Black Voices Matter | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

June 17, 2020 News » Cover Story

Black Voices Matter 

Get to know local activists bringing the sound and fury of black liberation

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The murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police is a watershed moment, even Salt Lake City, where our streets are filled with ongoing protests and rallies. Mayors, police chiefs, city and county councils, lawmakers and even the governor have been on listening campaigns, many giving in to emotions of anguish and outrage upon hearing stories of ongoing systemic racism faced by our residents.

Young black activists are stepping up, finding and using their voices, leading protests made up of massive, racially diverse crowds. Pressure from a younger generation is moving things forward, demanding an end to systemic racism and police violence and charting new territory in political activism. The protests already are sparking changes in policy and public opinion as cities consider redirecting funding for police departments to social programs. In cities across the nation, monuments honoring racist leaders of the past have been toppled. The message is: Become an anti-racist. Stand against racism.

In this issue, we've asked local activists and volunteers to speak on the current moment and share their thoughts on police brutality, black liberation and upcoming events. It's an honor to amplify their voices and bring their stories to you. Read and learn. (Look for more voices next week.)


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Daud Mumin
(pronounced Dah-ood Moo-min)
Community organizer, board member for March for Our Lives, Westminster College student where's he student body vice president

Your organization?
I'm a community organizer here in Utah, and I'm also a youth board member at March for Our Lives, which oversees the vision, direction and perception of the organization as a whole.

March for Our Lives is one of the largest unity organizations in the country for gun violence prevention, working toward ending gun violence in America but also looking at social problems that have contributed to gun violence. This is because gun violence is a symptom of larger structural issues such as lack of education and health care, inner-city gun violence, urban planning and more. We work toward creating solutions to those problems and advocating for grassroots work.

March for Our Lives began in 2018, after the shooting [at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people] happened on Feb. 14, starting a national conversation about gun violence in America. On March 2018, Utah had one of largest student-led protests since the Vietnam War on gun violence demanding justice not only for the 17 students killed but also everyone across the country who faces gun violence.

I've been with them about two years now, and I just recently became the youngest board member on the national organization.

For those who want to join the local chapter, visit MarchforOurLivesUt.com. It's an amazing chapter.

Describe your road to activism
I started organizing and becoming active when I was 13—I just turned 19 years old. When I started, it was about getting awareness, putting myself in places of power. How do I attend City Hall meetings, discussions, community conversations? How do I put myself in situations to raise my awareness?

When I was 14, I actually lost a dear friend to gun violence, and that, for me, started the conversation about what systems are in place that cause violence, how is violence being carried out systematically.

That's when I started learning about the world around us and, as my mom puts it, that was when I lost my innocence—in 2015. For a lot of people that in the fight, there's a personal stake. For some, it's just because they care enough. But for others, there's a vengeance; they are on a mission and fighting for someone's life and making sure it did not go to waste.

When I was 15, I began organizing with Black Lives Matter. From the time I experienced that trauma (with my friend's death) to entering Black Lives Matter work, I felt hopeless, I felt like the world was just a place where I had to exist, and when I died, I died. That was the end of the conversation. I didn't feel like I could change—or that I could make change.

When I started organizing BLM, I began to realize the power is within the people; it belongs to the people. For me, it was a space where I felt heard, I felt understood. I didn't feel alone. I organized with BLM for two years and, when I was 17, I also started organizing with March for Our Lives. To this day, I still organize with them. I ally myself with a lot of community organizations in Utah.

My journey is about being black in America; being Muslim in America; being first generation in America; being low income in America. Those identities alone bring a great deal of consciousness-raising about the world that we live in.

Innocence is broken at a very young age for a lot of black kids in America when they realize the injustice in the classroom, at the day care and on the street is reflective of the system itself that they operate and live in.

Growing up in a predominantly white community or non-black communities, I often felt misunderstood, like I didn't belong. I wasn't heard, I wasn't seen. No one cared to understand or fight for me. It felt like a constant burden to explain myself.

Being Muslim is another identity. For my sister, being visibly Muslim wearing a hijab, it was another complexity for her having to explain her Muslim-hood, her blackness, her womanhood, and that intersectionality and identity created a unique struggle, especially here in Utah. It is an uphill battle to be understood.

What are you feeling right now?
It's a question of what am I not feeling? For me, I am running off the energy of hope.

It is so important to realize that this is the life of a black organizer in America: to be constantly tired, to be constantly hurt because that's the system that we live in. But in the past two weeks, I feel honored and grateful that my community has uplifted me as an organizer and spokesperson for the movement. It's not about one person. It's about who are all the leaders we can bring together to organize the goals of the movement itself. It's an honor to be one of those but it's also tiring to be one of those.

