit, multiple plenaries were focused on the families, with one session about the recent trial from the perspective of family members and another entitled “Survivors in Action.” They’ve also partnered with the 10.27 Healing Partnership, an organization that focuses on the task of working with victims and their families.
“We watched those families provide support and help to one another, whether it was the Black families from from Buffalo, the Sikh families from Oak Creek, the Jewish families, they could help each other and say things to one another that none of us could get, even all the fancy experts from around the world,” Ellsworth said. “We saw the power of it, and we thought alright, we have to help that grow because we can see how important that is to the families.”
Working groups have also formed as they have found the need to turn ideas into action. One prominent working group is the Sports Working Group, co-chaired by Ellsworth and Michele Rosenthal, who is the principal in Michele Rosenthal Consulting and spent 10 years previously working as Community Relations Manager for the Steelers. She is a member of Tree of Life and her two brothers’ lives were taken in the attack on the Pittsburgh synagogues.
The idea for the Sports Working Group was first brought to Ellsworth and Nordenberg by United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu, who herself attended the summit.
“Two days later, she reported to the UN Security Council that this was one of the most important projects she’d seen in the world,” Ellsworth said. “She wanted the UN to come alongside it somehow. And about a month later, she called and she said, ‘Would you be willing to form a working group to write something called the Secretary General’s action plan against hate speech specific to the sports world?’”
Currently, every major league is a contributor to “The Game Plan,” which is the action plan against hate tailored to the sports world. They are planning initiatives with FIFA, Formula One and the next World Cup held in North America.
According to Ellsworth, the plan looks to address young men 18 to 24 years old because data indicates that they are the most “prolific killers.”
“It is to find a channel to talk to the very people in the most at risk of moving into violence and basically deliver messages that that is not the answer,” she said.
In a similar vein, Nordenberg noted how reaching the youth through efforts such as sports messaging can have an echoing impact.
“People who are older may have more entrenched views that are difficult to confront and change,” he said. “And I think that the only way that is likely to happen is through the efforts of the young people who might be able to change their parents or friends of their parents. When you look at young people today, they seem to be more open in their thinking, so to the extent that we can reach young people that will be an extraordinarily important part of the work we’re doing.”
The summit has begun efforts to work with students in the Education Working Group inspired by a group of students that attended last year’s summit. The working group includes two branches that focus on K-12 education and higher education respectively.
“Look, there were groups of students who came to the summit last year, really to see the documentary and to discuss it,” Nordenberg said. “And some of those students went back into their schools and said we ought to use the documentary, and we’re hoping to reach a broader audience.”
The most recent summit included a new initiative with a summit specifically for students, which gained a strong showing for its first year. Interactions with students and promoting awareness through them has been “a source of hope.”
Throughout their efforts, one of the main goals has been to reach as many people as possible, as reflected by the variety of ways in which they have engaged with the community and the global nature of their work. They have taken steps to combat hate through the different working groups, from using financial institutions to track violent extremists to using video games to reach a vulnerable demographic. Additional efforts have included working with law enforcement, the judicial system and state governments for reform and working within the health system. For the sports working group specifically, they convened at the UN, gathered with Premier League teams in Liverpool and even traveled to Australia for the women’s World Cup to increase the summit’s global impact.
And as their work towards combating hate progresses, Ellsworth and Nordenberg continue to remember why they first began the summit in the first place: antisemitism.
“We know that antisemitism is a leading indicator of other kinds of hate,” Ellsworth said. “And one of the things we’ll be talking about at the summit is that if you look at all of these different groups who hate people, because of their gender, their race, their ethnicity, their LGBTQ status, whatever it may be, they also hate Jews, right?”
Nordenberg sees their work as “a form of living memorial for the people who were killed in that attack.”
“We can never quite wipe away the tragedy of that day,” he said, “but if something good grows, that’s a special way of paying respect to those who lost their lives or were injured.”