Academic Success Coordinator, Center for Ethnic Student Affairs, University of Utah
Basically I want you to go back in a time machine here. Go back to when you were a kid, and we are really looking at the Civil Rights Movement and how people became aware of it. Do you remember when you first became aware of this notion of Civil Rights and the movement?
Probably as early as I can remember. I come from an activist family. My mother was school board, I mean, PTA president. She was in NAACP president involved in the church community so there was always discussions and awareness and meetings going on in my life and the family.
Did you decide to participate in that or did you sort of just observe it going on? How did that affect you?
In our family we didn't have a choice on whether or not to participate. I'm the youngest of six children and everything that my parents were involved in we were involved in. She took all six of us to meetings and we sat there and were quiet until she finished and that's just the way it was. So just by listening and being there we were made aware and so as we got older then, you know, you had the opportunity to enjoy going or to fight going and so it was a lot easier to just go with the flow.
How did you participate?
I grew up in a segregated community so the house I lived in was on the border of the black and white community. My backyard in the fence, you know we would talk to the white kids through the fence and so we would ask questions about, you know, why they're there, we're here. Why am I different? You know the colors are different, I don't see them at school, those kinds of things and so that's the discussions we had around the dinner table. You know about folk being different, these are the times, and from an early age I traveled even further south. I was born and raised in Maryland on the eastern shore, but both my parents are from North Carolina and so we had very different experiences in North Carolina than we had in Maryland.
What decade was this?
This was from the early, well, the late fifties, early sixties. So until I graduated high school in ‘71 so.
Were you aware of Martin Luther King and the marches?
Yes, very much aware. Like I said, there were discussions at home. There were discussions in church. People from the community actually you know got more involved and others and participated in those discussions. Speakers would come to the local college there - Maryland State, Eastern Shore and so we would go and listen to speakers that talked about the Civil Rights Movement and what was going on and not to go down to these stores or when to go and what, you know, what we're not going to buy and those kinds of things were going on that time.
So what did that feel like? What did it feel like to be participating in this big movement at that time?
It was exciting to me. It was one of those things you're being a part of history. It wasn't like you were watching. So we couldn't wait to be able to get out there and do something. When do we get to stand, and when do we get to sit in? When do we get to do those things? But my mom was very cautious about it because at the same time there was a lot of violence and threats of violence. So, she wanted to protect us. So, she would try to make us stay home when things were going on in our own community and in neighboring communities. So, it was exciting but at the same time we recognized that there was danger in getting involved.
Were there particular activities when you were a bit older that your mom might not have wanted you to participate in?
Oh well, I was one of ten children that was selected the year I graduated from the sixth grade. I came home from school, we were out playing during the summer and three of my teachers and the principal were at my house, and it's like, oh my goodness, what is going on, I'm in trouble. And come to find out they were there to ask my mom if I could go and be a part of this group to integrate the local high school, and this is, you know, over ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, and our schools on the Eastern Shore are still not integrated, and so my mom said yes and I was - didn't want to do it, you know, reluctantly agreed to do it because my whole life I had, you know, gone to the all black high school with my siblings to see the plays, the band, the sports teams and couldn't wait until I got to wear the black and gold, and now they were telling me I wasn't going to be able to do that. So, I was disappointed. So when I did have the opportunity to be a part of that group of ten, I had a rebellious nature already and so would do things to not necessary instigate, but I wasn't passive at all during that period of time.
What kind of things would you do?
(laughter) You're making me tell on myself. Well you know I would-I would get the students together to rally, you know and refuse to do certain things and um not go along with certain teachers that we felt were racists and all of that. So we're not going to go to this class, we're not going to participate in this event.
Then you come to Utah. What was that like, to go from Maryland to Utah? Tell me what year you came hear and what that experience was like.
I came to Utah in 1975. I graduated from Morgan State University in Baltimore in May of seventy-five, September seventy-five. I was in Utah and it was deathly cultural shock. It was like stepping back, you know, people joke often about you know come to Utah step back twenty years, but really that's how I felt in terms of some of those early experiences I had. Initially it took me a week to see the first black person. So, I was like where am I? This can't be real; I know there has to be a community some place. So, I would ride around town every day looking for that community, but I couldn't find it, and so I was riding down on State St. one afternoon and saw a black gentleman walking down the street so I almost got in an accident trying to stop and wave and yell to him, and he looked at me like I was crazy, and so that was my first impression of Utah. Yes, that I had kind of stepped back in time and this place wasn’t real. There weren't places like that where there weren't black people.
