KUDU: Gifts and decor from Africa helping others from Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by DANEALLE PLASCENCIA

Visit KUDU gift shop in Salt Lake City, which features handmade items including baskets, masks and clothes.

Many people always think or dream about visiting other countries, states or continents, just to learn about different cultures, food, language and traditions. But sometimes this is impossible to accomplish due to money or time constrains.

However, what would you think if someone told you that you can learn the most important elements of the African culture in Salt Lake City and help poor families with your support?

KUDU, a small business located at 2155 E. 2100 South, does just that. The shop sells gifts and decors directly from Africa. And this is possible because of Susan Clissold.

Clissold was born in South Africa and studied culinary arts there.

She moved to Salt Lake City five years ago with the purpose of just visiting her friend, but she ended up staying and making Salt Lake City her second home.

Clissold got married and she and her husband had a daughter who now is 14 months old.

Clissold credits her mother-in-law, who had just returned from a trip to Africa, with the idea of opening a small shop with handmade items imported from Africa. It seemed a logical next step for the women, who had been working on obtaining the necessary permits to sell the imported items.

After the opening of KUDU three years ago, Clissold’s mother-in-law couldn’t work at the store. The main reason was the short time periods that she was living in Salt Lake City. So she asked Clissold to take over the small business.

The store is named after the kudu, a species of antelope that comes from the savannas and is popular in Africa because of its skin and meat. Also, the horns are used as musical instruments.

The store instantly reflects African culture. The walls are painted with warm colors such as brown and beige, and decorated with masks and paintings from different African artists.

KUDU offers hundreds of handmade items imported and made from African artists.

Some of those items are dishes such as mugs, spoons, spatulas and butter containers, all of which are hand painted.

Clissold sells clothing too, such as hand-knitted scarves made by women from Swaziland. Crocodile belts, baby shoes and animal skins, which are used as blankets or carpets most of the time, are sold at the store.

Musical instruments are indispensable for the African culture. KUDU sells handmade carved drums from different types of wood that makes every drum sound different and unique, as well as kudu horns. They are as long as regular drum sticks but thicker and beige in color.

Beaded giraffes, monkeys and dolls are the most detailed items that this store offers. The bright colors call the attention of any customer who is looking for a gift, especially one for children.

Home decoration is something that Clissold includes in her store. Lampshades made of bamboo, photo frames and Zulu hand-woven baskets are some of the articles that can be added in any home.

“I have items in my house that I bought for the store and I just loved them so much that I keep them as decoration,” Clissold said .

Showing art to the customers in different ways is the main objective of this store. Currently, the store has paintings by Daniel Novela, an African artist who now exhibits his work at Adlou Art Gallery.

“I was always interested in art, even when I was back home,” Clissold said.

Clissold also supports local businesses. She sells chocolate from the Millcreek Cacao; lotions, shampoos, soaps and shea butter are some other items that come from Africa but are packed in the United States that KUDU offers.

Meanings, shapes and animals are an important element for the store.

KUDU sells animal sculptures of elephants, giraffes, monkeys and zebras, which are a representation of the African continent and culture.

Colors as well teach every single customer a meaning. For example, green represents Africa as land, red the color of African ancestors, black the color of the African race and yellow the natural resources the community uses for living.

“Africa is all nature. If you are expecting to see big buildings and streets Africa is really far away from that,” Clissold said.

African culture is based on trading some items for others, and Clissold’s mission is to help African artists by buying the products so they can have a better life back home.

Such is the case for Zimbabwe, who is Clissold’s buyer.

He lives in Africa and talks to the artists and makes arrangements for prices or trading.

“With the money that I get from working with Susan now I have a small little truck that helps me move around to get the gifts,” Zimbabwe said in a phone interview.

But Clissold’s mission entails more than selling items from Africa to people in Salt Lake City.

Her motivation is helping families in Africa to have a better way of living and share her culture with the residents of Salt Lake City. The reason is to show residents what Africa is made of and what they can find in the continent.

Clissold has big plans for KUDU. Recently she started a sale day every month to attract new customers.

Since KUDU is in a two-story building and she only uses the lower floor, Clissold plans to offer massage sessions with oils from Africa. The massages are going to be held two times per month with unique arrangements and decorations from her shop.

Recently, she ordered new paintings that are going to be low cost so anyone can afford to have one at home and help others. She will be exhibiting them sometime during the month of May. Clissold will invite all of her regular customers to stop by.

Since Clissold likes being involved in charity work she is going to be part of a Westminster College event during May. She will donate 15 percent of the sales to an organization that helps poor minority families in Salt Lake City.

“I am really excited to help. It is just hard to be part of many different charity programs at the same time,” Clissold said.

Sales at the store have steadily increased since it opened. Clissold said she has been able to help many more families than she ever expected.

“The store is like my second home, where I can teach people about my culture and help my people to have a better life selling their work. I know Africa is a third-world country and it needs more than one person to change the poverty but I feel satisfied to help just a little bit,” Clissold said.

KUDU is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information call (801) 583-5838.

Shades of grey: understanding African-American voices on gun control.

Story and graphics by TREVOR RAPP

Break downs of the demographics of shooters in school shootings show the vast majority are not ethnic minorities.

What does a gun in a hand of a black man symbolize?

Three highly publicized photographs demonstrate the complexity and disparity of portrayals of the African-American gun culture.

In one, an African-American man stands alone in an apartment facing away from the camera, his head slightly bowed, enough to make out an outline but no details of his face. An AR-15 assault rifle with custom grips, a 30-round magazine and collapsible stock hangs from a sling off his back. His left hand grips a pistol of unknown make and caliber that he points at the ground.

