SALT LAKE CITY — In many ways, 2020 was a reminder that there are still many social injustices that haven't been solved or addressed.
Following a difficult year for the subject, Utah officials hope they can find a way to acknowledge the problems that still exist and work out ways to find solutions to them in the near future. Gov. Gary Herbert pointed to difficult moments from throughout the year as he introduced a new Utah Compact that seeks to address racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
State and community leaders hope the compact will be a guide in handling the situation. It seeks that all Utahns "must have a truly equal opportunity to prosper" and that economic inclusion "is essential to creating these opportunities."
The document puts forward five principles and actions aimed to push existing progress on the issue further. The principles are:
- Acknowledge and action: Acknowledge that racism exists and that actions make a difference. "We call out racism wherever we see it and take purposeful steps to stop it."
- Investment: Invest time and resources to create "greater opportunity for people of color." It states that "eliminating racial and ethnic disparities requires our significant effort and investment."
- Public policies and listening: Advance solutions to "racial ills" by listening and creating policies that "provide equal opportunity and access to education, employment, housing and health care."
- Engagement: Engage "to effect change." This includes "equitable representation and deeper connection across social, cultural and racial lines."
- Movement, not moment: Unite behind a common goal for equal opportunity for all. "We affirm our commitment will not just be a passing moment, but a legacy movement of social, racial and economic justice."
Herbert announced the compact on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Tuesday, with members of multiple minority communities standing behind him holding signs that read parts of the compact language.
"Some have said that we're doing fine. But we look at the status quo — I say can say it's not good enough," Herbert said. "Wherever we are on the spectrum, we can do better and we should do better. The need for this is undeniable. It's significantly important to us as a society."
The new compact was created after a tumultuous year of race relations in the United State and globally, particularly in the days and weeks following the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25. Reaction to a video of Floyd's last moments before his death sparked protests all over the world, including in Utah. Some of those protests grew into riots. For example, the Utah National Guard was called in to quell a riot that sparked outside of the Salt Lake City Public Library on May 30.
Many more events focused on social justice and police reform through peaceful protest. On June 4, a group of about 2,000 people gathered across the street from the state Capitol to listen as Black Utahns shared their stories regarding the issues before completing a march that looped around downtown Salt Lake City and ended back at the Capitol.
There have been other efforts to address issues raised. Herbert announced on June 11 that Utah's director of multicultural affairs and director of Indian affairs positions would participate in weekly leadership briefings after those positions were "elevated virtually into a cabinet position" in the governor's office. Officials from the governor's office also recently completed a six-month racial equity training program and met with community leaders to address the issue.
Herbert on Tuesday lauded the compact as "another positive step forward in our ongoing effort to end racism and injustice" and a more equitable union. That said, he acknowledged it will still a difficult journey to achieve the goal it sets out to accomplish.
"It won't be short, and it's not going to be easy, but it's going to be worthwhile," he said.
The compact introduced Tuesday aims to be a guiding document for Utah organizations and businesses to use to promote anti-racist policies and actions.
Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank; Gail Miller, president of Larry H. Miller Group; and Derek Miller, president and CEO of Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, were among business leaders who signed the compact Tuesday.
Gail Miller referenced a speech she gave in 2019 after a video surfaced of a heated argument between a Utah Jazz fan and NBA guard Russell Westbrook during a game that year. That argument, Westbrook said, came after the fan directed an "inappropriate" comment toward him, which he said was tied to his race. Days later, Gail Miller stood on the court of Vivint Arena and said "we are not a racist community."
"I feel included to apologize for that today. I have since learned that we are and we need to face it," she said Tuesday, before acknowledging the many minority groups gathered at the Capitol for the event. "Every gathering that we have should have this kind of diversity in it. We need to be able to include everyone."
Utah's director of Indian affairs, Dustin Jansen; Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City; and Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, were among several individuals of different backgrounds who also supported the compact.
This compact is the first step, and I'm excited to see that the state of Utah is ready to lead out in this in the United States.
–Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City
Hollins said that many of Utah's representatives of color worked long before they even held office to promote change and create more equality.
"I'm proud to see that we now have allies and other people who have come on board —some of my colleagues in the House and Senate — who have come on board and said, 'We understand. We're now ready to start working on this. Tell us how we can be an ally and tell us what we need to do,'" she said. "This compact is the first step, and I'm excited to see that the state of Utah is ready to lead out in this in the United States."
Iwamoto added that she believes the compact is "another positive and compassionate Utah moment" amid "unbelievably trying times in our state and world" and hyperpolitical division.
Claudia Loayza, the special projects and community engagement coordinator at Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, credited "the youth voice" and organization leaders for helping keep the issues in the limelight. As discussions of racial inequity move forward into action, she said she believes that minority groups need to be considered when crafting future legislation and communities.
"The decisions we make today should share a sustainable and thriving future for generations to come," she said. "Move by truthfully conferring the past and coming together in identifying justice-oriented solutions."