Equalized health care: a new beginning

Story by JUSTIN GALLETLY

Systemic racism is one of the more contentious topics of debate today.

While racism itself is well known, the matter of institutionalized racism entered the common lexicon following the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.

While the situation brought attention to the idea of police reform, one area without much publicity is its relation to health care.

Blacks generally receive worse treatment than the average white citizen regarding health care services in America. This can be attributed largely due to both implicit and explicit biases from both health care providers and staffers at hospitals and clinics.

In response to the issue reaching public awareness, many organizations are beginning to take a stand against the issue.

One of them is the University of Utah Health, which declared on Jan. 12, 2021, that “systemic racism is a public health crisis.

A way systemic racism impacts Blacks is discrimination based on insurance status, which itself disproportionately impacts non-white citizens.

Other issues include misunderstandings based on false information regarding biological differences in Black people.

Examples include beliefs that Blacks have less sensitive nerve endings, a higher pain tolerance, and even stronger immune systems than whites.

As much as 73% of white medical students believe at least one, if not more, false misconceptions of biological differences regarding Blacks.

The Office for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is helping U Health addresses the situation at large.

Dr. Jose Rodriguez is the associate vice president of the organization, and one of its leading voices pushing to see serious policy changes against systemic racism.

Rodriguez took his position in August 2018, and his immediate course of action was to get deans staffed in the individual colleges across campus to address equity and inclusion matters.

Rodriguez explained in a Zoom call that at the time, his boss was unable to meet his request, stating resources weren’t available to make it happen.

Following the murder of George Floyd, this all changed. The deans Rodriguez requested were finally filled and accommodated for.

“We understand the anti-racism war is an individual responsibility of every employee. Our diversity office has to serve as the resource and the guidepost for that kind of work,” Rodriguez said. “We’re helping each of these individual units develop plans to move more towards equity. We’re helping them to revise and review their hiring practices to favor equity instead of favoring the white demographic.”

Rodriguez added, “This injustice is not new, but the George Floyd execution put it on people’s consciousness, with people coming out to say, ‘This is not my America.’ When that happened, it brought Blacks and whites together.”

This turning point subsequently led to mandatory implicit bias training for all staff working across the different divisions across campus.

The training really focused in on making staff members address any unknown prejudices deep within them and learn to be more aware of it so it wouldn’t affect their judgement.

Dr. Jose Rodriguez

This way, all patients, regardless of their race, can receive the same treatment without fear of discrimination.

“Society has this deeply entrenched, so it’s not our job to go around blaming each other and feeling bad about it, it’s our job to end it,” Rodriguez said.

The pandemic also played a substantial role in revealing the racist prejudices in our health care system.

Early in the pandemic, it became apparent that Blacks were far more likely to die of the disease than whites, as much as 3.57 times more likely.

These statistics, combined with the ongoing struggles the coronavirus has brought to daily life and the outcry from the aftermath of George Floyd, set in motion a chance to change the U Health’s standards.

“What COVID did is it laid naked the intensely racist nature of our society,” Rodriguez said.

As a result, the U Health just hired a senior diversity leader, Mikel Whittier.

His position only exists thanks to the Office for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion insisting on a need for more diversity officers in the delivery line space at the clinic.

“The hiring of my position is the start of action in moving strong language and a strong foundation that has already been set both by the Health Sciences Department and the hospital into action,” Whittier said in a Zoom interview. “What we see across the country, especially over the summer, is there’s a lot of statements made about equity, diversity, and inclusion and how there’s zero tolerance, but we see more of the same across the institution. When there’s time for action, there’s inaction in which you become complicit in racist behavior, so this is a step in that direction.”

As a Black man himself, Whittier says he knows all too well the realities of systemic racism, given he’s been on the receiving end of it.

In 2018, he lost his stepfather to cancer largely due to the inequities in place related to cancer outcomes, with Blacks far more likely to die of the disease than whites tend to.

The consequences Whittier faced due to systemic racism even stretch back to when he was born.

“If you look at infant mortality rates amongst Black women dying of complications of birth, my mom had to stay in the hospital for six additional months after I was born, and that’s a critical time as a newborn to not have your mother there,” Whittier said.

These experiences helped shape his convictions and channel them into working to fix the system.

The different staff members at the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion are all working together in specific tasks to tackle the problem and put an end to it.

Mauricio Laguan, a manager for recruitment and retention, explains some of the ways the Health division staff have managed to make positive changes to staffing policies.

Mauricio Laguan

“We’re developing an on-boarding training for new employees to understand how the University of Utah will protect them from discrimination and microaggressions from patients and other co-workers,” he said during a phone interview.

Laguan believes one of the harder challenges, especially for a state with as little diversity as Utah, is getting more people of color hired on for medical work.

“Long term, the things that are going to need more time is diversifying the people that work here. Having more Black doctors, having more Latinx doctors, more Polynesian doctors, more Pacific Islander doctors,” Laguan said.

Despite these challenges, work is being done to hopefully make a positive change for not only Blacks but all people of color at the U’s Health services.

For everyone at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, this challenge is only the beginning.

Indeed, for all involved, the fight to end systemic racism never ends.

How Black Lives Matter Utah is tackling police reform

Story and infographics by TAESHA GOODE

Lex Scott is no stranger to a challenge.

“The movement is about hard, backbreaking work, and pain, and trauma, and death, and injustice every day of your life. That’s what the movement is about, and now the crowds have dispersed, but the work is still here,” said Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, in a Zoom interview.

As she was talking, she was driving through downtown Salt Lake City in a caravan demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd.

For activists like Scott, Black Lives Matter didn’t end after last year’s nationwide protests. In fact, it began long before. As always, she’s facing the fight head on.