In what ways was it unreal? In what ways were you treated that shocked you?
As we met, you know, white people, whether you were in a grocery store or it didn't matter and that didn't happen to me. People just walk up and grab your hair, it would kind of catch you off guard. To have whoever's standing in line behind you or in front of you was like 'ohh', and you're like 'excuse me?', 'ohh your hair is so nice', or whatever. That's different, yeah. So culturally it was, you know, you don't touch other people unless you definitely know them, but then to feel on the hair and things of that nature you could be hit some places for doing stuff like that. (chuckle) But you know not wanting to be aggressive I would just like okay, this is different.
How does that make you feel when you're treated like that?
An oddity, you know and that's the look, you know you would get that look like and kids would stare and point and their parents would be trying to put their hands down, you know, because they hadn't seen black people before or maybe had not seen a person up that close, but for quite a few of them it was there first time having a black person that close to them. So, yeah it was like I said I couldn't believe it, that hadn't happened to me for you know ten, fifteen years so but it was happening on a regular basis here in Utah, and it wasn't just me. It wasn't unique to me, you know, when I did finally find blacks in a community they were having those same experiences.
What other forms of discrimination did you find?
People wouldn't serve me. You could go to the clothing store, department store, you could be standing in line and they'd turn away and wait on everybody else, and you know like 'excuse me', and what would shock me even more is the person they would wait on would go ahead and be waited on instead of saying 'no, she was in line before me'. They would accept, you know that discrimination themselves and go along with it and you could stand there for awhile and you would have to definitely speak up and said excuse me and there was a 'just a minute can't you see I'm busy?' And so it was like 'okay, I'm out of here', and so you started being selective about where you would shop.
What about today? Have things transformed?
Of course. They've changed, but unfortunately at the same time, especially since President Obama ran for office, one election, we've seen - I've seen just the heightened level of insensitivity and disrespect and you know, hate speech and all of those kinds of things which are very alarming and disturbing in this day and time.
Yeah, have you experienced things personally or seen that?
Yes, I had the opportunity to run for State Senate not long ago, and knock on doors that didn't want to be opened, those kinds of things. So, yeah I experienced that 'no', you know, just very bluntly or look through the thing and see you and not come to the door at all. So yeah it's still going on, unfortunately.
Why do you think the election of an African American president has stirred that up?
I think just like people in the black community probably always dreamed that this would happen in their lifetime, there are probably people in other communities who have swore it would never happen in their lifetime. So, those two forces meet and this is what we end up with.
Someone else I interviewed told me that, “Utah has the nicest racists.”
Yes, smile, so polite, and disregard you at the same time.
Talk to me about that. Talk about how racism in Utah is expressed.
I think for the most part if you talk to anyone from this state they would not even believe that they were racist or discriminatory. They believe that they're really nice and fair. You know, I've applied for jobs and you know some of the questions are reasons why I didn't get the job. I had one position I applied for and the guy was really nice and interview went really, really well and then at the end he says 'I'm concerned about you being involved with the NAACP'. I'm like 'why would you be concerned about anyone being involved with an organization that stands for justice and equality and fairness?' Of course, I didn't get the job, you know, and so those things happen all the time, but very nice and he wouldn't think that that was discriminatory even to ask me that question. I had applied to a program at the U of U when I first came here and the interview panel one of the gentleman asked me what color church did I go to, and I'm still trying to figure church what does that have to do with you know any of this, and I said 'red brick' and a couple of people laughed and kind of told him 'you can't ask that, you can't ask that', and it's like, okay, welcome to Utah.
You've been active in the Ogden NAACP. Describe the NAACP for people who don't know. Tell me what NAACP means and what the organization does.
NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was founded in New York in 1909, so it's the nations oldest Civil Rights organization, and at its forefront, working for fairness and equity education, jobs, you know commerce across the board in any of our public institution as well as working with the private sector to dismantle any and all forms of racism, sexism, genderism - all of those things because discrimination in any manner, any form is detrimental to the whole, and Ogden as well as Salt Lake, has had long standing local associations, local chapters of the NAACP. When I first moved to Salt Lake I became a member of the Salt Lake branch NAACP, and then when I moved to Ogden, got involved there, and they worked all of those years on, you know, working with the school system to make sure there was fairness and equity going on there and to address, you know, complaints of discrimination. Work and housing you know for many, many years there was a lot of redlining going on where blacks couldn't buy homes or even rent homes in certain parts of the community or were steered to certain parts of the community. So that's the kind of work that they got involved in. Even in higher ed a lot of concerns and complaints on discrimination in hiring and with students would take place there and they would get involved with those things as well.