In another, smoke explodes from the barrel of a shotgun being held by an African-American man with salt-and-pepper hair wearing a black Nike polo tucked neatly into blue jeans. He wears black sunglasses and ear protection.

In a third, a young African-American man’s face and upper torso fill the camera frame. Graffiti lines the background and tight braids slip out from underneath his black bandana. His chest is bare and he curls his bottom lip under to better show off the two rows of gold-capped teeth. Both his hands, with his index and middle fingers, form imaginary guns pointed at his head.

The first is of Colion Noir, a self-proclaimed “YouTube Personality, Gun Enthusiast, Budding Attorney, Regular Guy who happens to love Guns.” Noir is also a correspondent for the National Rifle Association.

The second is a photo released on the White House’s Photo Stream on Flickr with the caption, “President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).” Much debate followed as to whether the photo was genuine or a staged photo-op to appeal to gun rights advocates.

The third is of rapper A$AP Rocky, who was praised by the New York Times for his debut album, “Long.Live.Asap.” the Times described him as being “a Harlem native with an expansive ear … one of hip-hop’s brightest new stars,” and, “a peacock, [rapping] with flair and authority.” One of the hit songs on the album, titled “F**kin Problems,” describes putting “your chrome to your dome,” a reference to putting a gun to your head. Other descriptions include acts of fellatio as making “it pop like an automatic or a nine,” references to automatic weapons and 9 mm pistols.

So what does it symbolize? Does the image of the average Joe portray a means of protection or a sign of paranoia? Is the image of a politician a depiction of high-class recreation or calculated propaganda? And for young, black males and females struggling to create their own identity, does this “art-imitates-life” photo provide insight and inspiration surrounding a successful artist, or social commentary on the numbing allure of becoming someone by racking up “street cred” points?

The answer is multi-faceted, with similar local and national conversations but quite different realities. Most importantly though, it’s a complicated answer that must be looked at through the lens of history, socio-economic factors and influences of the African-American family culture and African-American pop culture.

In the Salt Lake City area the true story for African-American gun violence, or crime for that matter, is not much different than the story for whites, said Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Shawn Josephson.

“It actually is one of those misnomers,” he said. “People tend to think that there is a significant difference [in crime] in the east side [a more densely white-populated area] to the west side [a more densely minority-populated area] and there really hasn’t been over the course of the history of the police department.”

However, the African-American population in Salt Lake City is extremely low. According to the United States Census Bureau, only a mere 2.7 percent of the population of Salt Lake City is African-American compared to 75.1 percent white. When taken in the context of the entire state the amount drops to 1.1 percent.

This makes it very difficult to get a statistical perspective on things like gun violence in the African-American community, Josephson said.

“As far as African-American [population], we are very, very low as far as our percentages go. … One person that’s a bad person can skew the whole percentages,” Josephson said. “I don’t believe [statistics] tell the true story most of the time.”

The same story seems to hold true in local school districts.

Jason Olsen, communication officer for the Salt Lake City School District, said, “We don’t see a greater propensity for violence in schools with a lot of minority students or schools without a lot of minority students. Our concern for school safety spreads across the entire district. It’s not really based on the ethnic diversity of certain schools.”

Olsen admits that concern for school safety was heightened in minority communities post-Sandy Hook, but also says it’s hard to gauge how much.

For example, though an astounding 200 Utah teachers poured into a single concealed weapons class right after the Sandy Hook incidents, Olsen has no way of knowing which teachers have concealed-carry permits, much less how the demographic breakdown is.

“In the Salt Lake School District we abide by the state law, that teachers with a concealed-carry permit are allowed to bring their weapon to school, but that weapon has to remain concealed and in their control at all times,” Olsen said. “Also the key point of what a concealed-carry permit is, is that it is concealed. We don’t necessarily know who would have a weapon and who wouldn’t.”

Later Olsen said, “Were there concerns in those [minority] communities? Yes. Were they greater than any concerns in any other communities? I didn’t get the feeling they were. I think the one thing that especially Sandy Hook has taught us is that acts of violence like this can happen anywhere. … It’s going to take the districts, the students, the community, community leaders, businesses, organizations, it’s going to take everybody to end this problem.”

But even in the apparent lack of a local problem, some Salt Lake City groups have expressed deep concerns about a very different reality of the effect of gun violence on the African-American community on the national level.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and tri-state conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, wrote a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch detailing the epidemic proportions of gun-related deaths.

“The leading cause of death among African-American teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun related homicide,” Williams wrote on April 12, 2013. “African-American children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun related deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population. Clearly we have a stake in the debate.”

Earlier in the same letter, Williams “strongly” urged Hatch to “support the strongest policies possible, including implementation of a universal background check system; a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips; and tough new penalties for ‘straw purchasers’ of any size.”

But the presence of strong African-American voices like Williams’ hasn’t been seen much on the national stages. Since the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 children, the debate over gun control has raged like a white man’s Nor’easter blizzard, causing a whiteout in the mainstream media that has marginalized the African-American community. It’s a sea of Caucasian talking-heads with only a Black “blip” here and there. It leaves many wondering not just what is the African-American perspective, but where is it?

President Barrack Obama has probably been the most visible African-American in the debate. He made similar comments when he returned to Newtown on April 8, 2013, the place of the Sandy Hook massacre, to drum up support for more active gun control measures.

“I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promises we made in those dark days … once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were gathered up,” the Huffington Post quoted Obama as saying. “We will not walk away from the promise we’ve made.”

Since the attacks on Columbine rocked the nation until realizations of the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of people have been injured or died.

Since the attacks on Columbine rocked the nation until the more recent horrors of the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of people have been injured or died in school shootings.