The death of George Floyd in May 2020 spurred a sudden national wave of support for Black victims of police brutality. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, injustice against African Americans took center stage, as people of every race, religion and gender gathered to speak the names of victims like Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and Elijah McClain.

Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #ACAB (All Cops Are Bad) gripped social media, dashcam videos of racial profiling and violence flooded the internet and protests rocked the streets of both conservative and liberal states. It seemed a turning point for activists who had been fighting for this sort of publicity for so long. Scott was thankful for the awareness it brought, but she knew the momentum would be short-lived.

“The thing about the movement is people come and go. When there’s a high-profile officer shooting, you get a big crowd of people and then that crowd goes away, and then when there’s another shooting, they come back, and then go away,” Scott said. “Last year, thousands upon thousands of people came out, and I didn’t get excited ‘cause I’ve been here for seven years. I was like, I don’t care about you!” she said, laughing, “I care about police reform.”

For Black Lives Matter Utah, the most important initiative right now is changing the way police operate on a systemic level. Since the chapter’s founding in 2017, independent of the national Black Lives Matter movement, volunteers have been speaking out against police violence in Utah and around the country. Their current plan to tackle police brutality: take it to the capitol.

“We picked up two senate seats, we have several police reform bills passed in Utah, and the Justice in Policing Act passed the house,” Scott said.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is a national police reform bill directed to increase accountability and transparency in law enforcement, as well as implement specialized sensitivity training.

“The Justice in Policing Act gives us independent oversight of police, it gives us data collection, [a] police misconduct database, it gives us qualified immunity reform, it regulates dash cams in police cars,” Scott said. “[It] is the most important thing I’ve ever seen. It is on the same level as the civil rights act [and] it is just as powerful.”

To Rae Duckworth, vice president of Black Lives Matter Utah, that power does not go unnoticed. “I want the change more than anybody.”

According to Mapping Police Violence, in 2020, U.S. police killed 1,127 people.

Bobby Duckworth became one of those victims in 2019.

The loss of her cousin in an officer-involved shooting in Wellington, Utah, spurred Rae Duckworth’s involvement with Black Lives Matter Utah. “The pain of losing someone from a police officer — it’s a different type of pain,” she said in a Zoom interview. “Ever since then, I just dived into actively trying to make changes.”

In 2020, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, Utah Police fired at 30 people — 17 of those incidents being fatal.

The disproportionate policing of People of Color in Utah reaches much deeper, as highlighted by Amber McFee, a lawyer volunteering with the chapter. Although McFee got involved with Black Lives Matter Utah shortly after the nationwide protests in 2020, the discrepancies in charges shocked her.

“It depends on if you’re Black or white. If you’re white, you’re getting disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct,” McFee said in a Zoom interview. “If you’re Black, you’re getting inciting a riot, you’re getting charged with felonies.”

The Justice in Policing Act targets all this and more. And although the national movement has lost momentum since Summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter Utah makes it a point to showcase the power that comes from speaking up in your local government.

“The movement is losing its trendiness,” Duckworth said. “People can stay active by participating in their local committees and their local agendas with their representatives. Because speaking on behalf of your community members, those are protests in themselves, and people need to realize that.”

Although Black Lives Matter Utah knows the power in local government, creating a nationwide change is Scott’s biggest priority. “People don’t get it, we are this close,” she said. “You want to come out and protest all day, well how about you pick up the phone and call a senator.”

The end of the legislative session in Utah, however, means that, for now, the chapter can focus on other issues. Alongside gathering signatures for upcoming ballot initiatives, the chapter recently launched Utah’s first Black history museum.

Black Lives Matter Utah has also continued its work with the Salt Lake City Police Department’s Community Advocates Group (CAG), which holds biweekly public meetings on police transparency practices.

In addition, Duckworth said the chapter has become a great resource for stopping police abatements of unsheltered encampments during COVID-19.

“There are a lot of systemic issues that we can approach,” she said. “There is always growth or change to be implemented. I just think that, if people know what they want to change in their community, if they figure that out and they just go for it — that in itself is a protest.”

McFee, the lawyer volunteering with Black Lives Matter Utah, knows that dealing with systemic racism means first facing the facts. “You need to read and research things that you aren’t comfortable with,” McFee said. “Teach the truth, you’re not going to learn it in school so teach your kids the truth. I think that’s where we have to start to get to the big finish.”

For Lex Scott, who’s been active in the community for the past seven years, it’s about holding on and holding tight. At the start of this journey, “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.

But it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy. By pushing forward, she found a solid community of people who want to make real change.

She reminds us to stick to our values. “Be intersectional in your activism — make sure it includes all marginalized groups.  … Don’t expect the world to change overnight. You just gotta stick to your activism and change the world.”

The Salt Lake Commission on Racial Equity in Policing outlines its latest diversity initiative

Story by ZOE GOTTLIEB

On March 2, 2021, the Salt Lake Commission on Racial Equity in Policing issued its recommendations for the city council in tackling prevalent racial disparities within the Salt Lake City Police Department.

In a memo submitted to the Salt Lake City Council, the commission proposed that the SLCPD hire more diverse officers specifically for its Field-Training Officer Program.

According to the commission, having a diverse program is essential because it sends a powerful, “unconscious message” to officer cadets that people of color are “important in the fabric of SLCPD.”

As it stands, six of 67 FTOs, or roughly 9%, identify as people of color, according to Fox 13 data.

Utah’s law enforcement body in general consists of very few Black officers. Of all the self-reported officers in Utah, the number of Black officers is around .5%, or 25 in 5,000.

Those numbers are likely to be even lower after five police officers, including two officers of color, reportedly left the SLCPD due to increased circumstantial stress, as reported by the Deseret News.