You're somebody who has seen the spectrum. You've always been involved in activism-
Get in trouble.
Get in trouble. Where do you see in that spectrum where students are today? Is activism still alive, does the Civil Rights Movement still have meaning for students today?
I think it does and it's a lot of issues over the past couple of decades that have, you know, called students to come together, when they felt that their livelihood or something that was important to them was being threatened. Most recently even on our own campus students became very involved around immigration issues. They became very involved when, you know funding was to be cut to the university, when tuition was going to be hiked, and so they continued to get involved and there are a lot of departments and student groups who are very much focused on social justice issues. But in a lot of ways it's different than it was but we're still seeing them get involved, do marches, sit ins, silence, you know, using different forms of social justice tactics to kind of get the word out, and for me I think it's great. I'm encouraged by that because oftentimes a silence is perceived as you don't care, it's not important, and you almost give people permission to do whatever it is they want to do without regard on how it's going to impact people, and so it's definitely like the motion and the movement we started in the sixties but there is still some activism today and I think it's important that that continues because it was students who made such a difference during the Civil Rights Movement. Oftentimes even the leaders in the movement recognize the youth as those that didn't have to be afraid of losing their job, they weren't afraid of not having a house to go to when they went home and so they were more able and free to be at the frontline and then on the college campuses like the one I attended. I attended a historical black college - Morgan State, and you know to be active was just normal. That's what you did you got involved. If there was something you didn't agree with, if there was something that you wanted to see happen on campus, people talked, they got together, had a rally and you showed up with signs and did what you did. So, even though it's not as pronounced as it was then there's still a good level of student activism.
Go a little deeper into some of those differences. How activism is different than it was in the sixties. Maybe what's different for the students themselves?
I think in the sixties with everything that was going on in the fifties, you saw discrimination and things of that nature as a clear and present danger. It was in your face all the time. People didn't try to hide it. They would snarl at you, throw stuff, say whatever anytime they feel like it and it was it permeated society, you know, little kids did it. It was like how did they know to say that word? Who taught them that? You know, so it was always in your face, and so the response was the same way with that same kind of intensity even though the effort was non-violent you were very much convicted to take a stand and to get your message across. I think today because for a long time a lot of the racism was more subtle people tried to be more intellectual, more polite and conciliatory in there efforts to bring those issues to the forefront. But I think recently as a response to the rhetoric and very negative, hateful rhetoric that we hear on open media from people in high places politically, and leadership, I think students are beginning to raise their level of their voices a little higher, a little stronger to kind of mirror that and recognizing that if we don't do something we'll begin to go back and lose the rights that others have fought so hard to gain for us.
There's that sense that Civil Rights is a living thing.
Describe how Civil Rights is a living thing.
Oh, one of the past presidents of the NAACP, Benjamin Hooks, he just passed away this past year, was fortunate enough to be at the one hundredth anniversary celebration of the NAACP in New York, but he had a motto saying the struggle continues and it's true, and we see that today. Many of us during the sixties and seventies thought that we had fought the battles, won the war, we could relax a little bit, but while we were relaxing other people who had different ideas and wanted the country to go back to where it was, and we hear that same rhetoric 'we need to go back to the good ol' days', and I'm like whose good old days are you talking about? Because mine weren't the same as yours. But anyway, you know, when we hear that kind of rhetoric, we know that we have to become more active again. For example even with school integration we thought, you know, to have the schools integrated once we got there everything would be great. We didn't look at institutional racism as a whole, and the fact that we had to continue working on those schools because they reluctantly integrated. Some of them just recently complied with some of those standards and so we thought that's all that was needed. Not that we had to be there to be watch dogs, we had to make sure were accountable and safeguard those things. And then we look today a lot of schools are just as segregated today as they were back in the fifties and sixties. Charter schools and other things of that nature would pop up. When I was in in school when we first integrated those high schools a lot of the white students left, families moved, took their kids out of school went to private school, and we saw that happening again but they say it's not for those same reasons but we still saw a lot of white families take their children out of public schools and like I said in Utah we saw the rise of charter schools-which are a form of public schools but you know those opportunities and options, and choice don't effect everybody the same way. So, the struggle does continue, we can't let up. One of the areas I see the struggles still continue in- we fought for access to jobs and to expand that pool of people to apply for a job and recognizing that everybody has to stand on their own merit. But in recent years we see arbitrary initiation of other tools to help segregate that population of people that can apply for a job. For example, many jobs today ask for a credit check whether you're having anything to with money or any kind of fiduciary responsibilities. On the surface it could look quite harmless 'oh well what's wrong with that', but if you come from a community who wasn't taught about credit, don’t understand that if you didn't pay your light bill on time that may go against you - this credit card if it’s late for this many days, and that stays on your record for seven, ten years whatever. So, you may have the best qualifications of anyone but the job now can say 'op your credit is too low'. So to me, that's one of those new forms of discrimination that someone in some think tank in some boardroom figured out this is another way that we can keep those folk out.
