Find Kannu Sahni’s display at: 2 PPG Place (the lobby); and at Duquesne University.
“I came here from India as the mills were shutting down. People were lost. I’ve seen us move to this forward-looking economy, which has become a model for the rest of the world to see.”
I’ve seen change right here in Pittsburgh since the day I arrived here from India 29 years ago. I came in as the mills were shutting down, and people were lost. I saw how morale was bottoming out. I came at a time when people were fleeing and made this my home. Since that time, I have seen consistent growth and development.
I was the Director of Community Relations at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m proud of how non-profits and other organizations held things together and created the next generation of sectors that the city could then adapt into. I’ve seen us go from bottoming-out loss of industry to this very confident forward-looking economy, which has become a model for the rest of the world to see. So much of it was driven by people from all over the world. The energy, ideas, and immigrant fervor that they brought has been very helpful to our region and I’m proud of the contributions those communities have made.
Western PA is unique even within the United States. I think I was the only non-European person when I moved into my neighborhood, and was surprised to find the others were immigrants, too. We got along so well because immigrants have a shared experience. My family felt welcomed. There was adjustment. Just figuring out where things are and how to get around, there was a learning curve. The weather was incredibly different. When I scouted this area as a potential place where I wanted to live, I conveniently visited in summer and early fall – and then arrived on the 12th day of February, on the coldest day in 10 years. My wife looks at me, and says, “Are you kidding me?”
I was in business, and sold everything to work for Jewish Family and Children’s Services. I worked in immigrant employment for years. I’d tell people, “You have to give this place at least a couple of cycles of seasons. You get used to it and get to appreciate it.” Getting them employed, productive members of our community is big. The weather can take care of itself. When you grow up in parts of the world, which are very cosmopolitan, it’s not a real culture shock. India’s quite the melting pot itself, but what I really appreciated is the giving nature of people here in the U.S.
Instead of waiting for people to tell us what they need, we engage with them with community meetings, town halls, and listening sessions. Recently in Oakland, we did a major town hall, and had people talk about their challenges. Things that we can work together to fix involve things like police/community relations, language access within schools, and employment. It’s difficult for someone who’s not born and brought up here. Even for students who have been brought up here, it’s a challenge to get noticed in the employment system. There’s so many things that we can do without doing a whole lot.
It’s a beautiful day, and I love it that this city, its leadership, and the institutions are so committed to keeping this a very welcoming environment. When you’re on the streets in Oakland or Squirrel Hill or anywhere else, the different languages, the accents you hear, the different foods that are available – that’s really our future. We love to see that this has been a global city.