Darlene McDonald, a commission member, says part of the challenge of recruiting Black officers comes down to two things. The first is getting out-of-state recruits over the culture shock of relocating to a place with a large, predominantly white Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints population.

Darlene McDonald is a member of the Salt Lake Commission on Racial Equity in Policing. Photo courtesy of Darlene McDonald.

“A lot of people of color really struggle living here,” McDonald said, “because of that lack of diversity.”

The other reason McDonald cites for the lack of diversity in the police department is the tendency of officers to racially profile and arrest Black community members for what are considered lesser offenses, a phenomenon called overpolicing.

“Taking into account that many men of color especially are targeted and overpoliced and end up with criminal backgrounds because of that overpolicing, those are some of the things that disincentivize people of color from becoming law enforcement,” McDonald said in a Zoom interview.

McDonald said she believes that the hurdle of attracting people of color to the law enforcement profession can be overcome if departments are willing to introduce some kind of incentive, such as relocation packages or signing bonuses.

Fred Louis is a former sergeant and one of the few retired Black officers within the SLCPD. Louis dedicated 28 years of his life to law enforcement and even worked for a time as a lead trainer in the police academy. Since 2010 he has been running his own judo business, the Zenbei Martial Arts Academy.

Like McDonald, Louis is aware of Utah’s more homogenous culture and how it can affect diversity hiring initiatives. “We got so many cultures, for example like in New Orleans we can pull from — but here, it’s kind of tough,” he said, reflecting on the cultural differences between where he grew up and Salt Lake City.

Louis also said the SLCPD would benefit from drawing community policing concepts into its day-to-day practices.

Community policing, as defined by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, “support[s] the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues.”

What does community policing mean to Louis, one of the few retired Black officers in the state of Utah? “[It means] you just have to get out there and have police officers become part of the community fabric — not just get in their cars and go from call to call without ever making contact with people in the neighborhood,” Louis said in a phone interview.

The Ogden City Police Department serves as perhaps one of the best examples of community police work. The department has divided its city into eight districts, with each of the eight Community Police officers belonging to their own district, according to its website. The police force also consists of 230 employees, including a homeless advocate and a victims’ advocate, according to Diana Lopez, community outreach coordinator of the department.

Lopez said that in her experience with the position, it is essential to have a listening ear within the department “whether there is an outcome or not.” For her, this means getting to know the neighborhood, and having someone on hand to “hear [citizens’] concerns.”

While input from and police exchanges among community members is beneficial to citizen-police relations, the officers themselves can also receive intrinsic rewards from it.

Fred Louis’ podcast Judo Ya-Ya. Having opened up his own judo practice in 2010, Louis’ podcast is all about sharing the lessons of judo among youth. Courtesy of Fred Louis.

Louis said, reflecting on his time spent as a community resource officer at Highland High School, “I get a lot of gratification out of it, right? I mean a person, they grow up, they’re doing good in life — that makes me feel good.” In all 28 years, Louis recalls this as being the proudest accomplishment of his career.

Since retiring, Louis has spent his time re-engaging with the community in new and equally important ways: teaching young kids the art of judo. In Louis’ perspective, judo and police work are intertwined.

Concepts from judo came into play in his lessons at the academy, where he learned about a practice of something called verbal judo.

“We were taught in the class OK, go up to the person and try to lower their anxiety level,” Louis said of everyday practices police officers are expected to employ, using the classic traffic stop as an example. “Verbal judo is all about letting people have their dignity and respect.”

Steven L. Johnson, CEO of Luke, Johnson & Lewis and Utah Black Chamber Chair, speaks about activism for Utah’s Black community

Story by SUNWHEE MIKE PARK

Steven L. Johnson watched in awe, as the legendary California Congresswoman Maxine Waters commanded the attention of a crowd in Utah’s prestigious Alta Club – an institution that formerly did not allow memberships to women or Black people. He could not believe that he was seated at her table, much less that they had just discussed the growth of Utah’s Black economy together. A surreal sense of pride washed over Johnson in that moment, as it dawned on him that in this room, he stood among Congresswoman Waters’ ranks as a revered and respected activist.

But it would take nearly a decade of devotion to Utah’s Black community before such a moment could arrive.

In 2000, Johnson packed up everything he owned and moved to Utah from Denver, Colorado. A freshly divorced ex-sister-in-law who needed help getting settled was reason enough for him to make the arduous 500-mile move. This decision was the first of countless others in Johnson’s new life in Utah in which he would move mountains to help those he cared for.

Throughout his first year in the Beehive State, Johnson became increasingly aware of the stark contrast between his native Denver and Salt Lake City. Chiefly, he noticed that the Black community in Utah was not only small (comprising roughly 0.7% of the entire state’s population then), but seemed also to be stalling and struggling.

Steven L. Johnson is chair of the Utah Black Chamber, and CEO of Luke, Johnson & Lewis. He is a devoted activist who has served UT’s Black community for almost a decade. Photo courtesy of Steven L. Johnson.

At this time, Johnson was used to the thriving Black community in Denver, which he recalled was akin to those of Black meccas like Atlanta or Detroit. In Denver, Johnson reminisced, Black-owned businesses had longevity and were often core components of the city’s booming economy. In Salt Lake City, however, he had trouble finding Black businesses that branched out from the archetypal barbeques or barbershops.

After a decade of wondering who and where the state’s Black professionals were, Johnson finally found himself at the Utah Black Chamber’s annual community barbeque hosted in Sugarhouse Park.

At long last, there they were. Utah’s Black business owners, professionals and community leaders. Observing Utah’s Black community at large for the first time, Johnson finally felt at home in a land that had only been unfamiliar to him until then. “I met more Black people at that event than I had seen in the [years] that I had been here,” says Johnson over the phone in a surprisingly youthful voice. “It was really eye-opening. It made me feel comfortable.”