What about in education, especially in Utah, a lot of people are like, we have a small minority population here and there really isn't an issue. How does institutional racism rear its head in terms of education?
It does. Again, if you look at the number of people of color that are even educators. Even today we have schools in some of the most diverse communities and school districts that don't have African American teachers. It's like, you tell me nobody's going into education? We're not recruiting from outside so we see it just in employment, we see it in issues around minority achievement gap, and as if students of color or low income people can't learn, and that's not true. When I grew up everybody was poor, everybody I knew was poor, but everybody was taught to and talked about going to college, going to trade school, and you did that. You know the numbers of African Americans that graduated from college in the fifties and sixties is on par with what we see today probably even greater numbers then, and so institutional racism is real, and it's still impacting us in terms of access to education, access to knowledge, access to funding, and whether or not you will be encouraged to go forward with your education or you end up dropping out and there's a lot of students that end up being dropped out. They get pushed out even today.
Give me a definition of institutional racism.
I'll give you an example and then I'll go back to a definition. In Utah with the number of people of color so low, what is the justification or rational why the minority achievement gap mirrors that of the country? With the numbers being so low in Utah why are the statistics around health disparities mirroring that of the nation as a whole? Those things aren't inborn and inbred, so where's the - what's going on here that students in Utah are experiencing or having the same results as some students in Chicago or Baltimore. To me, that makes no sense. To me, that's institutional racism. There are things that are going on seen and unseen, whether it's someone's perception that a child of color can't learn or can't learn at the same speed. So, instead of giving them expectations and raising the bar they lower the bar and make excuses, 'oh well they're poor,' 'they come from a single parent home so we don't - they can't do this we don't have to do these things'-that's institutional racism and that's how it raises it's head that allow us to look at the kind of statistics that we see today.
I want to talk about some issues that might be coming up in the legislature. One of them is this notion of trying to appeal affirmative action. The argument is that it's a form of bias, it's a form of racism, and that fact that we've arrived we don't really need this anymore. How do you respond to that?
My question to them was, you know, could you cite a time when you felt discriminated against by, you know, someone in the workplace that was black by having them there; did that hurt you in some way working alongside a black person? I don't know how we could even say that affirmative action is wrong. It's how people define affirmative action, and from the beginning it got the bad rap of letting less qualified people in that were people of color. I've been in job situations where my boss was less qualified then I was, and you know without degrees without all of that, and I'm saying that's affirmative action - not me. You made me jump through every hoop possible. I had to cross every t and dot every I, just to get an interview with you, but other people didn't. I've gone to places to work where I was the only one with the degree but everybody's supposed to have a degree but other people were working on their degrees, and so for people to say that we've arrived and it's discriminatory I think they're living kind of in fantasy land. They're not dealing with reality, at all. All affirmative action does is say, let's expand that pool. Let's open the door. Everybody still has to stand on their own merit, and so you know, we joke about there's always been affirmative action for white people and now that we get a little door open we're going to shut it close and say we've done our part, we shouldn't let them in anymore. I think that's absurd, it's really absurd to think that we've arrived when ninety-eight percent of the jobs may still go to a certain race of people when you know you look at Fortune 500 companies and who has them and everybody that's there did not get their own merit. I know it would be nice if that were the case but that's just not the case, you know.
When you were active in the sixties, what did you think personally that that movement would succeed? What would it cause?