I just started summer school (as a double major in justice studies and communications and double minor in gender studies and French) and started a new full-time job in the communications field.

I'm also organizing a Juneteenth celebration/rally at Washington Square on June 19 from 4 to 8 p.m. a celebration of black excellence and culture, and understanding of the history of Juneteenth, and understanding that how our physical chains have been taken off, we have been placed in systemic ones. How we can create new understanding of what it means to be black in America and continue the conversation around black liberation. Come out and support. There will be black performances, food, art and music.

On his short stint of childhood lived in Cairo
I was born at the University of Utah in 1981. When I was 4, my family and I moved 9,000 miles away to Cairo, Egypt, for five years. We came back to Salt Lake when I was 9. My parents moved us to Cairo at the height of the "war on terror." My family being Muslim and first-generation, we felt like we were under constant attack and persecution. My mom and dad moved us to a country where we could grow up with our religion, knowing we are human and not doing anything wrong. So, we went to Egypt with that goal in mind. We were accepted. It was interesting to be black in a non-black Muslim country where we were accepted religiously, but not necessarily racially. In 2010, there was a lot of unrest that began in Egypt, so we moved back to Utah, and I graduated from Copper Hills High School.

Growing up in Salt Lake: Was it good or bad for you?
Utah being homogenous not only in religious but political beliefs and with its demographics, it's been an interesting process. You will have good and bad experiences living anywhere. For our family, it was about finding a community of people where we could feel safe around, feel loved around and that we could be ourselves around. It was how could we create a safe haven for ourselves and make the best out of the situation we're in.

Having a Somali-Muslim population here in Utah allowed us to stay connected to our people, language, roots and religion. That's what made living in Utah for the most part a good experience.

Utah has one of the largest per capita refugee populations. Refugee populations here are strong, as is the undocumented population. It's nice having a community of people that have that same migrational story as yourself and as my family. We came together with that bond, that story. Not only just Somali but refuges in general—we have a strong population.

My parents came in 1996, and they were among the first Somali in Utah. My dad started working with the IRC to bring more Somali families to Utah because he wanted a community here, and he wanted to help those who wanted to come.

Where do you find "community"?
It comes through community conversations and events. It's also about supporting and uplifting community initiatives—such as black restaurants, Muslim restaurants, Somali restaurants. How do we use religion and holidays as a way to come together? How do we create a safe haven for ourselves as a place to go to and feel comfortable and to embrace our identity?

How have exclusion and bias shown up in your life?
Utah is the king of microaggression. That's how unconscious or subconscious racism happens. Sometimes it's very backhanded compliments. For me, it can be people commenting on the eloquence of a black person. Someone might say to me, "Oh, you're so well-spoken." Is it a genuine compliment or did they expect otherwise?

It's commenting on the ambition of not only refugee communities but any marginalized community. I was one of the top students in my class and graduated with an associate's degree in high school. And a lot of times, people wanted to squash my ambition, telling me "that's a big reach." I've had counselors tell me to think "realistically." I showed up to my AP French class, and the teacher asked me if I was in the right class. But she didn't ask the other 29 white students in the class that same question. It's a conversation not only about what people are thinking subconsciously, but what systems are in place that allow these things to happen.

If I reported my French teacher's comment to the administration, they would have said it's an honest mistake, and there would have been no repercussions for the teacher.

When people tell me, "You're so smart for your age," there's even ageism at work in Utah, with older folks believing that age brings elitism, that it gives more intellectual abilities and capacities. Anyone given the right tools and means can accomplish incredible things.

click to enlarge Daud Mumin: My goal is not to reform the system but to change it
  • Daud Mumin: My goal is not to reform the system but to change it

What must change to enable people of color to feel safe, valued and equal?
That's an important goal. How do we ensure that people in our community feel as if they are respected but also heard?

It's not about understanding people, it's about what is it that you won't understand. We need to foster an environment not only for education but to continue the education. It's OK to make mistakes, it's OK to sit in your uncomfortability and think through how you are complacent, how you are benefiting from or how you are a vehicle that drives oppression and violence against communities of color and vulnerable.

We need to foster an environment that is continually educational so we can learn what the next step is. The next demand. Protesting is just the beginning. Let's learn and take better action. We need to constantly reflect on how we're serving the vulnerable and disenfranchised communities and make sure they are enfranchised.

We need to always have that mentality of learning. Ask the never-ending questions to challenge what we know and believe to be inherent. We need to question why things are the way they are, how things operate the way they do.