There he met James Jackson III, founder of the Utah Black Chamber, known then as African Americans Advancing in Commerce, Communication, Education and Leadership (ACCEL). The fateful meeting, spurred on by Johnson’s wife (then-girlfriend), sparked the flame that produced two of Utah’s most revered Black leaders today. “When I met James, it was like a new beginning,” Johnson says, “[like] I might have the chance to help make a difference or a change here in Utah.”

Inspired by Jackson’s passion and devotion to the growth of Utah’s Black community, Johnson found himself increasingly involved in activism as well. But his methods transcended attending community events or facilitating networking between Black Utahns.

In 2011, Paul Law Office – where Johnson worked as a collections manager – shut down indefinitely. Johnson, however, did not lament his new unemployment. Using his final paycheck, Johnson jumped headfirst into entrepreneurship. He founded Luke, Johnson & Lewis (with partner Preston Lewis), a debt arbitration business that specializes in third-party recovery and collecting receivables.

For Johnson, this new venture was more than a simple means to earn profit. As one of the state’s handful of Black CEOs, he wanted his business to serve as a “beta test” for other pioneering Black businesses in Utah. By watching and learning from Luke, Johnson & Lewis, he hoped, future generations of Black-owned Utah businesses would thrive like those he remembered from his years in Denver.

Meanwhile, James Jackson had plans of his own for Johnson. Seven years into the growth of the Utah Black Chamber, Jackson was eager to increase its influence on a statewide level. In order to achieve such a feat, he required the strategic expertise and interpersonal skills of a seasoned legal professional. He brought Johnson on as the Black Chamber’s board chair in 2015, and later made him the chair of its membership committee as well. “Based on [his] leadership, experience, and desires … I felt [these positions] fit him the best to help grow the [Black] Chamber,” Jackson says in an email.

James Jackson III (left) and Steven L. Johnson receive awards from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. for their work in the Utah Black Chamber in 2018. Photo courtesy of Steven L. Johnson.

Nicknamed the Black Chamber’s “Swiss Army knife,” Johnson took on a range of responsibilities – from strategizing the expansion of the Black Chamber’s membership, making connections with sponsors and spotlighting member businesses on a monthly basis, to furthering plans to establish the long-awaited Black Success Center.

Johnson, in addition to running his own business, was now leading the state’s largest Black-based organization. Yet his activism was still only in its fledgling stage.

Johnson explains that his personal philosophy forbids him from feeling as though he has ever done enough. “If you feel satisfied, you’ve closed the book. The chapter’s over,” he says. That’s why, in 2017, Johnson began a partnership with state lobbyist Craig Hulinsky to start the Good Deed Law Project.

Johnson explains that the Good Deed Law Project was founded with the goal of helping people in debt find alternative ways to pay off or reduce their overdue payments. Acting as the project’s Debt Initiative director, Johnson discovered methods to persuade businesses to write off debts as charitable donations, while allowing debtors to work off their sum in community service or work hours.

So far, Johnson’s debt arbitration model at the Good Deed Law Project has resolved $385,000 of debt while producing 10,000 community work hours. Johnson explains excitedly that his model has put over 500 debtors back on track to financial stability.

“He sets an example … in the Black community. His lifestyle is to be copied,” writes Rev. France A. Davis in an email interview. Davis, pastor emeritus of the Calvary Baptist Church, is another one of Utah’s highly revered Black leaders and an individual that Johnson considers his personal mentor. As part of the latest addition to Johnson’s activism, he and the reverend have recently become members of the Racial Equity in Policing Commission for Salt Lake City. There, the pair are able to review and make recommendations to the city’s police department about its policies, specifically regarding racial biases.

Twenty-one years ago, Johnson arrived in Utah without a job, without a home, with only the feeling that he was needed, that he could help. Now, as one of the state’s most active and respected Black leaders, his foundational drive to help those in need remains the same. Despite his many titles and roles – CEO, board chair, director, commissioner – Johnson’s activism is only just beginning.

“Utah’s Black community is growing … and I want to be there to witness [its] development,” Johnson says humbly about the very community that could not exist today were it not for his tireless efforts.

Black Faculty and Staff Awards honored University of Utah employees for social justice

Story by EMALI MACKINNON 

It was a celebration of excellence, creativity and dedication. It also was a moment to acknowledge ingenuity and perseverance. 

The second annual Black Faculty and Staff Awards honored University of Utah employees for sustained work on- and off-campus in areas including social justice. 

The event, held over Zoom on Feb. 26, 2021, was hosted by the U’s Black Cultural Center. “Tonight, we will showcase, award and promote examples of excellence,” said Director Meligha Garfield. Organizers’ goal “was to bring awareness of Black faculty and staff at the university whose teachings, research, support and innovations may go unnoticed here at the university,” he said, “especially where Black faculty in higher ed across the nation is well below average — at just a little under 5% — and the retention of Black staff at predominantly white institutions are declining year after year.”

Nona Richardson won the James McCune Smith Award of Veneration, which recognizes individuals who are “awe-inspired by dignity, wisdom, dedication, and excellence” at the U. 

Nona Richardson has worked in athletics administration for more than 30 years. Photo courtesy of Nona Richardson.

Smith was an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist, and author, who led by example.  

Richardson is an executive senior associate athletics director who oversees all student-athlete support services at the University of Utah. She plays a key role in the Ute Academy and with the student-athlete U.T.A.H. Group, United Together Against Hate.

