Visions of the Future: Emerging Leaders in Utah

What is an emerging leader? To start, the term “emerging” means becoming apparent or prominent, up-and-coming. An emerging leader can be found in each of our young people and youth who are advancing equitable causes and projects, already engaged in leadership and advocacy, or finding their way to define what being involved in their communities mean to them. So this is not to say that they don’t already have the qualities to lead and affect change, but they are finding ways to let their stories & lived experiences inform their voices to play a role in leading and shaping our society’s future. 

Resilience in the Face of a Crisis

Across the state, youth and young people have faced the collective challenges and traumas of this past year with resilience and bravery. Many transitioned to schooling online, attending in person while practicing social distancing, some celebrated graduations over a screen, and others had to face compounding disparities of health and socioeconomic gaps due to a pandemic. This directly affected their learning and social emotional health. National reports show that college students of color have disproportionately felt the educational effects of the pandemic due to many who were juggling work, school, family responsibilities, with the growing effects of systemic racism that left many underrepresented communities especially vulnerable. 

It is easy to slip into a deficit mindset when discussing the gaps and inequities aggravated by a difficult year, but it’s important to celebrate our emerging leaders that are committed to persevering despite hardship and their ever changing environment. They are not to be underestimated and their experiences are their strengths. They are the future lawmakers, healthcare professionals, business leaders, and community advocates, and some are even starting their professions right now. We are seeing younger and younger people become involved in our political systems and proposing innovative ideas to address issues at their root causes and to do so urgently. ”It’s so important to have different people in places of power so that we can better represent Utah and the needs of the people,” said Jenna Rakuita, who ran for State House Representative of Provo’s 63rd District in 2020 as a recent graduate and one of the youngest candidates. She added in an interview with KUTV, “If you want to impact your everyday life, get involved in [your community].”

Young People Have Been at the Forefront of Every Movement

History and current events have shown us that young people have been at the forefront of every social movement, calling for awareness, justice, and reform. From the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the summer protests and activism that sparked from George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, the aftermath of injustice has largely been amplified by young voices. 

These young leaders have asserted their strength in a variety of ways. Such as leading protests, breaking patterns of mental health stigmas, pursuing learning and an education, and even simply befriending someone with new perspectives. These leaders may be young, but their authority is grounded in experience and they have shown that we must expect progress and foster collaboration in order to shape a future that will allow our most marginalized communities to thrive in all spaces.

“Young people have been at the forefront of every social movement, calling for awareness, justice, and reform.”

Elevating Emerging Leaders in Utah

In light of many of Utah’s higher education institutions celebrating graduations and the end of trying semesters, the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs has reflected on the powerful influence that young, emerging leaders have had on the state and will continue to do so. We put out a call to college partners in Utah to elevate emerging leaders and their stories. In spotlighting a handful of these leaders who were nominated by their educators and mentors, we encourage our broader communities to affirm, welcome, and honor the emerging leaders of today so we can have a brighter tomorrow.

Andrea Leynad Cabrera Ortega, Brigham Young University

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Communications – Journalism, Minor in Business Management (2021 Graduate)

“When I think of the future, I see helping hands reaching out, and I hear powerful voices speaking up. I embrace vulnerability and use my heritage to empower others. With my hands, my voice, and my honest efforts, I am transforming the future.”

Arthur Federico Diaz, Utah Valley University

Area of Study: Bachelor of Arts, Communication Studies (2021 Graduate)

“As I start my career in public relations, I hope to bridge media activism, research, and ethical critique in meaningful ways that raise critical consciousness through public discourses. Youth from diverse groups need positive stories of excellence and resilience spotlighted in the media to challenge the widely reported trauma and suffering experienced by others sharing their identity background. I envision a future where media representation moves beyond tokenism and performative activism, and instead inspires organizations and public figures to be reflexive about aligning values and practices to dismantle inequities.”

Babiker Abdalla, Salt Lake Community College

Area of Study: Associate’s in Business Management (2021 graduate)

“I always put God first in my life, which sets the foundation of everything I do, and has been the reason for my success in life. When I reflect on my academic journey I will attend the University of Utah before pursuing my Master’s and Ph.D. My dreams are to focus on my education and family and second to expand my entrepreneurship internationally and be a role model for pursuing higher education and giving back to my community. My vision for the future is to start a business in my hometown of Khartoum, Sudan in providing home healthcare systems in refugee camps. Only through doing my part in obtaining as much knowledge and experience can I make changes for my family, community and future.”

Deaun Saxby, Westminster College

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Finance (2021 Graduate)

“I envision a world of people who continuously educate themselves on systems of oppression that dangerously affect the Black community, specifically regarding Black women. With my background in leadership positions ranging from sports to higher education, including being Vice-President of a predominantly white institution, I’ve held significant conversations through various mediums to bring people to a place where they acknowledge and challenge their privilege. I hope to further equip my peers on how to be a genuine ally to the underrepresented communities that have suffered way too long.”

Jasmine McWilliams, Westminster College

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Psychology – Mental Health Counseling (2021 Graduate)

“My vision for the future is for mental health and health care services to be affordable and accessible to everyone. My goal is to advocate and create changes in policies that allows for underrepresented people to know that they have these resources and that there is no shame in using them. When I become a therapist, my main focus is to work with the underrepresented population and provide affordable resources and care for them.”