What can be done to make the criminal-justice system more humane?
Abolish it! We need to think through "incarceration as justice." We've seen the overpolicing and overincarceration of oppressed communities. How did the criminal-justice system become the sole arbiter of justice/injustice? What can we do to rethink what "serving and protecting" means in terms of a large justice system, a subsystem of which is the police force.

My goal is not to reform the system but to change it, to completely shift away from it. Angela Davis, in her book Are Prisons Obsolete?, says we need to think outside the parameters of oppression. How do we move away from trying to dismantle the master's house using the master's tools? How do we think of new worlds? How do we re-imagine society as a whole and think outside of what we're told. That requires brainstorming and community thinking.

We can't reform a system that inherently was meant to be violent—we need to completely change it.

What can allies do to show support?
1. Allies need to put their money where their mouth is and help redistribute wealth and resources that are given to privileged communities.

2. They need to show up, not just once but answer every call to action.

3. They need to educate themselves politically—how do we think through what is next?

4. They need to make answering and sitting in their discomfort a lifelong journey and not a one-stop shop. How do we make sure we have built a habit to think of justice as a story—one that has a beginning, a middle and an end—one with many moving parts and characters.

A few specific ways people can help.
Give money to organizations like Salt Lake Valley COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group—that's an example of how community can serve one another. There are a lot of political organizations in Utah to join—Black Lives Matter Utah, PSL (Party for Socialism and Liberation), Black Hammer—that will give us the political and intellectual opportunities to grow, serve and organize.

You could just help individuals, undocumented youth—a lot of people that need rent aid. Just think and open your purse.

Where can people learn more about systemic racism?
So many rely on the same few civil rights leaders to educate them, and we need to blow that scope up. We need to read things by Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells and Angela Davis. Just read black literature.

When I tell people that black liberation is the liberation for every group, people think it's an exaggeration, but it's not. Black people are at the epicenter of violence, patriarchy, whiteness, masculinity, capitalism and colonialism.

How can we look at liberation through the lens of black people? Let's learn from it. The answers need to be looked at. What I'm telling you is not some new philosophy I invented. I have read from those who have come before and served. Now, it's my time to rethink, reimagine and re-create what they've done and bring that into a better and more just world.

Final thoughts?
My overall message of today is to remain hopeful. The youth and marginalized communities are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Let's put that energy somewhere. Let's take action, let's show up, let's make sure that the people in power know that the power actually belongs to us. We don't need a seat at their table because the table is ours.

Remember that justice is depending on our education but also upon us resting. Take care of your mental health, your physical health, your emotional health. Do what you need to do to not let oppression take your joy away, which is the goal of our Juneteeth event.

Although our spirits may be hurt, they will never be stolen, they'll be taken away. Stay in the fight. Stay excited. Stay hopeful for a better world.


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Rae Duckworth
Volunteer with Black Lives Matter Utah

Her road to activism
I'm a single mother, full-time parent to a daughter, a full-time student preparing for nursing school.

My cousin Bobby Duckworth Jr. was shot and killed by a responding officer. The police were called out for a mental-health crisis, which they are not trained properly for. The officer shot my cousin, who was crying and frustrated with life. He shot a crying, grown man who probably just needed a hug.

So, I march, because his life matters.

[Black LIves Matter Utah founder] Lex Scott is my hero. I wish I had her growing up here in Utah. I needed her, so I will do what I can to be heard and follow a positive leader from my community.

What are you seeing out there?
People are talking about racial injustice and questioning it. People are recognizing privilege and the unfairness of the justice system and police forces in local and outside communities. Keep talking about it. Keep educating others. Don't stop. And vote local!

On growing up in Salt Lake Valley
I moved a lot but grew up all over in Salt Lake Valley. It was definitely a mix of good and bad—I couldn't breathe sometimes. I felt pressure to be someone I wasn't, and I felt pressure to be things I wasn't, too. Even now, I have family who don't look like me, and they support me, but I also have people who don't look like me and who feel the need to persuade me away from Black Lives Matter and police reform. (That isn't happening, though.)

How she connected with her community
I lost Bobby to finally connect with a safe place for me to be a black female. I haven't had support like this in my local community.

What are examples of systemic racism readers might not be aware of?
Know that it is real, because I have experienced it every day. Sometimes, it is really hard to talk about it, coming from a multi-ethnic home. My white family members don't always agree with systemic racism, but they also don't experience it.

I've had my few run-ins with the police where they treated me unfairly. I used to try and think away from "because I am black," but looking back, I was a fool. It was exactly because I am black.