“The transformation of the U.T.A.H. Group has been very uplifting and inspiring,” Richardson said in an email interview. “The diversity within the group, the allies, the leadership, everyone is dialed in and moving along the same path. With the foundation that has been set, we hope to grow it over the years to come.” 

She provides knowledge and leadership through academic services, strength and conditioning, sports medicine, sports nutrition, psychology and wellness, sports science, student-athlete well-being, as well as her sport programs, groups and committees.

Richardson will continue to work for our student-athletes and staff, to create the best possible environment to achieve success. 

“Unless you are in the field of play, your success is not measured by the number of awards you win, but by the number of individuals you have impacted along the way,” she said. 

Similarly, another winner of a staff award was Asma Hassan. She is a program manager at the Bennion Center who leads the Utah Reads program.

Asma Hassan has a M.Ed. in Special Education and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Utah. Photo courtesy of Asma Hassan.

Hassan was awarded the Malcolm X Award for Social Justice, which recognizes individuals who have fought for justice in terms of distribution of equal access, opportunities, and privileges within our campus and greater community. 

Malcolm X was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement.

Hassan works with Title 1 schools in the Salt Lake City area where she provides resources and supplies for each student’s needs.

“Every year I’m working on making it better, better for tutors, better for the community and the students that we work with,” she said. 

Community engagement work and working with students individually is what Hassan is most passionate about. Being able to work closely with each student and understand their needs is what the Bennion Center is known for.

“I’m passionate about community engagement and will continue to live through my actions,” Hassan said in a Zoom interview. She will continue to always be aware of the community and contribute positive initiatives to it. “However small or large, I hope I can leave something that others can benefit from.” 

Lastly, Valerie Flattes, who is an assistant professor and nurse practitioner for the U, won the Madam C.J. Walker Resource Award. That prize is for individuals who have strengthened the community-engaged learning experiences and opportunities tied to civic engagement and fostered stronger partnerships between local and community at the University of Utah. 

Valerie Flattes has been a faculty member at the University of Utah College of Nursing since 2001. Photo courtesy of Valerie Flattes.

Walker was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and political/social-activist. She was a self-made millionaire after she created African American hair care products.

Valerie Flattes is dedicated to her work and her students. She considered herself a mentor and cheerleader for her students. She said in a Zoom interview, “It’s so important to get to know the community you are in because they are the people we are going to be asking to participate in your research. It’s a two-way street, you want them to do something for you but you also need to do something for them.” 

She started volunteer work at a young age. She quickly realized that she loved to be involved in  the community. It and community-based research is what inspires her most.

After receiving this award, Flattes told the audience, “I am very appreciative of receiving the award and looking forward to even spending more time especially at the BCC (Black Cultural Center) and being a mentor and a cheerleader again for students. I love it and I love teaching,” 

The Black Faculty and Staff Awards bring awareness to the Black Cultural Center, established in 2019, as well as entities including the Black Faculty and Staff Association, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Division of Equity, and Diversity Inclusion. 

Meligha Garfield closed the awards ceremony by acknowledging all the people who helped put on the program, including the Black Faculty and Staff Association

Ignored statistics: acknowledging Black resources for domestic violence and sexual assault

Story by NINA TITA

National domestic violence cases have increased 8.1% since the coronavirus stay-at-home mandates began in March 2020. According to a new study by the National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, there is a need “for additional resources for domestic abuse prevention and victim services.”

Utah nonprofit organizations like the YWCA, The Sojourner Group and We Will, are dedicated to helping all victims. They are focusing on acknowledging the historical trend of neglect in the Black community.

It is expected that more than 40% of Black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s Status of Black Women in the United States. In comparison, 31.5% of all women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Liz Owens, Utah’s CEO for the YWCA, said Black women have always faced hardship with lack of resources.

“In the domestic violence community in marketing you often hear that all domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, it happens across socioeconomic lines and across cultures. And although that is true, access to resources by which to mitigate and escape violence looks different based off of our identities,” Owens said in a Zoom interview.

This is what Owens has been passionate about in her career, intersectionality, the analyzation of how our identities can determine privilege or discrimination.

“I was really moved in part by my own experience and understanding what it was like as a Black multiracial woman, young girl at the time, growing up in a white community,” Owens said. 

Her work at YWCA comes at an interesting time. There has been an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. Owens said the YWCA and other sister shelters are always at capacity or overflowing with people in need. The lack of resources means that not everyone who shows up for help can actually get it. She and her team work together with organizations trying to find places to send women when they are over capacity.

“Based off of the anticipated 2020 census numbers, we have an over-representation of communities of color and every color of community that is reported, except for in the Asian community, and that is in our domestic violence services,” Owens said.

The YWCA also offers a variety of other services, including an emergency shelter, the Salt Lake City Family Justice Center (which provides walk-in services), transitional and affordable housing, and children services.

One in particular has stood out to Owens this past year, the community-facing groups of women of color who come to heal together.

Carol J. Matthews-Shifflett, founder and CEO of the Sojourner Group, started her nonprofit with the same goal in mind — bringing together Black women. She created Sistah Circle, an open discussion group to help connect and create conversation for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Shifflett was struck years ago, when a woman approached her with deep gratitude for her work saying, “I have never had a group where Black women can come and talk, it feels comfortable. Because there’s so many white therapists they don’t understand our experience,” Shifflett said in a Zoom interview.

Shifflett’s passion for her work started decades ago when she worked as the volunteer and donation coordinator at the YWCA after completing her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology. This is where she had an encounter that she calls her “turning point.” Shifflett recalls talking to a new woman at the shelter many years ago about her experience living there and the harassment she was facing.

“I reported it and three weeks later I saw that woman and I said, ‘So how did the conversation go?’ Because I knew that it was reported. And she said, ‘No one has talked to me.’ So, I reported it again and in reporting it again I got a message a couple of hours later that it’s been ‘handled.’ And I never saw that woman again. She was gone.”