Those promises included 12 Congressional proposals and 23 executive actions, according to a Jan. 16, 2013, New York Times story, “What’s in Obama’s Gun Control Proposal.” Some of the more controversial points included universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles and pistols that have more than one military characteristic (such as pistol grips, forward grips, detachable or telescoping stocks and threaded barrels), a ban on all rifles or pistols that have a fixed magazine that can take more than 10 rounds and a ban on all magazines or clips that hold more than 10 rounds.

In stark contrast to this opinion are other African-Americans like Colion Noir.

“No one wants to fight for their protection, they want the government to do it,” Noir said in a video posted on the NRANews YouTube channel on March 1, 2013. “The same government who at one point hosed us down with water, attacked us with dogs, and wouldn’t allow us to eat at their restaurant, and told us we couldn’t own guns when bumbling fools with sheets on their heads were riding around burning crosses on our lawns and murdering us.”

But all Noir’s bluster hasn’t necessarily allowed him to break through any publicity ceilings. Noir’s YouTube videos for the past month have averaged 60,000 total views, while Piers Morgan, a white male and frequent gun control advocate and commentator on CNN, still beat out those numbers in spite of drawing an all-time low of 87,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic for his show “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

Still, Noir’s comments prompted a firestorm of blog and Twitter comments from various people. Among them was Russell Simmons, a business magnate who founded Def Jam recordings and Phat Farm clothing.

“Our community is not interested in a corporate sponsored gun group telling us what to do, when their real mission is to make more money for the corporations that line their dirty pockets with rolls of cash and silver bullets,”  Simmons wrote in “The NRA & Black People: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!” posted on globalgrind.

If the composition of the NRA board of directors is a reflection of its level of commitment to African-Americans, then perhaps Simmons’ mistrust is not off base. Of the 75 members, only four are African-American. Of these four, one is Karl Malone, the former NBA star who played for the Utah Jazz.

“We’re much smarter than that and certainly can see through their motives,” Simmons wrote. “Until they show a real interest in solving the violence problem in our community, they can keep their Yankee hat-wearing spokesman and their African-American ‘campaigns’ for themselves. In the words of another internet star, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.'”

While Noir isn’t the only prominent African-American to reference historical violence enacted upon blacks to promote gun rights, such disparate opinions speak not just to the divisive nature of the debate, but also the depth and complexity that underlies the debate about the role guns should play in the African-American community.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the second African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court, used various references to black history when he wrote in partial support of a 2010 court opinion. In the case involving a Second Amendment challenge to a Chicago ordinance that “effectively bann[ed] handgun possession by almost all private citizens,” Thomas observed that “organized terrorism … proliferated in the absence of federal enforcement of constitutional rights” following the Civil War. In particular, he addressed the Ku Klux Klan and its reign of terror. Thomas wrote that “the use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence.” He added that Eli Cooper, “one target of such violence,” reportedly explained, “‘The Negro has been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.”’

Thomas also quoted another man whose father had stood armed at a jail all night to ward off lynchers. That empowering experience, Thomas wrote, left the man feeling hopeful that mob violence could be halted by individual acts of “standing up to intimidation.”

Others have noted the necessity of being armed during the civil rights movement.

“It is a myth that the civil-rights movement was exclusively nonviolent,” wrote Akinyele Umoja, a professor in the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, in “Black Ambivalence about Gun Control.”

Umoja detailed some of the provocations African-Americans suffered during the summer of 1964. Workers and volunteers in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights organization trying to register local African-Americans to vote, were being harassed by “night riders,” white vigilantes who terrorized the SNCC. One night as a posse of night riders followed SNCC workers from the registration office, an 89-year-old woman armed and organized her children, grandchildren and neighbors and formed an ambush which so surprised the night riders that they never returned.

Umoja said in a phone interview that there was a shift between the 1950s and ’60s in how children got guns. Where before the “elders” took an involved role in teaching their children how and for what purposes to use guns, shifts in the general American culture that made it easier to obtain a gun illegally put more guns in the hands of “unstable elements.”

“It was a rite of passage for rural black families to teach children to use arms as a means of survival, for both food and protection. And black girls were trained to shoot to protect themselves from white rapists,” Umoja wrote in the article, which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But even deep-seated traditions of armed heroism don’t make for clear delineations among African-Americans on issues of gun control.

“There are some people in our community that don’t identify with either of the positions put out by the NRA or liberals,” Umoja said in the phone interview.

Though the rhetoric can be polarizing, the views certainly are not just black and white among the African-American community. Rather, the nuanced grey areas have to be understood through the many factors shaping and influencing the African-American community.

Umoja wrote in the article about social issues including the destabilization of families due to cuts in the federal government’s welfare system, increased individualism among blacks, declines in the manufacturing economy which employed many blacks, and increases in gang activity and the influx of drugs — all of which have led to an increase in cycles of poverty and gun violence, and by extension a motivation to support gun control.

But the fear of violence among under ground elements within the black community hasn’t erased the memory of violence from outside the black community, Umoja wrote. “Gun control for many black activists is at heart an issue of self-determination, self-reliance, and self-defense. But at the same time, we need to provide economic alternatives for black youths trapped in the drug economy; end the ‘war on drugs’ through decriminalization and the treatment of substance abuse as a public-health issue, and provide accessible and culturally relevant education that prepares black students for professions and entrepreneurship.”

 

From the Journalist’s Notebook, some reflections:

What does a gun in a hand of a black man symbolize?

For Utahns afraid of an overspill of violence from the 1 percent — a non-issue.

For those tired of being political puppets of a national white gentlemen’s club — white ignorance.

For those tired of being in the crosshairs of white oppressors — power.

And for those tired of looking down the wrong end of it — a call to find more peaceful way to build a community.

Utah baseball diamonds a microcosm of nation’s declining black player population

Story and slideshow by TALON CHAPPELL 

View the local baseball culture around Salt Lake City.

When Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, he didn’t know that only 30 years later black players would be a staple in American baseball.

He also didn’t know that only 30 years after their resurgence, black players would be rapidly dwindling in number.

The percentage of black professional, collegiate and high school players has dipped every decade since the ’70s. Then, black players like Reggie Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Hank Aaron were dazzling crowds with speedy base running, golden glove plays and 450-foot home run bombs.

Almost nowhere else in the U.S. is this statistic more glaring than in Utah, where black baseball players at all levels are virtually nonexistent.

This begs the question: Why are black kids staying away from baseball diamonds? What can baseball do, in Utah and the rest of the US, to get more black youth involved in what was once America’s favorite past time?

“42” past and present

The story of Jackie Robinson is being chronicled in the new film “42,” named after Robinson’s jersey number which has been retired in every major league stadium in honor of his legacy.

“42” opened in theatres Friday, April 12, 2013.

The movie follows Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) through his childhood learning baseball, his rise in the minor and Negro leagues, signing by team executive Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) for the Dodgers and the struggles he faced while playing in a white league and segregated stadiums.

Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, which was one year before the U.S. military was integrated, 10 years before Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and 12 years before the Boston Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate their roster.

Robinson laid the foundation for future generations of black ball players to enter the majors on equal standing with their white counterparts. He also got the black community to watch and pay attention to Major League Baseball.

Michael Wilbon, a respected ESPN baseball and basketball writer (and host of “Pardon the Interruption”) grew up in Chicago during a time when baseball was far more relevant in the black community than it is today.

“The talk in the barber shop wasn’t of Wilt [Chamberlain] and [Bill] Russell nearly as much as it was of [Hank] Aaron and [Willie] Mays,” Wilbon said in a Washington Post story. 

Baseball losing interest among Utah youth

Landon “Land-O” Dickerson is a center fielder for the Layton High School baseball team. He is also the only black player on the baseball team at his school, located about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Dickerson first started playing tee-ball when he was 5 years old and knew that baseball was his sport.

“I grew up playing baseball. I played football and basketball too but nothing made me more excited than going to the batting cages in spring,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson never really paid attention to the fact that he was usually the only black kid on his youth baseball teams. He was too busy playing to care. While he was batting and fielding, his few black peers were pursuing the two other dominant American sports, football and baseball.

“I didn’t even think about it [lack of black players] ’til I started playing comp [competition level] ball. I thought it was weird that no other black kids wanted to play competitively, but everyone said I was weird for liking baseball more anyways so I didn’t really care,” Dickerson said.

Robert Ferneau is the head coach of the Layton High baseball team. He has had a long and illustrious career in baseball.

Ferneau played at Layton High before playing at the collegiate level, first at Snow College (Ephraim, Utah) then at Colorado State University. He then finished his playing career at Weber State University. After an injury kept him from being drafted into the majors, he focused his energy on coaching. After earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science, he came back to coach his alma mater in 1993.

During his 20-year tenure at the school, Ferneau has noticed the drop in participation from black players.

“There’s usually not a lot [black players] because of our community, but usually a couple per season. Now we get one or two a season, sometimes none,” Ferneau said.

Ferneau doesn’t think there’s a whole lot baseball can do to attract more kids, of all races, to play. But some options he thought would help include building and maintaining better facilities and fields, getting more kids involved with baseball and tee-ball at a young age and spreading exposure of professional black ballplayers.

Utah collegiate baseball completely lacking in diversity

The already dismal percentage of black athletes in baseball further decreases in the college ranks.

The rosters of Utah’s two major collegiate baseball programs (the University of Utah and Brigham Young University) feature no black players between them. Every other Utah college or university’s baseball program is club based and of those programs, only two had a single black player on their roster (Utah State University and Weber State University).

Ryan Madsen played college ball at the College of Eastern Utah in Price, Utah. He too noticed the decline in diversity when he got to the college level.

“I was always used to having a couple non-white guys on my youth and high school teams. When I got to CEU the whole team was white, and a lot of our competition was mostly white,” Madsen said.

Madsen believes that many black high school players don’t aspire to play at the college level because there just aren’t enough scholarships to go around.

“They’d rather try to get a scholarship in a different sport, or stop playing ball to get a job so they can begin to afford paying for college,” Madsen said.

After his two years at CEU, Madsen decided the cost and effort of major collegiate baseball was too high and he focused on his education. He graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2012.

According to a CBS Sports report, NCAA baseball programs can only offer 11.7 scholarships per season. This means that most of those scholarships are split among multiple players, which adds to the already staggering cost of a college education for those athletes in less-than-desirable financial situations.

Only 11.7 scholarships for baseball, as opposed to 85 scholarships handed out by major college football programs. It doesn’t quite add up.

Black players being replaced in the professional ranks

Utah’s three minor league teams have a combined four black players on their rosters, only two of whom are of African-American descent. The state’s most prestigious team, the Salt Lake Bees (AAA affiliate for the L.A. Angels) have no black players on their roster; the Orem Owlz (AA affiliate of the L.A. Angels) have one black player from the Dominican Republic and the Ogden Raptors (AA affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers) have three black players, one from the Dominican Republic, and two from the U.S.

Chances that were once being given to promising young African-American players in major league farm systems are now being given to the wave of players from Latin-American and Caribbean countries.

According to a CNN Money article, most of the reasoning behind the transition from homegrown to foreign players in the majors is purely economic. Because of the relative poverty within these countries, it is cheaper for major league teams to train, develop and sign a player from Latin America or the Caribbean than it is to do the same in the U.S. Because of this, every major league club has an academy that offers schooling and baseball training in the Dominican Republic, as well as 10 clubs that have one in Venezuela.

In response to this, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig set out to build the U.S.’s first homegrown baseball academy.