What must change now to enable people of color to feel safe, valued and equal?
Everything must change. The system must change. The system was designed to value the white man, and it only considered a black person to be 3/5ths a man! If I am supposed to believe the system values me, the system has to change. Otherwise, I am just 3/5ths.

On how to improve the criminal justice system
Equal punishment across the board, and in my opinion, every case needs to be reviewed. Accountability needs to be recognized in every case.

What do you want people to know?
I need you to see and hear my color. I need you to acknowledge my color. I need you to acknowledge my color and everything it carries—from pain to joy. I need you to tell your local leaders I am one whole human—not 3/5ths. I need you to support my brothers and sisters of color by recognizing the trials they endure. I need you to shout "Black Lives Matter" every time an ignorant human tries to silence my voice or forget Breonna Taylor. Tamir Rice. Bobby Duckworth. Darrien Hunt. George Floyd. The list goes on. People need to be active and check their own privileges.

How people can help?
Shop and support local shops owned and operated by people of color. Educate your friends and family of the ignorance of "all lives," because that is the goal. Support your local Black Lives Matter chapter (blacklivesmatterutah.com). And mostly, speak up against systemic and racial injustice, every single time.

Recommended reading?
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Also, take a diversity credit from a community college or university.


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Karen Rodriguez La Paz
Founder and CEO of Code in Color,
Current marketing director (and former lobbyist) at Utah Black Chamber

The mission of Code in Color:
Code in Color is an organization focused on creating innovative pathways for black and brown young adults to gain access to high quality education and job opportunities. Our goal is to equip our youth with a thorough tech and personal development education that prepares them for a more financially stable career in innovation.

• Young adults between 18-27 can join our summer/fall programs, as well as connect with our leaders about mentorship/job opportunities, codeincolor.us

Utah Black Chamber Mission:
As the premier organization serving the economic needs of Utah's minority population, specifically the black community, we encourage personal, professional and financial readiness for black individuals in our state, and aim to foster a sense of belonging and family for everyone.

• Anyone can join by becoming a member on utahblackchamber.com

What's she seeing out there:
The events we've rallied behind the last two weeks have definitely invited more individuals to contribute to racial justice and the efforts of black leaders, entrepreneurs and black-owned businesses across the state. We've seen increased engagement across our social channels and a desire to learn from new allies, which we are so incredibly grateful for.

We have two upcoming events that will be impactful: A virtual Benefit Concert on June 20 hosted by Social Antidote at 5 p.m. We will have more details on our social channels, as well as our website.

I will also be hosting an anti-blackness course alongside other leaders from KRCL, The University of Utah and more throughout the next three months. If people are interested in joining these discussions, they can reach out to me directly on Instagram at: krod_gold or via LinkedIn.

On growing up in New York City
I'm originally from New York City and have worked on statewide and national anti-poverty, healthcare and immigration policies. My life story is recapped in Netflix's The Kindness Diaries.

The Bronx, where I grew up, is not only one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. but also one with among the worst education systems due to systemic social injustices that plague the workforce and education system. Growing up in my favorite town in this country fortified in me the need to work in the advocacy space to reform this space and ensure equity for those in my community.

One of the things I've become an expert at is helping organizations improve their company cultures and create more equitable opportunities for diverse employees.

How does Utah compare with NYC?
When I moved to Utah, the community was starkly different from my own. Not only was it not as diverse, but I moved to Orem, and I felt like an outcast among the majority groups in the school. Though I was heavily involved in my school and community, I noticed that I was treated differently because of the color of my skin and the fact that I wasn't a part of the religious community.

As an example, the dad of one of my friends did not allow him to go to a dance with me because I was black and not LDS. During my class picture senior year, my assistant principal had me stand up in front of 347 students and said "Class of 2011, please say hello to the only black person in your class" which was incredibly uncomfortable and uncalled for. Again, because it wasn't a diverse community, one of my closest friends was outed as a gay man against his will and was a victim of verbal abuse for the rest of the year.

Moving to Utah was certainly a culture shock, and in an effort to minimize the number of microaggressions I encountered, I moved to Salt Lake City in 2013. Since, though those interactions continue to happen, I've been lucky to not have as much discomfort in my life.

How she connects with community
I am very fortunate to have access to the community I engage with. I connected with folks via work and my advocacy work.

What needs to change?
In order for black people to feel safe, valued and equal, we must ensure that all organizations offer anti-racism training, and institute policies that eradicate racism across all fields. My priority is that we do this work across the board, not just any particular vertical. We need representation in leadership, and we need to make sure that institutions prioritize, humanize and validate the experiences of black people to ensure they feel heard and welcomed in our communities.