I think the back of my mind I hoped that people would genuinely love one another. One of the things that kept me from being a total radical was, you know, my mother's prayers, but she would always remind us that we're not better than anyone, no one's better than us, we're different. We supposed to love each other, treat people the way you want to be treated. You know the golden rule, all of those things, that was at the bottom line. Hate was not a part of any of that, you know even if you were angry you know she would immediately say no this is what you do, you pray for those that despitefully use you. Vengeance is God. You don't have to worry about that, you just, you know, do your part. The same people you meet going up, you meet them coming down. Treat people fair, you know, treat people the way you want to be treated and so I thought that that was going on in everybody's house. (laugh) I really did, and so until, you know, I went to an all white school and got cussed out and called bad names everyday it's like where did they live to act this way? And they call us heathens? Okkayy. You know so I expected people to do the right thing, and I think that's one of the challenges today with repealing affirmative action. Those proponents are trying to tell us that people will do the right thing - act in a just and moral way. I haven't seen it yet. The only way we were able to have progress during the Civil Rights Movement was legislatively. The Supreme Court became our friend and things did not happen until they happened legislatively, through the courts, and it's the same way today. You may have a few people - I don't put everybody in the same basket - but you may have a few people that will do the right thing, but overwhelmingly the pressure even on them - just like it was in the Civil Rights Movement. If you act like you want to help somebody different from yourself you got a bad name, you may not get invited to the company party or the neighborhood dinner, and so for white people to stand alone they had to take risks as well and we still see that today, and if you talk to young people they're still dealing with some of those things today. They have friends that are told not to play with them. Not as much as it was when I grew up but they're still having some of those experiences. Or you act like this and, you know, people assuming that if you talk a certain way, dress a certain way, you're acting a certain way they want to label you.
So then there isn't a sense that we've arrived? That dream hasn't been realized?
No, we're far from it, but as an eternal optimist I still believe that everyday we get a little closer until we have to deal with, you know, things around affirmative action, things like that. That is, reminds us that the struggle continues. We have to work a little harder. We're not there, we can't rest and it's unfortunate because dealing with issues around race and racism is very tiring work. It's emotionally draining, it's physically draining, it's stressful, it affects your health - your mental health, your physical health, your spiritual health and I would love to take a holiday from all of that stuff. I really would but unfortunately when I think I can sit down something else comes up and if not me, who? If not now, when? And I think a lot of us that are some of the holdovers from the earlier movement when we think we can go home and rest - Judge Uno mentioned that the other day, you know they keep bringing me back out because we still need it. We still need everybody to be involved in this in this process and this work because there are people who are determined to take us back to the fifties, and the forties and the thirties or wherever they want to go and that just can't happen. Separate bathrooms, going in the back, back in the day my mother worked at the local - at the public library and she cleaned the library because most of the time that was the only kind of work that was available for blacks, and on Saturday we would go down with her because we didn't have school and play in the bathrooms or whatever we did, and the white ladies would come in and run us out, 'what are you doing in here, coloreds can't come in here.' And they had of course the worst looking place around the back that you know the sign for 'coloreds only' and we could get pretty sniffy and say, you know, ‘my mother works here, she cleans this and we can come in you know anytime we want to’ and they would like try to run us out and, you know, I had the colored water fountain and it was always, you know, look like something you wouldn't even want your animals to drink from and those kind of things. So somebody's trying to take me back there they're going to have a hard time. (Chuckle)
You’re going to go kicking and screaming?
Ï definitely will, definitely will.
It's hard for me to really wrap my brain or soul around this sense of discrimination, the magnitude of it, because although I’ve faced some forms of discrimination, I’m white. I haven’t had that experience of having somebody judge me because of the color of my skin. Help me understand what that’s like for you.
It’s very disheartening, you know. You have to be a strong person to withstand those things and not let it, you know, eat away at you and not doubt yourself. I was very blessed to be raised in a strong, spiritual family so I grew up knowing that I was all right. God created me, loved me just the way I am and so what other people said didn't affect me as much but it affects you, but I was always reaffirmed in my home, in my church and so that enabled me to deal with that, and not lose heart and not lower my own self image, but that's not the case you know for everybody. There are people today and I believe that a lot of the negative behavior that we see with a lot of young people today is a direct result of not being able to deal with the discrimination. Not being able to deal with the racism. Not having those internal tools that I was blessed to have to know that they're okay and no one else can affirm me but me, you know. They're looking for someone else to tell them that they're okay and when the people that you respect, the people you supposed to admire and look up to - whether it's your teacher, your doctor, the police - when they're the ones that are delivering the discrimination it is very hard for people to bounce back and trust again, and so that's a part of the challenge that we have today. It hurts, discrimination, racism hurts and so it hurts even more when people will say 'oh I didn't do that, that's not what it was all about, oh you I know', play it off like you have a mental problem for even suggesting that that was a racist act, or a racist thought or a word that they did to you. So you have to constantly deal with that, not only the racism, and the pain of that - I call it cultural pain. You can't necessarily put your hands on it but you know how it feels. You know the feeling. I had a son who in his class when he would ask to do something it was always 'no', but anybody else 'yes'. And for him it's like, I think my teacher is racist, you know. For a child to have to make those decisions and deal with those kinds of things are really hard, and you can't put your finger on it all the time but you know when someone has treated you a certain way. There's a feeling that goes along with that and it kind of gets in your gut. To say wow I thought we arrived, or what was that all about, did they really say that? It hurts, it hurts and you have to go home and build yourself back up and come out the next day and go through that all over again. So, for our young people I don't know, you know, it's definitely a challenge and a lot of them try to pretend it doesn't happen. A lot of them try to blend in the world and not really be too black or too Latino or too whatever because to be themselves may open themselves up to that cultural pain on a daily basis. We have a professor at the U who has coined a term; he calls it 'racial battle fatigue'. That you know dealing with racism on a regular on-going basis is - it has it's negative effects.