“We’ve already built development academies in the inner cities … We’ve got one in Compton that everyone raves about, we just opened one in Houston and we’re building one in Miami and Atlanta,” Selig said in an ESPN interview.

Black players only make up roughly 8 percent of major league rosters and 25 percent of those individuals play for three teams (Yankees, Dodgers, Angels). This represents a major decline from the 27 percent in 1975 and even from the 19 percent in 1995. Selig told ESPN “that winning back the African-American athlete [may be] his last hill to climb” before his retirement in 2014.

The Veteran Support Center provides help for Black veterans in Utah

Story and slideshow by LORIEN HARKER

Visit the Veteran Support Center on the University of Utah campus.

There are 147,944 veterans in Utah, according to the Utah census of 2011. Also according to the census, 1.3 percent of the population is African-American.

Needless to say, African-American veterans are a definite minority in Utah.

The history of African-American veterans in the military is rich, and at some times controversial. One of the first African-American regiments to see battle in World War I and World War II was the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Black Rattlers or the Harlem Hellfighters. This regiment was segregated from other white regiments, yet the fighters were heavily decorated.

By the end of World War II, the regiment had suffered 1,500 casualties, and 171 members had received the Legion of Honor.

Similar African-American regiments that have served the United States Military, such as the Red Tails, Buffalo Soldiers, and Tuskegee Airmen, are some of the most celebrated regiments in military history. Yet these regiments were all segregated.

Regiments of African-Americans and white troops were not integrated until the Korean War. Though these regiments could now be integrated, it could be supposed that racism and ignorance toward African-Americans still existed.

However, for Roger Perkins, the director of the Veteran Support Center at the University of Utah, a troop is a troop no matter what color they are.

Roger Perkins served in the Army for 21 years, from 1970 to 1991. During his years of service, Perkins says that the only time ignorance toward the African-American troops was displayed was in the barracks, never around a superior officer.

“You find ignorant people everywhere you go,” Perkins says.

Though the military may have a history of segregated regiments, the military now is more diverse. White troops make up 67 percent of the military, black troops make up 17 percent of the military, and Hispanics comprise 11 percent of the military.

These numbers somewhat correspond with the numbers of veterans at the University of Utah. Perkins says the statistics are as follows: 26 Asian, 22 African-American, 80 Hispanic, seven Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 678 white, and 24 non-specified veterans.

The majority of the African-American troops at the U are in the Army and Marine Corps, Perkins says.

He also says there is no special treatment in the military. People are seen as a troop, and nothing more or less.

In regards to race in the military, Perkins says, “We don’t care.”

Though this is most likely true, the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System offers a support group for minority veterans. But why do they feel that they need this kind of support group?

Jinna Lee, Ph.D., a VA psychologist with the post-traumatic stress disorder clinic, says that the support group was formed for minority veterans to feel more comfortable. The familiarity they feel with a person of color is important.

The Veteran of Color Support Group focuses on helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Statistics show that one in four veterans will return from deployment with PTSD. Men are more likely to form PTSD from combat, which is why veterans are often diagnosed with the disorder.

Although only four to seven people typically participate in the group, Lee says talking to veterans of the same ethnic background is comforting to the veterans.

“Issues with race and ethnicity do have an impact of how they function,” Lee says in a phone interview.

Lee says these veterans could potentially feel awkward talking to other veterans who are not of their ethnicity, and it’s easier for people of the same culture to understand them.

Stanley Ellington, the executive director for the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce, served in the Air Force for 28 years. During his time of service, Ellington says he was treated fairly.

Ellington also says that the Air Force made it hard to treat people like they weren’t your friends. During deployments especially, because they all relied on each other, there was a “sense of camaraderie” throughout the entire station.

Ellington says it is not so much an issue of color, but an issue of culture in the military. He likens not understanding someone’s culture to a language barrier. If you can’t speak someone’s language, it makes it hard to form a relationship with them — which he says is key.

Ellington says different cultures have different “paths” they use to get to where they want to be in life, and understanding these different paths means “understanding different terms.” From here, the question of understanding veterans of different ethnic backgrounds becomes a question of being fluent in a specific culture, not race.

Lee says there is such an overlap between race and culture, the veterans look for someone of their own culture to talk about things to make themselves feel better.

Kenneth Hartsfield, 26 , a junior at the U majoring in mechanical engineering, is a member of the Air Force. Hartsfield says he joined the Air Force because he “had no reliable plans after high school and did not want to stay at home and get a job.”

“I wanted to see at least a different part of the country and possibly the world,” Hartsfield says.

Hartsfield says his experience with the military has been relatively color-blind. However, life in basic training was rough for some of his comrades.

“It was a melting pot of life experiences where we all had to depend on the next person to cover our shortfalls,” Hartsfield says. “Some had come from inner city while others came that had only seen a handful of minority people.”

Hartfield’s father was a Green Beret, which is why he grew up in a military town in North Carolina. Not only is his father in the military, but his brother, grandfather, uncle and other various family members also serve.

“My father served 27 years in the Army. My brother is in his first year with the Air Force. My paternal grandfather served in World War II and my maternal uncle served in the Army for four years. I have a lot of extended family that is also serving,” Hartsfield says.

He went to basic training after he enlisted, which he said some had a difficult time adjusting to. Tasks such as laundry and asking questions to superiors came as a shock to some newly-enlisted troops.

“It was a huge culture shock for some but growing up in a military town I and the other well cultured kids had no problem adjusting,” Hartsfield says.

Ellington, Lee, Hartsfield and Perkins all say that racial differences could be a source of conflict between troops. However, all agreed that a more likely cause would be cultural differences.

The rewarding challenges of transracial adoption

Story and slideshow by CHRISTIE TAYLOR

Experience the lively dancing and drumming at Asante Dance and Drum.

