Finding ways to build community has always been a priority for the Notre Dame Club of Pittsburgh, particularly in times of need.
Following the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in early 2019, members of the club visited local houses of worship in an effort to build bridges and learn about other religions. Then, after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, another nerve was struck, leading club vice president Dan Yu ’90, ‘92 M.B.A. to spearhead efforts to foster meaningful discussion. What began as a film watch and conversation led to a series of virtual talk shows entitled “Racial and Social Justice Beyond the Dome,” of which Yu is the host.
Notre Dame’s roots in civil rights movements trace back to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., who advocated for civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s and served as chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1969 to 1972. Given this history, Yu thought that a screening and discussion of the documentary Hesburgh was a good starting point to spark conversations among the club.
He reached out to producer Jerry Barca ’99, who introduced him to director Patrick Creadon ’89. Creadon enthusiastically agreed to do a “vodcast” — a talk show streamed over Zoom — to discuss the film for the club audience. The first show went so well that the club wanted a second, eventually leading to a 10-episode season. They are now on the second season of the show, averaging about 30 attendees per live taping.
“Rather than talking about racial justice as an abstract concept, I thought personal stories — challenges, pain, fear — could bring the audience closer to the topic,” Yu says.
Yu pinpointed two important connections: the audience with the guest and guest with the host. Because it was a show covering personal stories with scripted questions, as well as an audience Q-and-A, Yu’s challenge was to foster these connections while making it entertaining. Without any entertainment or journalism experience himself, Yu studied Bob Costas, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Christiane Amanpour, Jon Stewart, and Steve Hartman.
Yu seeks out guests who align with the ideals of racial and social justice. Throughout the first season, he welcomed several prominent alumni, including Niele Ivey ’00, the first Black Karen & Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach; Mike Brown ’01, the first Black student to portray the Leprechaun mascot; former Irish running back Reggie Brooks ’93; LGBTQ lawyer Matt Skinner ’06; and Sonnie Hereford ’79, a Notre Dame grad who was the first black student to attend an integrated school in Alabama. Yu loves to hear the unique stories of each of his guests and hopes that they resonate with the audience. He believes it is important to have the conversations, no matter the format, and that the guests are the experts of their own stories.
“I have so many guests I would love to interview but have not even reached out to them. I open the door, and I carry the luggage — that’s it.”
Yu’s preparation has paid off, and every show has been meaningful to him. Because the webinar format with pre-registration allows both guests and audience members to log on from anywhere, proximity is no longer an issue, allowing for greater participation. Yu releases the video on the club’s social media channels and on YouTube and owes credit to club website administrator Kerry Boehner ’93; club president Maralee Williams ’94; Lily Crawford ’16, who has taken over production; and Michael Brooker ’80, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for the Alumni Association Board of Directors. The team’s effort has helped connect the audience with guests and has resonated beyond Pittsburgh.
“Every guest has been incredible,” Yu said. “I have had a couple clubs reach out saying they want to do the same thing.”
“We wanted to be proactive and do something as a club,” Boehner said. “It wasn't enough to say we're anti-racist. We needed to get off the sideline and get involved. We soon realized how much we had to learn.
“I so appreciate Dan for all of his work in doing these monthly zooms. We've shed light on many issues, and we will continue to do so. ... Someone asked how long we should keep doing these monthly zooms, and the response is until we have racial and social justice for all.”
The initial goals of “Racial and Social Justice Beyond the Dome” remain — to foster open discussion, to tell personal stories, and to connect the audience to that person’s story. Yu hopes this is just the beginning in sharing stories and building community.