Maegan Castleton, University of Utah

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Film and Media Arts – Emphasis in Creative Writing and Animation (Future 2022 Graduate)

“My hope is to utilize my degree to produce creative, engaging work for local, non-profit, or government organizations. I will use my work to help support the people’s voices, and bring their stories to the spotlight. With enough creative juices to dedicate to my own personal illustration projects, I will also turn my degree into a multifaceted tool that can adapt to any situation that comes my way!”

Mahala Sutherland, Southern Utah University 

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Sociology & Psychology (2021 Graduate)

“In the future, I envision a better society where historically underrepresented students have more opportunities to succeed and thrive in higher education. I plan to be a part of that change by pursuing a career in advocating for underrepresented students at an administrative level.”

Maria Lopez, Utah State University 

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Psychology (2021 Graduate)

“I hope to live in a world that is full of acceptance for people of all backgrounds. Professionally, I’d like to work with misunderstood members of society to help treat mental illness and behavioral disorders through clinical therapy, but I mostly hope to help eradicate the stigma surrounding these types of struggles. As an immigrant and DACA recipient, I’ve experienced my fair share of discrimination, but I’ve also met some incredible, selfless people who have helped me get to where I am. One day, I hope to be that person for others and do my small part in being the change I want to see in the world.”

Mayra Cardozo, University of Utah

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in International Studies, Emphasis in Global Health (2021 Graduate)

“My vision of the future is to help create systems that are welcoming to our BIPOC communities and truly celebrate their strength and resiliency. I hope to make that happen by pursuing an MPH to be able to advocate for our BIPOC communities through our health care system. Unfortunately, in growing up, hospitals and health care systems were not viewed as a place to heal but rather another criminalizing institution. It it was where all my identities crashed. I was undocumented, low income, and Latinx. I felt like I was completely unseen. I hope to create positive change within our health care systems so all families feel welcomed and feel like they are supported.”

Nailah Mansa, Weber State University

Area of Study: Honors Bachelor’s of Integrated Studies, Emphasis in Graphic Design, Business Leadership (2021 Graduate)

“When I envision the future I picture a world in which we no longer have to fight for equity and justice but those are values that are woven into the fabric of our society. My vision of the future is one in which BIPOC are truly free and are no longer burdened by violence, food disparities, or a lack of rights and resources. I plan to integrate equity, intersectionality, and justice into all the work that I do. My goal is to create community programs that focus on BIPOC mental health, environmental justice, and asset ownership all of which are passions of mine. I hope to follow in the footsteps of the phenomenal Black women that inspire me such as Angela Davis, Marsha P. Johnson, Nicki Giovani, Betty Sawyer, and Alicia Garza.”

Obaid Barakzai, Westminster College

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in International Political Economy (Future 2022 Graduate)

“Through my passion and work as a global leader, I am hoping to empower my underrepresented communities of color by creating many seats at the table for them to speak up, to be heard, and to be seen. I firmly believe that my equity efforts at a college level and beyond can collectively help make a change by building an inclusive world, one that is more accepting and serving our diverse interests. I vision a future of hope, a future where we all feel bigger than ourselves, a future imbued with stronger cross-cultural connections, and a future where we feel and see that our voices matter.”

Obaid served as Westminster College’s 2020-2021 student body president.

Ramy Ahmed, University of Utah

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Health, Society, & Policy (2021 Graduate)

“My vision for the future is to leave the world a better place than how it was when I found it. I understand not everything I do will have a global impact, but if I can help improve the lives of those around me, by being the best version of myself, then that goal will be achieved. Focusing on the little things while also providing positivity to people’s lives will make an impact that could potentially be the catalyst for change, as they also grow and improve the lives of others around them. This chain reaction of positivity can only lead to growth and eventually the change that we want to see in the world”.

Samuela “Sam” Tupola, Dixie State University (In Memoriam)

Area of Study: Bachelor’s in Integrated Studies

“Sam has a saying, ‘more life’. The mission is to live one’s best life and to improve the lives of those around you. Sam served one term as the President of the Multicultural Inclusion Student Association (MISA) for the 2020-2021 academic year. During that short time, he instilled that passion in his friends, his organization and campus wide. With sadness, Samuela Tupola passed March 2021 after a car accident. But his mission continues to have an impact on MISA leadership and the staff.” 

Response written by Dr. Tasha Toy, Chief Diversity Office of Dixie State University and mentor, in honor of Sam’s legacy.

Sinthia Rosado Veronica, Salt Lake Community College

Area of Study: Associate’s in Nursing and Sociology (2021 Graduate)

“I imagine a future where we treat each other with kindness, equity, and respect. A future where together we work towards uplifting our communities and towards a better future. I hope to make a change in my small part of the world by emulating my vision and treating others with kindness and respect. Through advocacy and volunteer work for the undocumented community, I hope to help provide resources, opportunities and contribute to a world where no one feels that their status defines them because it doesn’t.”

Taysha Tiatia, University of Utah

Area of Study: Bachelor’s of Science in Economics (2021 Graduate)

“The possibilities are endless! Whether I am in tech, event-planning, or community organizing, I hope to be breaking the glass ceiling as a female-leader who values compassion, community, and diversity. My overall vision for the future is to be an inspiration for young women of color to show that they too can be strong, empowered leaders in whatever industry they choose.”