Yeah, it's something I can't even; I can't walk in your shoes.
Yeah. It's real, it's real.
How do you cope?
There's an old African proverb that I use on an ongoing basis it's kind of reaffirming to me and where I fit in the scheme of things in this world, and it says 'I am because we are and because we are therefore I am', and it just shows the connectedness of all of us. You know, when I would want to be angry or something like that I recognize that I'm not in this alone. That everything I do, and who I am, is a sum total of all of my experiences. So, I embrace all of those experiences, so that I can have a better perspective on life, so that I can look at people differently-even when I experience discrimination myself. If they're a part of me, I can't hate myself so I can be a little generous and more forgiving with other people as well and recognize even people that don't recognize that we're all connected. We're all in the same family. We're all in this together so what you do to me you're doing it to yourself so you need to recognize and be more positive, be more open, be more honest with yourself. And if someone does have a tendency - those racist tendencies they need to talk about it instead of trying to pretend that they don't. I think that's even more damaging, even for me, if I have racist tendencies or at times when I would want to discriminate I have to be honest with
about that, and have people to be honest with me about that. I don't think that was you know fair what you did, what's going on? Because I think it could happen to anyone and when we keep telling ourselves, not me, that's when you make yourself more vulnerable to discriminate against other people and not even recognize other people. Which in of itself is sad when we don't take the time to recognize each other.
It is. So bottom line, why should people care about Civil Rights in Utah?
I think Utah of all places should care because of its history. It has an activist history, it has an activist past. They could have stayed back East but they didn't they came here to find a place where they would fit, where they could start over, where they could be treated equally and fairly, and so to me this is a prime place to take the lead in bringing about equity and fairness and showing the world how it's supposed to be done because they had their own story, their struggle is intertwined with other people's struggles. And so Utah's a prime place that should care. Utah is a place that continues to welcome the world so in welcoming the world it's more to it than saying you're welcome. You have to act that way, you have to be that way, you have to change things to make sure you embrace the message that you say with your mouth. I have, one of my mentors would always tell me '
don't watch what a person says, watch what they do', and that's my real measuring stick is, what are you doing? I had the opportunity recently to go up to the legislature to speak about the offices of ethnic affairs and efforts to restructure or do away whatever with them and my challenge to them was you say that you value diversity, but things that I value I treat differently than things that I don't value. So, it's not enough to say that you value me and then chop my legs from under me. That doesn't quite go together. So I challenge people if you say you value something then what do you do? How do you do it? How do you treat them? Your actions should mirror what you say, and if it doesn't then I have to look at you and say yep they're not quite there, and so Utah's in a unique place to be there, to be there, to really embrace the differences that they've welcomed to this state. To really look at what's going on institutionally, to see if what we're doing takes away from what we're saying we're doing. There's a difference between the intent of something and the impact of something, and again I challenge people again. You may intend it to do one thing but if the impact is totally different than you have to be willing to change what you're doing as well, and how you're doing it. So, Utah should care about diversity. Utah should care about Civil Rights, justice for all people, fairness to making sure that the playing fields are level. To making sure that they are opportunities for everyone, and if we're not doing something right that doesn't mean you're a bad person. It means let's try something different until we get it right, and I believe we have the capacity to do that, and it's not easy work all the time but we can do it. We've done it in the past and I think we owe it to ourselves to make sure that all of our citizens are experiencing the same thing when it comes to fairness, justice, equality, opportunity for all, and if we're not there then it's time for us to come together and roll up our sleeves. I think all too often when we bring up the word race or racism people retreat back in their corners and feel like they're being attacked, and it's not about being attacked. If we can't talk about it we can't do the work, and so I encourage people to be willing to have those open conversations and dialogues and not think that if we talk about it that we are pointing fingers, but again if the shoe fits let's deal with it. If it doesn't then let's move on, but I think Utah is in a unique place to be a leader in the areas of race, justice, fairness, and equality but it's going to require people to do the hard work and not take it as an attack if they're not there yet. None of us are there yet, but the only way we can improve is to do the work, and Utah needs to do the work to get there.
