State & Community Leaders Move Forward towards Racial Equity

By: Ramy Ahmed & Taysha Tiatia

On July 16th, community leaders from the Multicultural Commission and the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission (MLK Commission) met in a formal public body with state leadership, Governor Gary R. Herbert and Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, to follow up from the June 3 Joint Commission meeting to discuss action steps towards reform in law enforcement and racial and systemic equity. Panelists included Governor Gary R. Herbert, Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox,  Ms. Emma E. Houston, chair of the MLK Commission, Mr. Byron Russell, Co-Chair of the Multicultural Commission, and Utah State Representative Sandra Hollins. Ms. Houston provided welcoming remarks to community stakeholders that traveled from various parts of the state and attended through an online platform. Governor Herbert then reviewed reform initiatives promised to the community from the June 3rd meeting, with the assistance of Kim Cordova, Executive Director of Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety. These included:

  • Legislative initiatives and executive orders banning chokeholds
  • Implicit Bias, Active Bystander, and Diversity & Inclusion training for the executive branch
  • The formation of a Racial Equity & Inclusion Fund through the Multicultural Subcommittee
  • The convening of a Racial Equity & Inclusion CEO Roundtable

Governor Hebert then turned the time to Commissioner Anderson, and the Director, Kim Cordova, to speak on areas of improvement. Director Cordova discussed a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge for government leaders followed by a 8-part training series facilitated by an international bias trainer and community experts. Commissioner Anderson then listed the 19 areas of reform that were identified during several meetings with advocacy groups and community members. Commissioner Anderson also mentioned that an implicit bias training has begun with state troopers. This training would enlist the help of university professors throughout Utah.  

Pictured from Left to Right: Emma E. Houston, Governor Gary R. Herbert, Byron Russell, and Representative Sandra Hollins

Next, Simba Maponga, MLK Commission Co-Chair, led a presentation discussing survey results, which outlined the communities top policy priorities. The survey, which solicited responses from black community leaders and members, stated priorities for criminal justice and school reform. In order of importance the five criminal justice priorities are:

  1. Enhanced training for police on working with multicultural populations
  2. Utilizing the least amount of force
  3. Increased community policing, more use of non-police social services
  4. Data collection to ensure equitable enforcement
  5. Increased use of body cameras

And the three school reform priorities are:

  1. End the school-to-prison pipeline and end zero tolerance policies
  2. Improve quality of K-12 education for youth of color
  3. Develop a human rights curriculum framework for Utah students on racism, bias and inclusion

After a unanimous vote, each Commission agreed on these priorities as a starting point for future policies, which could become potential bills sponsored by our esteemed legislators. 

Commission members and community leaders gather for a formal meeting with state leaders to discuss police reform and racial justice.

The meeting then opened up to community members to speak on these areas of concern and improvement. Comments included educating the public on such topics as parent inclusion and defining commonly used terms. In addition, students from Weber State University and the University of Utah discussed inclusivity in higher education. They spoke about increasing funding for students of color and implementing Black Cultural Centers at all universities. Lastly, other community members voiced the importance of sustainable policies despite changes of leadership, ensuring accountability for the Utah State Board of Education, and measuring the success of these implementations. 

“If all we do is talk, we will fail. “

Governor Gary R. Herbert in his opening remarks.

In closing, panelists expressed appreciation for the extensive work and support of meeting leaders and community members. Mr. Russell, added a significant note about the recent status with the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and Utah Division of Indian Affairs. In the wake of recent events, Governor Herbert made the executive decision to include Nubia Peña, director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, and Dustin Jansen, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, as a part of his state leadership team. This ensures that a voice of diversity and inclusion is present when making decisions “on the economy…safety…and education,” according to Russell. 

While having this communal dialogue is necessary, the committee reiterated in their closing remarks, this must be a movement not a moment. Although these discussions are important in bringing about sustainable policies, action is required. Governor Herbert’s opening words resonated throughout the meeting and left a call to action, “If all we do is talk, we will fail.”