Shifflett, deeply impacted by that experience, went on to get her master’s degree in community leadership. She gave various presentations about how Black women are historically dismissed from the conversation.

Then everything changed in May 2020 when George Floyd’s murder launched a nationwide movement. Shifflett opened up the conversation to men about healthy masculinity and the male experience, something completely new.

“Listening to Black men talk about America from their perspective, it was like re-educating America about the experiences of Black men,” Shifflett said.

Her work continues to impact the Black community in Utah particularly through education. Shifflett has various presentations, trainings and workshops online to help build relationships and open dialogue about critical race issues that impact the Black community. Her mission is to help push for change in the white community.

“What I have learned is there is a resistance, a resistance to us telling our truth. Because the story has been one way throughout history and so we always have to prove that this happened. It’s a lot of research, a lot of strain to constantly, constantly prove that what you’re saying is right. That’s exhausting,” Shifflett said.

Brittney Herman has invested hours in research. Herman is founder of We Will, a nonprofit dedicated to sexual assault prevention. She has spent hundreds of hours working on House Bill 177, aimed to amend health education in the state of Utah by providing required curriculum for sexual violence behavior prevention and sexual assault resource strategies. The bill failed in the house, but it did not deter Herman.

“Research shows that where there is sufficient sexual education, sexual assault is far less prevalent,” she wrote in an email.

Herman, although not part of the Black community, is passionate about sexual assault prevention and mitigation in Utah for all groups. She writes that Black women are more likely to experience assault for many reasons, the most prominent include the “hyper-sexualization of women of color and how that message subliminally indicates to perpetrators that they do not need consent from these women,” Herman wrote.

Shifflett echoes the same sentiments, saying young Black girls are looked at more sexually, in a way young white girls are not.

“We need to start protecting our young Black girls,” Shifflett said.

Herman’s nonprofit provides formal and informal education on sexual assault prevention, survivor support and community growth. Having started We Will from a personal experience of being sexually assaulted, Herman can empathize and relate to the aftermath of surviving an experience. Her goal is to provide all survivors the support they need following a crisis to help them heal.

“As we continue to support and empower survivors, perpetrators and would-be perpetrators will recognize that their actions will not go unnoticed, that their victims will not be silenced, and that they cannot harm others,” Herman said.

If you or someone you know have or are currently experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault contact:

Utah’s Sexual Violence 24 hour crisis line: 1-888-421-1100

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine: 1-800-897-LINK (5465)

Resources:

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition

Utah Coalitions Against Sexual Assault

The Black Student Union provides space for Black students, even during pandemic

Story by MASON HARDY

The Black Student Union at the University of Utah provides a safe space for both Black and Indigenous students to be themselves and work together to achieve racial equality in the community. The organization continues to press on, despite being unable to meet in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maryan Shale, BSU president, described the organization as a cultural space to cultivate conversations and discussions for Black students on the U campus.

“We’re trying to promote ethnic pride for Black students, and making sure they have a sense of belonging on campus,” she said during a phone interview.

The mission of BSU is “to foster a sense of community among all students of the African Diaspora at the University of Utah. Our goal is to simulate the intellectual, political, cultural, and social growth of all Utah students.”

The mission statement also includes goals to educate the U community, with the goal of raising awareness to ignite change in communities.

During a normal semester, the BSU would set out a table during student orientations in attempt to recruit new students to the organization. But the pandemic has forced campus organizations and the U to devise other ways to recruit members.

BSU members at the 10th Annual Legacy Banquet, honoring Dr. Laurence Parker, 2020. Photo courtesy of Maryan Shale.

“We’re just here as a reminder, a space for Black students. Like, hey, we got your back,” Shale said.

The University of Utah held a virtual festival where new students could go to see what clubs and organizations exist on campus. Students had the opportunity to see each club and organization via the internet, learn more and join the groups. Shale said this festival presented accessibility issues with students being unaware of the website, and others not having internet access at home.

“A lot of students don’t even know how to navigate Campus Connect when they’re first coming to campus,” she said, explaining the small turnout the BSU faced this year.

The organization continues to use social media, email and word of mouth to promote the BSU to students, with little response. Shale said the BSU utilizes hashtags via Instagram to direct-message potential members. The organization also uses a group message to spread the word of meetings and events.

The BSU utilizes its Facebook page and Twitter account to engage the community. It is here that announcements for events are posted, students share their experiences with the organization, as well as share fundraising opportunities. The social media accounts serve as a way to connect to current BSU members and connect with people and students who may not have otherwise discovered the organization.

Tierra Yancey, a four-year member of BSU, said she’s been able to foster positive relationships through the organization. Not just with fellow students, but also with faculty and with community members outside the university.

Among student population at the University of Utah, only about 1% of students identify as Black or African American.

Arnold Gatoro, former president of the Black Student Union, said in a May 2020 interview he hoped to help “create a more diverse school at the U so we can all open our eyes just a little wider.” Another goal was to “increase the retention of black students and create a better sense of community here at the U.”

In addition to increasing awareness and educating the community, the BSU puts on events to promote pride within the Black community. In 2020, activities included a Welcome Back Family Reunion where the BSU provided food, music and activities, a movie screening with food and discussion, and a Black History Trivia night.

Along with events, the BSU promotes social justice on campus. With injustices such as the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the BSU wanted to play a political role at the University of Utah.

“We actually wrote a resolution in support of Black students at the university,” BSU President Shale said. “We had the help and support of the Associated Students at the University of Utah (ASUU).” It included 22 recommendations toward improving the lack of diversity in faculty and staff, lack of retention of Black students and lack of scholarships and resources for Black students. The Academic Senate approved the resolution on July 16, 2020.