It’s a typical Saturday at Asante Dance and Drum in Lindon, Utah, with moms accompanying energetic children to their weekly classes. The chilly spring morning hasn’t dampened any of the families’ spirits as they enthusiastically welcome each other to class.

One of the usual dance teachers is unable to attend this week’s lesson, which sends the moms into organization mode as they try to figure out a fill-in for her class of 5-year-olds. One woman bravely offers, settling any disturbance the lively morning has suffered.

Nothing is distinctive about this morning or this scenario except every mom who has come to this studio is white, and every child is black.

Another feature that sets this particular morning apart is the rhythmic and repetitive drumbeats that begin to float through the air as the boys begin their drum lesson. The pounding sound from hands hitting leather-covered drums takes on a faraway sound of an ancient African village.

In another room, fast-paced hip-hop tempos pour from the speakers of a class full of African-American girls practicing the week’s hip-hop dance lesson.

The moms gather in the foyer chatting while the background beats and music play. With big smiles on their faces and enormous amounts of pride in their tones, they discuss their children’s weekly happenings.

The commonality of these women is they have all adopted transracial or transcultural children. The terms were designated to describe the process of adopting a child of one ethnicity or race by parents of another race or ethnicity, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“In the United States these terms usually refer to the placement of children of color or children from another country with Caucasian adoptive parents,” the website states.

The classes at Asante provide a support group for these white parents and their adopted black children, and offer the diversity the children aren’t exposed to in their everyday lives.

The adoptions of the students at Asante fill both the transracial and transcultural categories. Most of the children in this group who were adopted transculturally came from Ethiopia.

Hannie Smith, 13, who was adopted from that country when she was 4 years old, thinks the dance class has been a great way to reconnect to her culture. “It’s cool to bring us all together,” she says about the weekly class.

Smith, who lives in Utah County and is maybe one of five ethnic students in her kindergarten through 12th-grade-level school, loves coming to the class and connecting with other children like her.

Asante Dance and Drum was formed specifically for children like Smith who are adopted by white parents and experience little diversity in their communities. The original founder of the group left and it was up to the moms to keep the program running.

The dedicated women running the program want the group to expand to include anyone interested in learning more about the diverse group and to children of all ethnicities.

“We’re not just about adoption, we’re about the whole child, celebrating our differences and similarities,” said Sage Service, one of the adoptive moms.

Service adopted her daughter, Mya, as an infant. She has taken Mya to the dance class since she was 3 months old to expose her to the diversity as well as show support for the program.

The lack of diversity these adopted children experience is one of the main reasons why transracial adoptions are so controversial in the United States.

Adoption experts seem to have conflicting opinions on children being placed in homes without at least one parent who resembles them in ethnicity, according to HHS.

Some think a child should always be placed with at least one parent of the same race so the child has a way of forming a racial identity; others argue that race shouldn’t even be considered when determining placement of a child. The latter feel the family needs of the child far outweigh ensuring they are placed with same-race parents, according to HHS.

In 1994 a bill addressing transracial and transcultural adoption came before Congress. The bill, submitted by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum  of Ohio, caused intense debate among members of Congress, but eventually passed both the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Multiethnic Placement Act brought people from opposite sides of the controversy together and paved the way for both sides to agree. According to HHS, “adults of all cultures need to work together to help adopted children of all cultures reach their highest potential.”

While having a family has been a huge benefit in the lives of the children at Asante, a wish for more diversity education, especially in school, was a common theme among them. Many said that although they were happy with their home lives, school was more of a challenge.

“I wish we did talk about it [diversity] more,” said Hope Vanderwerff, a 14-year-old attending Canyon View Junior High in Orem. “We learn about other countries in world geography, but that’s about it.”

Diversity aside, some experts believe the rise in transracial and transcultural adoptions can be attributed to the scarcity of young white children available for adoption, according to HHS.

But some families have other reasons for adopting transracially.

Anna Watson was a county worker who had eight biological children before she decided on transracial adoption. She met her daughter, Jane, while working in foster care when Jane was an infant. (Both have requested pseudonyms to protect their privacy.)

When Watson applied to adopt the infant she was denied. “We were the wrong color,” she said.

She wouldn’t accept that as a legitimate answer and hired an attorney to sue for custody. Jane’s biological family fully supported Watson’s intent to adopt and she eventually won the case.

“She was born on drugs, she shook and threw up and was developmentally delayed,” Watson said about Jane. The biggest reward and challenge was all the hard work it took to get her daughter to the healthy, beautiful young woman she is today.

When Jane was about 17 months old, Watson discovered the toddler’s biological mother was pregnant again. She wanted to adopt that baby as well. She was told the infant would be placed with her when she was born. Instead, the newborn was placed with an ill-equipped 65-year-old woman because she was also black.

She said the state even went so far as to call her and threaten to pull her foster care license if she chose to pursue the adoption.

Watson went to court a second time and sued for custody anyway.

In court, Jane was asked to draw a picture of herself and her mom. The young girl drew herself as brown and her mom as white. Watson said that when the court asked her daughter why she had chosen those colors, Jane said, “Because heavenly father said so.”

She won the case and legally adopted Jane’s sister.

Jane, now 19, teaches African-American and hip-hop classes at Asante and is getting ready to serve an LDS mission in Atlanta. Her sister was accepted to Brigham Young University and will attend this fall.

Jane said it was interesting growing up in Utah. With little diversity outside of her family, she found school a challenge.

“I experienced a lot of stereotypical name-calling, she said. “Sometimes I would get offended, but realized they just didn’t understand or they were doing it to be rude.”

The only time she would bring it up to her mom was if it was constant. Other than that she would just try to stand up for herself.