The question is, will they?
Utah will do the work. Our leadership will do the work. Our legislators, I believe that somebody will have to - somebody's willing to stand up and stand alone to say what needs to be said. When I walk into a room people expect me to say certain things, okay here she comes again talking that talk. So there need to be white people saying what I say, not just people of color. People that are willing to be those advocates and to stand up and challenge their fellow legislators, challenge their fellow teachers when they see a teacher doing something that's not appropriate. For me to go there – ‘oh, here they come again, you know what do we have to do now,’ but if one of their own said it maybe they could challenge them in a way that's non-threatening. To do us right, just say 'I don't think that's right. I think this is a better way to handle that.' And so they won't do the work. I believe Utah will do the work. I believe it. That’s why I'm still here, because we have work to do (laugh).
With your students that you counsel, do you find there's more of apathy today? To me, and maybe this is romanticism, but people put their values on the line for something in the fifties and sixties, literally put their lives on the line.
Today I've talked to so many students who are the students that are still doing that, and then there are students who are like, ‘oh I can't make a difference, I can't change.’ There's that apathy. Do you encounter both sides and how do you deal with that?
I encounter students who are both apathetic and others who are very energetic and aware of the movement and want to be involved and have a story to tell their children when they get older about their involvement in these social issues and issues around justice and fairness. I get excited when I see students that are aware. It's like, oh yes, way to go, and I get a little disheartened when I see students that don't have a clue, but I try to encourage them to be aware, to ask questions, to look at their history. I think young people have been - being bombarded with so many different messages, so many distractions from being able to focus on any one thing. That to look at the big picture is more challenging for them. They're trying to make it through this semester, you know, pay for books, you know, for a lot of them that's a big deal. It's really difficult and so to add anything else to their plate - they're not up for that, but I think wherever I can I try to encourage them just be aware, take a look, and usually when they do they get excited and say wow, why don't we do this or how can we make a difference, and I think that's a part of, you know, what I do and what other people to do to continue to challenge students not just to accept the status quo and that you can make a difference and I get that all the time. One person can’t make a difference, and then I go back and tell them my one person making a difference stories. I ran for the state legislature about twenty some years ago and I ran against a party incumbent, a sixteen year incumbent, and had worked hard to get delegates to the caucus meetings and we had tons of people there that had never got involved with a political process before and we felt we had enough votes to seventy percent my opponent and me not having to go to a primary. And so when the vote came we were one vote short of doing that, we had sixty-nine point something and one of the ladies had to leave to go take her grandson to a soccer game and we didn’t know and we were frantically running around. So one person can make a difference. I ran for a school board position about ten years ago and when the votes were counted I was four votes up, recount I was two votes down. So, everybody can make a difference, every vote counts, your voice counts, and I use that to encourage them - you can make a difference, get up get out there and do it. I see quite a few students that are involved and to me that the energizes me to see that the work will continue. When I see young people doing it and getting it.
What is it that they get? The nutshell of it.
I think the nutshell of what they get is one; they have a responsibility to give back. They have a responsibility to ensure that there is something here for the ones that come behind them that's better than what they had because someone left it for them. So they start to get it. They start to get that they don't need permission to say something, to get involved. They can just do it if they get up that morning and decide they can do it. We live in the land of the free, you can do that, and so they begin to get it, and then whey they get a-have a success along the way they said 'wow it did make a difference,’ and I think that's so important that they get out there. You may not always - it may not always turn out the way you did, but I think they feel good about themselves, the fact that they were able to stand there and speak up for someone that wasn't able to speak up for themselves.
Just give me a quick laundry list of, if you could. Back in the sixties Civil Rights was synonymous with mostly African American equality. When we say Civil Rights, social justice today, what does that mean? What areas are students active in today around that?