While the organization does work to combat racial injustices, Shale said the BSU does not discriminate against political views. “We don’t discriminate against anybody. You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to be in our organization.”

The Black Student Union continues to push for a place, whether online or in person, for all Black students at the University of Utah, regardless of background, political views or academic major.

While the pandemic makes it difficult to meet, the Black Student Union continues its work to ensure a safe and uplifting space for its members and fellow students.

“We are more than just a number. We are more than just a student. We are trailblazers, we are resilient, and we belong at the U,” BSU member Tierra Yancey said.

University of Utah Friday Forum tackles racial inequity

Story by MASON HARDY

A panel of leaders in community philanthropy met Feb. 26, 2020, for a virtual Friday Forum focused on efforts to achieve racial equity in the workplace and the impact of philanthropy on communities of color. University of Utah President Ruth Watkins acted as moderator to the forum.

On the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion website, Friday Forums are described as a way to bring in “national thought leaders to lead discussions and provide opportunities for participants to share ideas on actionable items towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.”

Clockwise from top left: University of Utah President Ruth Watkins with Kym Eisner (Craig H. Nielsen Foundation), Valerie Rockefeller (Rockefeller Brothers Fund), Corie Pauling (TIAA Financial Services). Caroline Altman Smith (Kresge Foundation).

Watkins began the forum by asking Corie Pauling, chief inclusion and diversity officer of the TIAA, to share her perspective of philanthropy and the kinds of interests in institutions that she has seen.

“Equity is the promise of what inclusion stands for. It is some of the gaps that we see in education, socioeconomics, health care and unemployment. We are going to tackle those,” Pauling said.

She said 2020 was an eye-opening year for many American citizens regarding the reality of modern-day racism. She talked about philanthropist organizations, and the intent to make racial inequity less of a moment and more of a movement, making investments accordingly.

“What was really groundbreaking about it was that it unearthed a desire to talk about anti-racism as a calling and obligation, and responsibility of everyone,” she said.

Pauling emphasized the importance of data when it comes to social and racial equity as it relates to inequality in America. She said making an investment in accurate data can form complete opinions of “what is my role in this?”

To put racial inequity and racial injustice into perspective and give some context to what the panelists discussed, a July 2020 Brookings survey of 5,500 nationally representative respondents from each of the 50 states, revealed the following:

  • 1 in 3 Black men born in 2001 will spend time in prison in their lifetime
  • 1 in 1,000 Black men and boys will die at the hands of police
  • 1 in 3 Black children live in poverty
  • 1 in 10 Black adults were not able to pay rent or mortgage in the past three months

The information listed above is only a small portion of the results from that survey.

“It’s hard to argue with data,” Pauling said.

Watkins asked panelist Caroline Smith, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation’s education program, to discuss the research the foundation is doing.

She said the organization surveyed people to see what it should focus on in the next three years. The response overwhelmingly called for racial justice.

“We did this survey at the end of 2020. I don’t think you would have seen that answer at the end of 2019 or the end of 2018. It’s certainly quite indicative of the racial reckoning that began in the last year,” Smith said.

Watkins acknowledged the work the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is doing with the University of Utah to help advance diversity and inclusion.

Kym Eisner, executive director of that foundation, brought up its research, and the focus on researching data for policymakers.

“Being able to get good, solid, evidence-based information into their hands to inform decision making, is a very valuable contribution,” she said.

Smith emphasized the work of researchers to improve racial equity in the workplace, and called on them to make a difference in the community.

The Friday Forum series are free events for the community and students to attend. They offer a way for Salt Lake City residents to gain a better perspective of the community around them. Prior forums covered “A Call for Racial Healing,” “Confronting our Racism” and Establishing Anti-Racist Policy.”

For more information, or to sign up for future events, visit the website.

A video-on-demand version of the Racial Equity and Philanthropy Friday Forum is available here.

More than a Black female athlete

Story by EMALI MACKINNON

For student athletes, being recruited by a top university is a goal. They spend years practicing and traveling to events, often missing out on school activities such as dances and free time with friends and family.

The stress of being a top athlete is even more difficult as a Black female competitor, who may experience racism, sexism or isolation. 

Maya Lebar, a sprinter with the University of Utah Track and Field team, became interested in sports as a child growing up in Spokane, Washington. 

Her adoptive mother allowed Lebar to pursue anything she was interested in. At the age of 4 she developed an interest in competitive skiing. 

“Skiing was always something that my family has loved to do,” Lebar said in a text interview, “so it’s really just a family tradition. My mom had skied since she was little and was happy to find out that we had a really good ski program up on Mount Spokane for me to learn how to ski.”  She graduated from the program and became a completive skier. 

A few years later, Lebar knew she wanted to do more than skiing.

Cecil Jackson, a competitive track and field coach, noticed Lebar when she was in eighth grade and competing in local middle school meets. “He was the person who really helped me learn about track and field and feel confident enough in my abilities to pursue it seriously throughout high school,” she said. She began to train with Jackson with an eye toward running at a collegiate level. 

Shortly after training with Jackson, she began to get recruited from local and out of state colleges. 

The University of Utah was one of those schools that stood out to her the most during the recruitment process. 

Lebar caught Coach Chad Colwell’s attention during her senior year of high school.

She set a personal record in the 400M. The sprinting coach quickly noticed her potential. 

Lebar, who is Black, said she was initially hesitant about attending school in Utah. There is little diversity at the university and even less among the Utah athletics.

“My family was concerned for me and questioned my decisions for coming to Utah. I was nervous that there weren’t a lot of Black people and were less in the athletic community,” Lebar said in a FaceTime interview.

