Sheer Ambrosia: a businesswoman’s journey

Story by JUSTIN GALLETLY

Sherrita “Rita” Magalde is the owner of Sheer Ambrosia, a small business based in Salt Lake City dedicated to baking baklava to sell to customers.

Over the last year, Magalde’s business has reached new heights.

She’s seen a big spike in sales and has met arguably the greatest commercial success of her business’s lifetime.

However, it wasn’t always glitz and glamour for her brand, as she, like many up-and-coming small-business owners, ran into many roadblocks along the way.

Many of these roadblocks predate her business’s very foundation and go back several years before she even came up with the idea to sell homemade baklava.

During a phone interview, she explained that she’s been involved in independent, entrepreneurial endeavors stretching as far back as the mid-90s.

In 1996, she and her then-husband moved from Spain to Salt Lake City due to its reputation as a great place to go skiing.

She started a small mortgage brokerage and later ran a travel agency with her husband.

Despite her success with her independently run business, her relationship with her husband wouldn’t last in the long run.

“We were six years into running the travel agency when we got a divorce and neither one of us wanted to leave the business. So we tried to make it work, but I was very unhappy so I decided to quit. I still wanted to be a business owner, but I wanted something that was all my own, so he bought me out of the agency in 2008, which is when I also started the bakery,” she said.

Rita Magalde

Magalde always enjoyed cooking and baking, having grown up learning from her mother.

Baklava, the dessert Magalde’s business is built around, was primarily learned from hanging around a Greek family she worked with while growing up in North Carolina.

“The baklava has stuck with me through the years, so I decided I wanted to see if I could turn it into a business. So I decided to start slow from home and got a cottage food license from the Department of Agriculture and began my baklava business then,” Magalde said.

Despite her experience running independent businesses in the past, the transition was not a smooth endeavor.

“One of the big differences between running a travel agency and a bakery is now you have to deal with inventory,” Magalde said. “It also isn’t as lucrative a business as a travel agency, so I’m selling my baklava at $3 a piece and wasn’t able to hire people right away. Also, unlike when I began the travel industry, I now had two children and was without a partner.”

She also refused to take any bank loans and only used the funds she gathered from selling her share of the travel agency.

The barrier to entry felt much steeper than previous endeavors.

Over time, she was able to find a degree of success with her business.

In 2013, five years after beginning Sheer Ambrosia, she took a big step to legitimize her business.

She ventured out into a commercial space in hopes of getting more people to take her business seriously.

“I put $50,000 of my own money into the space to build it out and was able to legitimize my business and really bring Sheer Ambrosia to the forefront. People weren’t taking me seriously until I did that,” she said.

Although while her business continued to do well, it didn’t do as well as she had hoped.

After the death of her father, Magalde decided to cut back, as the long hours which required her to work upward of 16-hour days every day of the week took its toll on her.

“I decided to sell the space to another bakery and moved Sheer Ambrosia back into my home,” Magalde said. “I fell into some debt, and my son who was graduating high school wanted to go to an expensive college. So I said I’m going to sell my home so I could get out of debt and allow my son to go to the college he wanted to attend.”

Things got especially stressful when the pandemic hit.

 Magalde’s business, like many small businesses, was severely hit when it all began.

“No one wanted baklava, they all wanted toilet paper and hand sanitizer, so I had to get another job to make ends meet when the pandemic hit,” she said.

Rita Magalde

Then, in the midst of the pandemic, a tragedy occurred that shook the entire nation to its core.

“In horror, we got to see George Floyd murdered before our very faces by a Minneapolis police officer. Black people have been watching this kind of thing happen for years, and it seems as though the white community has been oblivious to it,” she said. “Right after that, there were so many white folks in the community who decided they wanted to support local Black-owned businesses.”

While Magalde was initially reluctant to embrace this swell of support because she didn’t want to feel she was capitalizing off a tragedy, she changed her mindset when she realized how it played into a good cause.

“I started to think about it and saw that these were people who don’t necessarily want to protest in the street. They don’t want to get out there and hold a sign and yell, and walk the street protesting that way. This is their way of putting their money where their mouth is by supporting Black-owned businesses,” she said.

