State Race Relations Leader Encourages Students to Live with Hope and Resilience

State Race Relations Leader Encourages Students to Live with Hope and Resilience

Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, has a brilliant resume that would dazzle any professional headhunter: a master’s degree from an Ivy League university; frequent guest appearances on Fox National News; the top spot in a major state agency dedicated to combatting discrimination in the workplace and other public venues; recognition as a national expert on race relations and social justice; and the founder of the first Ivy League Black male group of social workers.

But when Lassiter headlined a Black History Month luncheon at Central Penn College on Feb. 22, he focused on the more authentic narrative that you won’t find in his biography  –a childhood growing up in North Philadelphia, surrounded by gangs, drugs, prostitution and bullying; living with a father haunted by PTSD; and a world of pervasive inequity that he managed to overcome through hope and resilience, even in the midst of struggle.

In an eloquent keynote address laced with inspiring quotes and poignant references to famous social justice icons who suffered and overcame over the decades, Lassiter urged students, faculty and staff to accept “finite disappointments for infinite hope.”  As a professor at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and at West Chester University, he said, “Hope is not Kumbaya….it is participatory,”

In a state that has earned a dubious ranking as 8th out of all 50 states in the proliferation of hate groups, he warned that, “Pennsylvania has a white nationalism problem.” 

As the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, he responded to the wave of hate groups by launching “No Hate in our State” town hall meetings across the state, and continues to investigate allegations of injustice as his 87-person agency’s main mission. Beyond the Keystone State, he has helped fight for social justice in Israel, Haiti, Africa, Canada, Norway and more places plagued by conflict across the globe. 

This thought leadership earned him recognition as the most influential African American leader from 2010-2020 by the Philadelphia Tribune, a feature in Ebony Magazine, alongside the likes of Colin Powell and Michael Jordan, and induction into Penn’s Alumni Hall of Fame.  

Between Philly and Pittsburgh, Lassiter said, it is not “Pennsyltucky” or “Alabama,” as political commentator James Carville so famously derided.  Instead, central Pennsylvania  can be a “beloved community,” if we choose love, not hate, he predicted.  

Lassiter mentioned tragic targets of racial hatred who lost their lives far too soon, including Emmett Till, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and George Floyd. He shared how Till’s mother intentionally left her son’s casket open so that every mourner could see first-hand the brutalization of a young boy and what the system of white supremacy did to her son in all its horrifying ugliness and anguish. But she did not choose hate; she chose to pursue justice, he pointed out. 

Martin Luther King, in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” penned words that endure still as a “testament to resilience,” Lassiter said.

“We are not anti-police. We are anti-corrupt police,” he said.

He also cited King’s oft-repeated quote: “Riots are the language of the unheard.” But don’t embrace victimization, he urged. Embrace resilience. Embrace love, justice, and truth.

Refuse to be silenced or sidelined, he urged. Remember what his mom said to him, he recommended: “Not all white people are bad, and not all black people are good.”

In conclusion, he encouraged his audience to fight back in nonviolent ways and to not let fear overshadow courage.

He shares a global vision to wear, as King wrote,  “a single garment of destiny,” where our fates and futures  are all woven together.  

Before Lassiter took to the podium, the luncheon began on a solemn note with an inspiring and searingly honest poem by senior and basketball standout Sidney Green, entitled “Why Do They Hate Us So Much?” which she wrote after the death of George Floyd and during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests across the nation.

After Lassiter, the singing and dancing talents of John Graves Productions, with powerful voices and perfectly synchronized dance that bought many audience members to their feet for a standing ovation,

FOX 43 covered the luncheon as part of its Black History Month coverage.

Awards were also given to these five deserving students:

  • Rosa Parks Award for Academic Excellence: Sidney Green
  • Dr. C. Delores Tucker Award for Community Service: Sara Walters
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Award for Leadership: Gabriele Perez
  • Bayard Rustin Award for Social Justic Advocacy: Lionel Coates
  • Rev. Olin Harris Award for Character: Hans Desire 

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