“My mom was so forward, so if it was small comments I would just keep them to myself,” she said.

Susie Augenstein didn’t struggle with the adoption process itself. Her challenges began after she brought her adopted children home.

Augenstein adopted a sister and brother from Ethiopia, both of whom had survival issues. She said her son, who was struggling the most, would often push his new parents to test their love for him. She said they had to constantly reassure him.

It took a lot of time, patience and counseling to get him to trust the parents and their love for him.

That was tested again during a recent trip to Ethiopia. The Augensteins’ son feared they were taking him back, when in actuality the family was going to meet the children’s aunt. When she placed the children for adoption, she told the orphanage that the biological mother was dead. That was the only way the institution would take the children.

Augenstein recommends that any parent who adopts a child, whether transracial or transcultural, find a good counselor who can help deal with the issues of trust that children may experience.

Like many of the other moms at Asante, Carrie Peterson was inspired to adopt after learning about children’s poor living conditions. In her case she was compelled to adopt after hearing media reports about the horrific conditions of Romanian orphans. Although she ultimately did not adopt children from that country, she did adopt two newborn girls from Philadelphia.

Peterson said that in 1992, the concept of transracial adoption was fairly new in Utah.

She found that being among the first families to adopt transracially caused many people to be patronizing because they thought she was so “saintly” for adopting poor black children.

“We’re just a family, we just love each other,” she said. She doesn’t feel saintly about her choice to adopt; she just wanted to have a family and these children needed one.

Sage Service doesn’t feel any better than anyone else either for her choice to adopt transracially. “Mya would still be the amazing girl she is and have a great heart had I not adopted her,” she said. She feels Mya’s experiences would be different, but not better or worse.

Rhonda Fairbourn, the adoptive mom who filled in for the absent dance teacher, thinks each dimension of raising children, whether biological or adopted, has its struggles.

“I was living in a bubble,” she said about her life before she adopted. “I don’t live in a bubble anymore because of the kids’ struggles.” All her children have had problems in all different ways.

These families can all attest that adopting transracially has its challenges. And although it’s controversial, the love they feel for their children is real.

As Sonya Doty, an adoptive mom said, “It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding.”

Interracial marriage acceptance is on the rise in the US

Story and photo by ALEXA WELLS

Anti-miscegenation laws were laws that enforced racial segregation with marriage and intimate relationships by criminalizing interracial marriage and sometimes also sex between members of different races. According to Wikipedia, these laws were first introduced in the United States from the late 17th century by several of the 13 colonies, and also by many states that remained in effect in many U.S. states until 1967. Since this law against interracial marriages was repealed, acceptance has been on the rise.

Fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s couples were interracial in 1970. However, from 1970 to 2005, the number of interracial marriages nationwide increased from 310,000 to almost 2.3 million, or about 4 percent of the nation’s married couples, according to U.S. Census Bureau.

“Utah, like many other states, had a law at one time that prohibited interracial marriages. It was passed by territorial Legislature in 1888 and it wasn’t repealed until 1963,” said Philip Notorianni, director of the Division of State History in an article from Deseret News.

Fitzgerald Royal was born and raised in Salt Lake City and met his wife, Sandra Naybom in 2006 during a Christmas party at Sandra’s neighbors house. Royal is African American and his Naybom is white. They have a 3-year-old  daughter and moved to Los Angeles for work in September 2010.

“My family was very accepting of me marrying a white woman, but her family was not happy with it at first. They thought that I was not worthy of their daughter because of the stereotypes that follow. I think that they have warmed up to me now because of our daughter being in their lives,” Royal said over a phone interview.

With Utah being only 1.3 percent African American, 13.2 percent Hispanic, and 2.2 percent Asian, it is not as likely to have an interracial marriage than in other states with higher diversity.

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Patricia and Peter Cho with their daughter Nicole.

Peter Cho was born in Hong Kong and moved to London on his own for high school. When he graduated, Cho came to Salt Lake City to attend Westminster college, where he graduated with a degree in computer programming. While he was at Westminster, he met his wife, Patricia Cho, and has now been married to her for twenty five years. Patricia Cho, who was born and raised in Mexico City, also moved to Salt Lake City to attend college and now works as a reservations agent for JetBlue Airlines.

“We like to make sure that our children learn about both sides of their heritage by keeping up with family traditions that we both have experienced from childhood. Traditions such as Chinese New Year and Cinco De Mayo are a big deal in our household,” Peter said. “We travel and visit family in Mexico and Hong Kong quite often because of Patricia’s flying benefits. It gives us the opportunity to show our children where we grew up and learn about their nationality.”

Patricia often feels stereotyped for being in an interracial marriage. “I think that people still have a long way to come on accepting interracial marriage. I get strange looks and judged because I am married to an Asian and I am Mexican. My friends at work ask me why I married Peter, but I don’t see him as being any different than me. I don’t care because I love him and our family that we have made together. I wouldn’t change it if I could.”

In an NBC News story, “Interracial Marriage in US hits new high: 1 in 12,” Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University, said, “The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century. Mixed-race children have blurred America’s color line. They often interact with others on either side of the racial divide and frequently serve as brokers between friends and family members of different racial backgrounds. But America still has a long way to go,” he said.

Fitzgerald Royal and Sandra Royal with their daughter. Photo by Sandra Royal.

Fitzgerald and Sandra Royal with their daughter. Photo courtesy of Sandra Royal.

According to Pew survey data of social and demographic trends, about 83 percent of Americans say it is “alright for black and whites to date each other” jumping up from 48 percent in 1987. With these statistics on the rise, the US society is building its acceptance. The US has come a long way since slavery and black segregation, and the statistics are improving year by year.