She also came to realize that while they may initially support her business because she’s Black, that didn’t mean they would continue their support if her products weren’t satisfying.

“It’s still my job as a business owner to make sure they want to come back by giving them a quality product and amazing service. So it’s not going to be free service, I still have to earn their repeat service, so this a challenge for me,” she said.

The success led to a busy holiday season, one where she would need some additional help if she was going to continue thriving.

Helene Simpson and her daughter, Desi Hayda, offered their services.

“She’s very dedicated. She’s very grateful for everything, and it’s hard that it was the death of somebody which created an influx of sales, her product is what continues her business and for people to come back to her,” Simpson said during a phone interview. “It’s not just because people think ‘Black Lives Matter’ and only supporting her for that reason. She sells quality products, has excellent customer service.”

Simpson said she appreciates Magalde’s positive guidance.

“I think she’s very thorough. Just how she explains things to you and wants things done, and that’s to be expected because everything she does is pretty perfectionist, so you just follow her instructions and help her out when you can. She’s awesome to work for,” Hayda said.

“Now I’ve got a following that I can parlay this into growth for my business, and I’m hoping for one day to quit my second job and go back to running my business full-time,” Magalde said.

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.”

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

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.

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.”

University of Utah discusses racialization of homeownership on President Biden’s first day

Story by SUNWHEE MIKE PARK

MLK Day 2021 arrived in a timely manner – just two days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The transition marked a political shift that many Americans saw as synonymous with the return to progressive social attitudes and the renewed start of efforts at racial unity after four tumultuous years under the previous presidential administration.

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s lasting legacy, the University of Utah’s Department of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosted a series of events throughout the week of Jan. 18, aptly titled “Good Trouble.” Those words were uttered by John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil-rights icon who died in 2020.

One event during the week held particular significance: a virtual seminar on the topic of redlining. This practice was exercised by American banks and federal bodies until the mid-20th century to exclude minority families in underprivileged neighborhoods from receiving mortgages or homeowner loans. Areas were defined by red lines on maps, hence the term “redlining.”

While the practice has been outlawed for over half a century in the United States, the vestiges of this discriminatory act are still widely visible to this day.

The event, “Reframing the Conversation: Good Trouble & the Red Line,” was held via Zoom on Jan. 20, the day of Biden’s inauguration. Afterward, he signed multiple executive orders. One extended the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium to allow nearly 40 million Americans to keep their homes until late March, according to the Washington Post. Many of the homeowners that the order impacts are minorities who reside in redlined regions, the Aspen Institute reports.

The virtual seminar introduced a panel of leaders from within the Salt Lake City community: Ciriac Alvarez Valle, a recent graduate of the U and policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children; Ashley Cleveland, a board member for Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee and nonprofit Curly Me; Fatima Dirie, policy advisor for the Mayor’s Office of New Americans; and Franci Taylor, director of the U’s American Indian Resource Center. The conversation was moderated by Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of University Neighborhood Partners.

Mayer-Glenn posed a series of prepared questions which covered a range of topics — from the implicit ways redlining practices remain today to their long-term effects in modern American society. Some panelists shared personal stories about the challenges they have faced in homeownership as Black and Indigenous women of color.

“Redlining went from legal to insidiously hidden,” Taylor said about the ways discrimination can still be seen in homeownership today. (The Fair Housing Act banned the practice in 1968, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.)  She said it is painfully obvious when noting how many exits and entrances go in and out of Salt Lake City’s minority-rich, lower-income west side compared with the whiter, richer east side. Taylor said this was an intentional design implemented by the government to minimize access into wealthier Salt Lake City neighborhoods.

Other panelists discussed how redlining affects their personal lives. Cleveland, a new mother, explained that redlined minority neighborhoods pose serious health issues, especially to children and pregnant women. Their proximity to freeways causes rampant asthma, and a lack of healthy food options in these “food deserts” leads to high numbers of patients with diabetes and hypertension. But minority families are unable to escape these conditions because of the continued effects of redlining today, Cleveland said, expressing how difficult it is for her and her daughter to live healthily.