But, once she began to talk to her potential coaches and take a tour of the campus, she said she immediately fell in love. 

Colwell said in an email interview, “After speaking with Maya over the phone, I knew she was someone who we would be interested in not only as an athlete, but as a student, teammate and person. I remember after our phone call thinking how articulate, confident and smart Maya was. And this was reinforced after speaking with her High School coach who raved about Maya both as an athlete and a teammate/leader.” 

Lebar committed to the University of Utah and adjusted quickly. 

Maya Lebar was recruited to run the 400M, 200M and relays. Now she runs short sprints focusing on the 100M and 200M. Photo courtesy of Maya Lebar.

She said her teammates became her best friends. She appreciates how they push her into becoming the athlete she wanted to be. They had the same goals in mind and were just as committed as she was.

One of her teammates at the time was Kat Lakaye. Lebar and Lakaye instantly become best friends and roomed together their freshman year. “Maya was someone who is so strong, determined, intelligent, and would have your back no matter what, she was the type of person you always wanted around,” Lakaye said in a FaceTime interview. 

Despite becoming friends with teammates, she faced challenges as a Black female athlete. 

There wasn’t a space or environment created for her and Black teammates. Over the years, Lebar has been one of the main student athletes on her team to advocate for the rest of the Black athletes and talk about the problems they were facing among their teams.

 After speaking out and creating an environment to be heard, Lebar said she feels more supported now than ever. 

“The school has done a really good job at listening and responding to our needs. People need to see us and create an environment where we feel supported and welcomed also,” Lebar said. “It has become easier to be a Black female athlete now with all the resources and communities Utah has created for us.”

Lebar decided to major in political science with an emphasis in law and politics. She has a dream of one day becoming a lawyer or a civil rights attorney. Her passions include speaking out for social justice and being an advocate for those who have been wronged by the justice system. “ It is so important to know what is going on in the world. Educating yourself and having the ability to speak out on important topics is so empowering,” she said. 

She is a part of a group called “UTAH Group,” which stands for United Together Against Hate. Within this group she plans events and puts together meetings that cover important topics about social injustice within the community and Utah. 

Some events she has organized are Say Their Names Memorial, United Walk, Indigenous Peoples Day Art Walk and Black Reflections Exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. This type of work is what Lebar is most passionate about. 

The reason this became her passion was due to the event that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2018. “I have always been so passionate about social justice stuff. But it all started after the Charlottesville rally in 2018,” Lebar said. “I then realized systemic injustice is really real. This was such a huge moment for me. Yes, I grew up in a white family but I am Black and I am extremely affected by it. I knew I had to become more educated about everything. I began to read about everything like people in history and people that no one knows about. I researched everything until I understood.” 

A fire was lit inside her and she knew something must change and she was going to be that change. 

How redlining practices affect the health of Salt Lake City’s west-side communities

Story by TESS ROUNDY 

The link between housing location and race in Salt Lake City is not coincidental. Discriminatory real estate practices, loan programs and local city ordinances created segregation in a practice called redlining. 

In the 1930s the Home Owners’ Loan Corp. (HOLC), with help from local banks, real estate agents and city officials, designed a map outlining which neighborhoods they deemed ineligible for home loans.  

The criteria used for grading these neighborhoods were age, housing upkeep and public amenities. If neighborhoods had high minority concentrations they were outlined in red, regardless of other criteria. Although redlining is illegal now, it still affects our community. 

An example of local redlining in the 1930s. Credit: Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America.

Four local leaders discussed the problems it has caused and offered ideas to redress inequities in a panel discussion held Jan. 20 at the University of Utah. “Reframing the Conversation: Good Trouble and the Redline” was among the events offered during the annual campus-wide celebration of MLK Week. 

Franci Taylor, the director of the U’s American Indian Resource Center, explained that people living around Rose Park, Poplar Grove and Liberty Wells, all redlined areas on the west side of Salt Lake City, were denied mortgages. However, HOLC readily gave loans to those living in the Sugar House and Avenues neighborhoods, and near the U.

Redlining west-side communities has had greater consequences than access to home loans. 

Freeways bypass many of these Salt Lake City neighborhoods, which causes health repercussions for the people living there. Panelist Ashley Cleveland, a city planner for Salt Lake City, said members of her family and community who grew up on the west side have asthma and other diseases connected to environmental factors. 

Ciriac Alvarez Valle, another panelist, underscored Cleveland’s anecdote by noting that these redlined neighborhoods have higher rates of chronic illnesses, infant mortality and health disparities. To make matters worse, there are no hospitals on the west side.

Hospitals aren’t the only outlying amenity for west Salt Lake City. Neighborhoods in this area also are characterized by fewer schools, parks and grocery stores. “The conditions of the environments where people are born, where people learn, where people live, where people worship are the things that affect the quality of life,” Valle said.

The panelists discussed what U students could do to combat the effects of redlining. Cleveland recommended reading publications about city planning, housing, and environment. She urged students to sit on Salt Lake City’s Community Council. Additionally, the U offers community-involvement opportunities like the Bennion Center, The Hinkley Institute of Politics, and University Neighborhood Partners.

The panelist Fatima Dirie runs a program called Know Your Neighbor. She urged students to volunteer and get connected with individuals from minority communities. “Really hear their lens and their story from their own perspective,” she said.

The panel, held virtually this year due to the pandemic, concluded with Cleveland’s endorsement of a quote by Gregory Squires, a professor of public policy and public administration at George Washington University. In a 2007 article he linked housing patterns to general economic inequalities and said, “Where different groups of people live and the homes in which they live are not simply neutral or random demographic phenomena. They profoundly influence the allocation of rewards in the United States.”

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