Persevering through a Pandemic: Students’ First-Ever Virtual Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit

cloayza Students

By: Taysha Tiatia

This year, the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs (MCA) partnered with Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) to host their annual Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit for students in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. However, due to COVID-19 social-distancing measures, the division had to pivot its efforts in holding an in-person event to ensure a safe and healthy experience for emerging leaders. This led to MCA hosting their first-ever virtual Leadership Summit where more than a thousand students and educators from over 40 schools gathered in their classrooms, auditoriums, gymnasiums and homes to join via Zoom. 

This year’s theme was “Reflect, Reengage, and Reignite,” which was aimed at encouraging students to reflect on their emotional well-being, reengage in the way they view economic justice and financial empowerment, and reignite their commitment to higher education and a rewarding career. The Summit featured a diverse set of presenters to speak on each topic in three main breakout sessions. 

Mental Health. The Summit breakout sessions kicked off with the first topic focused on mental health. With major changes imposed on schools and schedules due to the pandemic, this topic was important for young students in navigating their emotional well-being through such unprecedented times. During the session, Eric Tadehara from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Dr. LaShawn Williams of Relational Spaces, shared ways students can practice self-care and seek out mental health resources.

Financial Empowerment. The next breakout session was on financial empowerment. As the importance of financial literacy among youth rises in Utah, it is essential to introduce these concepts to students of color as financial empowerment and literacy are not as centered among diverse communities. Kaika Cole, a youth mentor and health policy analyst, presented to the students an introduction to financial basics such as what it means to save, budget, and invest. Cristi Millard from the SLCC Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships also shared ways students can pay for college and prepare for FAFSA applications.

College & Career Readiness. In this last session, the Summit introduced a discussion on diverse pathways in college and career readiness. Moderated by Kevin Nguyễn, panelists spoke on their own unique career and college journey. Representation matters and students of color need to see themselves reflected in a variety of spaces so they can succeed and thrive while feeling affirmed in their lived experience. The panel discussed a wide array of professions and college pathways to show students they can see themselves as leaders no matter what their passion is or where they come from.

Additional notable speakers for this year’s event included keynotes and inspiring remarks by Governor Spencer J. Cox, Lieutenant Governor Diedre M. Henderson, Salt Lake Community College president Dr. Dencee G. Huftalin, and Mohan Sudabattula of Project Embrace who collectively shared messages of unity to the young leaders.

“Remember to take care of yourself first. Mental health has become of paramount importance for [students].”

– Lieutenant Governor Diedre M. Henderson

With opportunities like these, the division hopes to create a pipeline for education and youth leadership for students of color to promote a more inclusive and welcoming state. 

We invite you to check out more of our leadership events and programming at Want to relive the Summit or experience it for the first time? You can watch a recording of this year’s event on our YouTube Channel.