The seminar, however, was not restricted to a gloomy discussion about how minority groups have been, and still are, disenfranchised by redlining practices. The latter half of the event breathed an air of hopefulness to an otherwise dismal topic, as panelists were asked how they fight to overcome discriminatory challenges, and how American society as a whole can move forward.

Valle, the youngest panelist, suggested the equal dispersion of resources to all communities, regardless of their populations’ racial backgrounds or financial statuses in order to ensure their growth. She explained that constant participation in community activities, especially by the younger generation including students, would gradually help to raise redlined neighborhoods out of a continuous cycle of poverty and neglect.

Later in the discussion, in a moment undeniably evocative of King and Lewis during the Civil Rights Movement era, Taylor said the fight against discrimination and hatred must be taken on as a daily chore. The key, she said, lies in refusing to tolerate discrimination nor embracing the fear that comes with it each day.

In a separate email interview with Mayer-Glenn, she explained that conversations like these play an important role in informing communities about how certain laws and policies are enacted to promote discrimination. When people become educated about structural racism and biases in their communities, she said, they can then take part in “good trouble” by voting for representatives who will fight to eliminate inequality and racial disparities.

As the event neared its end, it was clear that the hour-long conversation represented a much larger phenomenon occurring at that very moment: America ushering in a new administration with the dire hope of overcoming its deep and painful racial divisions. Panelists and moderator of the event alike seemed to be ardently optimistic as the conversation came to a close.

Valle, the young panelist, quoted the words of Lewis himself as the mantra for her work, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Mestizo youth make difference on Capitol Hill

Story by ALISON TANNER

Though it varies by seasons, the sun rises early over Salt Lake City. The bright glow peeks over the Wasatch Mountains until the entire Valley is bathed in golden light. Cars flood Interstate 15, as drivers make their commute north, south, and everywhere in between.

The hustle and bustle of the day-to-day continues outside, while dedicated students gather on Capitol Hill right as the doors open at 7 a.m. They engage in powerful discussions regarding political implications of bills in the state of Utah. Then they head to their respective schools to continue the rest of their day. 

For over 10 years, students of color — primarily those in high school — have been determined to let their voices be heard.

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The Mestizo Arts & Activism Legislative Internship provides an opportunity for high school students to a gain valuable learning experience during the 2020 State Legislative Session. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

In 2009, the Mestizo Arts & Activism Legislative Internship (MAALI) was created by University of Utah professor Matt Bradley to inform students about educational and political pipelines. This opportunity provides young students with hands-on working experience and a chance to interact in a legislative environment.

Although Bradley died in 2012, his legacy is felt and cherished by minority groups and his impact is seen across the Salt Lake area. Also serving as a co-founder for the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, Bradley created MAALI to help people of color and minority groups remove barriers toward higher education.

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MAALI students attending the HB 271 committee hearing. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

The internship usually includes five to seven students, who are high school sophomores and juniors. From the end of January to mid-March, students meet regularly three times a week or more, often spending hours at a time to discuss perspectives and make plans. The diverse group of youth track bills, write analyses and interview legislators, while participating in lobby and liaison engagement.

Itzél Nava, University of Utah student and mentor at the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, also oversees responsibilities for the MAALI internship. Nava coordinates much of the program assigning reading and curriculum, facilitating discussion, managing recruitment of students each year and scheduling.

Nava said that although many people want to help minority communities, they often don’t listen when people of color share their voice. She added that in order to understand what issues minority groups are facing, you have to go to the source. “We are that source,” Nava said in a video call. 

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The students follow bills that could potentially affect SLC’s west-side communities and prepare themselves to continue lobbying. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

One high school student shared with Nava that until participating in MAALI, they hadn’t considered attending college as an option in their future. Once they had meaningful experiences and learned how they could impact their community for the better, they felt empowered and capable of pursuing higher education.

“Our voices matter,” Nava said. “Young people are the future of our country. People of color should take up space. They’re just as qualified and intelligent and their experiences matter.”