“When I look at someone, I don’t really notice their race nor do I care,” Sandra Royal said. “I am just concerned about what type of a person they are. Race does not matter to me at all.”

Black Student Union at the University of Utah helps students connect

Story and slideshow by GUSTABO RODRIGUEZ

Explore the Student Involvement Wing and the Center for Equity and Student Affairs and the Office for Equity and Diversity.

The University of Utah is a school where high school students can expand their educational horizons.

Students from a diverse background also apply to the U to expand and get a higher education. But some of them need help adjusting to the new school and to obstacles they might face as they attend the U.

The U has a variety of clubs and organizations that help students of diverse backgrounds with college life. For example, these clubs might help them get into classes for their majors, academic advising and financial advice.

There is one organization in particular at the U that helps African-American students.

The Black Student Union is one of the diverse organizations at the U that is dedicated and focused on helping the underrepresented students. BSU helps black students get involved with the school and within their community.

BSU has even hosted a special day at the U for black high school students to get them interested in higher education and inspire them to apply to the U or other institutions. BSU members have workshops, activities, and they give the visiting students a tour around campus.

The conference also helps students apply and enroll at the U or another school by telling them what to expect when they enroll.

This is why BSU is there ­­­— to help incoming U students get to know not only the school but also other students if they feel lost during their first semester.

James Jackson III founded ACCEL (African-Americans Advancing in Commerce Community Education & Leadership). Jackson was part of BSU in his early years at the U. This organization helped him become comfortable on campus. He did not feel like he was in a strange place anymore after he joined BSU.

“It was an opportunity for me to socialize and I made friends on campus,” Jackson said in an email.

He also had help from older students in BSU to show him around campus. This was also another opportunity to make new friends.

Not only does BSU work with the black students, but it also helps other clubs on campus. For example, they have participated in events for the Social Justice Advocates and the Asian American Student Association. This is a way to let students know that BSU helps other groups regardless of their background. They’ve also worked with the Kick off Black Social where other black students and staff bond and have a stronger community.

Fattima Ahmed got involved with BSU when she got an email stating the group needed volunteers to participate in the annual high school conference her freshman year.

“Coming to a new environment I was wanting to get involved in my campus and community. I was eager to grasp the exciting opportunity!” Ahmed said in an email interview.

To seize her opportunity to join BSU, Ahmed went to an advisor at the Union Building and the advisor recognized her from the high school conference.

The advisor told her to attend the next BSU meeting to see what BSU was about and what to expect.

“Before I knew it they were encouraging me to run for an executive position,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed has had students from high school reaching out to BSU to get the black students in their high school to get together to form a stronger community.

“I’ve personally worked closely with students to help them toward the intense processes of college; including college admissions, financial assistance, and certainly support,” Ahmed said.

The Black Student Union has 200 members and counting, according to the email addresses BSU has in their directory. These are not only former students from the U, but also members within the faculty at the U, alumni and community members.

Future college students at the U can count on BSU to help them throughout their college years. BSU has a service and supporting faculty and advisors who provide personal mentoring, not just for school but also to the students.

“They whole-heartedly support our future endeavors and provide any support to make sure we get there,” Ahmed said.

Faculty and the advisors help BSU and their students connect with other resources on campus and share their personal experiences in an attempt to aid students in their college endeavors.

The financial questions from students are a specialty of Ahmed.

“It’s an interesting hobby of mine to personally assist students with situation such as these,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed is not only involved with BSU as a member, but she is there to work with the new college students here at the U one-on-one.

“I’ve worked with students in a more collective manner, but I’ve had so many experiences interacting with them one on one on a personal level. I love being able to specifically learn about interests, family, and academics,” Ahmed said.

If students are confused or don’t know what classes to take next, BSU works with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. The center, located on the second floor of the Student Union, provides academic advising for students.

“Denise E. Francis Montaño has provided so much help for students who come to receive advising,” Ahmed said.

Montaño is one of the many advisors CESA has for students who seek help or guidance to pick their classes. She is more than an advisor— she treats every student as a friend and will listen to them. It doesn’t matter if a student has a question about school or just wants to talk; Montaño will be at the CESA office.

“Any student who walks through our doors can connect with any and all of our advisors,” Montaño said in an email interview. “Students connect with advisors for a variety of reasons and may talk about their academic progress, negative and positive experiences in the classroom/campus/or SLC, issues that cause them to feel discouraged/stuck, family challenges — anything.”

She is not Ahmed’s advisor but she welcomes any question that she might have. Ahmed and Montaño have shared work-related experiences with the Inclusion Center for Community Justice. This is a nonprofit organization being hosted at the U; this is a small program that provides experiential programing to promote dialogues for inclusion and social justice for the state of Utah.

“Fattima has been a consultant for BSU and even though her schedule is filled with services she does as a social justice advocate she took on the role of a BSU officer,” Montaño said.

Volunteer work is also an emphasis of BSU. This year the group has partnered with the Bennion Community Service Center to bring the US Dream Academy to campus. This mentoring program is designed for students from third and eighth grade levels who have parents in jail and help them understand and keep going to school.

On April 20, 2013, board members Jasmine Walton and Charity Jefferson worked together to provide the BSU Black Affairs to celebrate the end of the spring semester. This was a dance event for every student to get a chance to dress up and have a good time with friends.

To find out more about BSU, students can visit the CESA office at the Union or follow the group on Twitter (@UofUBSU). BSU has an annual membership fee of $10 that each person, including the executive board members, pays in order to join. This helps BSU fund the opening social they have at the start of every year.

If students are interested in joining the BSU board or have any questions, they can email BSU at bsuoftheuofu@gmail.com.

“No you do NOT have to be black to be in BSU nor do you have to be in order to run,” Fattima Ahmed said in an email. “We stand as a group who welcomes all!”