I think Civil Rights today includes a lot of the same things that we had fought for in the sixties. When it comes to better education, even today some of our inner city public schools don't have the level of resources that schools on the East Bench or schools that have never - another part of our community. So doing the work today means making sure that people don't just write off inner city schools. I think the Civil Rights issues today around the justice system, juvenile and as well as adult corrections, institutions and a justice system than general means fair and equitable sentencing for people. That's still a very hot and prominent issue for people today. If you do this you go to jail for a year. If you do this you go for ten, and oftentimes race is the variable in those cases and so these are some of the struggles that continue today. Issues around health care, you know, you would think that even if you had health insurance that you would get a certain level of care. But we still continue to see disparities across the board. Even infant mortality rates are still horrific for black children in the United States. It's unbelievable that those things still exist, but it is true. Heart disease, cancer, all of those things and so we have so much work to do in those areas to bring about equity and to close those disparities, gaps, those differences in health care outcomes and mortality rates for African Americans and other people of color. Some of the issues some of the young people are dealing with today are those food deserts, places in inner city where you can't get fresh food and produce. They have the convenient stores, the ma and pa shops or you have to go a long ways to find some of those big chained places to get your food so that what they have in those communities are a lot less. They're fighting issues around keeping community centers open and keeping extracurricular activities in the communities open for young people without them having to pay tons of money to go to a gym or sports complex that they have. Centers in their community that they can get exercise and do things that keep them off the streets. So, a lot of the issues are still the same. Again when you look at higher ed enrollment, the enrollment numbers for African Americans in our colleges and universities across the state has barely grown in ten years. The numbers are about the same. So, what's going on there? So, all of those things continue to be pressing issues for young people today and for those that are still involved in the Civil Rights movement, even the number of faculty and staff continues to stay low, and so are we actively recruiting, and not only recruiting but doing what we need to help retain people in our colleges and universities.
What are some of the new groups of people who are maybe being included in this notion of Civil Rights or social justice today?
I think gradually along the way different groups got involved in the Civil Rights struggle even in the sixties. Of course blacks’ were by far most discriminated upon so that's where it all started. I mean laws that actually said you can't, and you won't, and this'll happen to you. So, along the way, women got involved, a lot of the other groups modeled their fight for their rights after the Civil Rights movement, blacks, veterans got involved and fought for their rights. The disabled community got involved. Now the LGBTQ community has taken pages from the Civil Rights Movement to gain the rights that they deserve and the rights that they feel they deserve and are fighting for those, and now with new immigrants to our communities are having to take to the streets, and take to the phones, and using new technologies to get their voice heard and all of this is a part of this big movement for justice, equality and fairness still today.
Is there anything we don't really want to look at in Utah? Is there anything special about Utah?
Anything else you want to add?
Let's see. I think one of the things that would benefit all of us in this state is doing a real self-assessment of where we are, our work space, our family space and time, our community space and time. Whether it's in education, business. If we really think we've arrived just take a look around and instead of accepting the rhetoric, you know it's a lot of tidbits and sound bites that we here everyday that sound like they could be true. That’s what stereotypes are, you know, 'yeah I knew somebody that did that, so all of them must be that way'. I think that that self-assessment and challenging themselves to do things differently and doing them better is something that all of us could benefit from, and it's not about passing blame, but making a commitment to engage in making us the best that we can be as a state, as a community, as a nation. And I think we have all retreated back to our corners far too easily and are not willing to do the hard work to really put our money where our mouth is, and so that would be my challenge for all of us regardless of race, creed, color, religion, ethnicity - do the work. You know, challenge yourself, your friends, to do the work, to take the time to get to know someone. When we're able to put faces and names on other people it's a lot harder to just overtly discriminate, overtly treat people with disrespect. So, get out there and get to not only know some people but being committed to do the work, and it's not easy work. We've been at it for over two hundred years and I think we may able to shorten that so our kids won't have to deal with it, and our kids’ kids, and their kid's kids. We can do some things better than we're doing them today, and for me to gain something doesn't mean that you have to lose, and I think we kind of have that deficit mindset when it comes to issues around race, equality - that if I get a job, somebody's going to lose one. No, we just get more jobs, and more people in those jobs, and so that's the challenge - that we change our framework, read a little more, just don't listen to what certain news channels and certain talk show folk have to say. Do some research, you know, credible research because I've been online and found stuff that's like who wrote this? So, you know there's some stuff out there that's junk too, but do some credible research, in some credible places and challenge yourself to do something a little better, a little differently than you did yesterday to help it - to help this process along. Passing legislation to do away with it is not the way to do it, it's just not the way because we have not arrived, trust me - we're not there yet. We're not there yet. (chuckle). No, but we can get there if we decide, because we’re strong people. We're all fighters. Look at Utah - they cleared the mountains and all of this - they're fighters. They can do this.