How can we make the criminal justice system more humane?
Though there are many actionable steps we can take to reform the criminal justice system, including amending the 13th amendment so that it is no longer used as a resort to end any possibility of life after parole for those who serve unjust sentences, we're asking for justice in the policing act through the following steps:

1. Institute policies that end racial profiling and promote anti-racism training across all justice departments

2. Make lynching a federal crime

3. End no-knock warrants

4. Ban chokeholds and other forms of excessive force.

What do you need us to hear?
At this moment, we are urging allies to join anti-blackness discussions to engage in the work. We are also encouraging folks to do more independent research and be mindful of the experiences and exhaustion that black people are experiencing at this time. We are trying to heal our communities, survive a pandemic and fight for racial justice and our right to live. It can be quite challenging to couple that with the increasing inbound outreach. The support we are receiving is phenomenal, and we are incredibly grateful, but I think people oughtta be mindful of our current experiences and use this time to do some investigative work on their own. Then, come to the table ready to engage in the work fully.

Also, let's be kind to one another. Now more than ever, we need kindness in our allyship.

Best ways to support the black community:
1. Buy black. You can check out UtahBlackPages on Utahblackchamber.com to find local black businesses to buy services and products from.

2. Donate to local and national organizations doing the work to ensure our human and such as the Utah Black Chamber, Black Lives Matter (Utah chapter and nationwide), Campaign Zero, Until Freedom, CurlyMeSLC, Code In Color and more.

Any reading suggestions?
Check out the Utah Black Chamber's webinar on the Utah Business YouTube page for specific details on this where we discuss actions can take both in and outside of the workspace.

More specifically, I am urging folks to join our anti-blackness course throughout the next three-to-six months where we will discuss history of black erasure and black liberation, and build together. This work will also offer details to anti-racism literature like White Fragility, How to be an Anti-Racist and The New Jim Crow.


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Jakai Kelley
Organizer and leader of the Northern Utah Black Lives Matter chapter

Her road to activism
My activist background started when I was very young because my grandparents owned and operated an all-black American Legion, the only one in the state of Utah for over 40 years. They were also members of the NAACP and held various positions in that organization, along with Ogden Community Action.

Fast forward to three years ago: I started again as an adult by going to Ogden's first Black Lives Matter meeting held by Lex Scott and then inherited the chapter. Since then, I've been a part of various organizations including Utah Black Round Table, Project Success and Ogden NAACP and the United Way of Northern Utah.

In August 2019, I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer and had to go on hiatus for about nine months. I currently work as a medical assistant for a local specialty clinic in the area. I absolutely love both of my jobs as mother activist and medical professional.

To learn more and to join her group's efforts
We currently have a Facebook group under Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, which is also the same for our Instagram account. We have a website and are in the process of building another one. Our current website is nublacklivesmatter.wixsite.com/northernutah

What are you noticing right now?
Under this current climate, due to the recent protests, it has brought back the need for black community engagement and an uplifting and endearment type of feeling. It's realizing that we do have a lot of support.

The untimely murder of George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel's back, and people are tired of hatred. And they are tired of hearing the same excuses over and over again. We are putting our foot down.

On the upcoming primaries
Because everyone is condemning racism, we also need to hold the people in office accountable. They should all be condemning racism and, if they are not, they really need to be kicked out of office. The primary elections are going to be June 30. We need to know who these candidates are and who we have in these positions of power making these decisions for our lives.

How she connected with her community
Growing up in Roy, I wound up in the same circles with people who think like me, whether it was church, family, school or activism.

How has systemic racism shown up in your life?
The most recent incident I have endured was through my 9-year-old son when he was at a local Boys & Girls Club. There were some kids calling him bad names and instead of my son being praised for doing the right thing, he was literally expelled. He didn't yell at the kid calling him bad names; he actually went and told the teacher. Instead of the administration stepping up and defending my son, they brought up past incidences that my son never got written up for, and for which I was never told about, and they used that as a reason to kick my son out of the program.

What must change for people of color to feel safe, valued and equal?
Honestly, black people have centuries of PTSD! I don't know if we will ever feel safe along with many marginalized communities, but the first step is acknowledging what the problem is—racism and hatred—and condemning it out loud and in the law.

The very first priority is the restructure of police forces with Black Lives Matter Utah's Lex Scott's police reform bill—or really, any police reform bill that tackles all the issues of racial bias.

In every Black Lives Matter chapter, there are people with expertise in each area that affect marginalized communities. Of course, my passion will be health care once I'm able to get there. The only way we are going to be on the same platform is by voting.

Voter registration and getting people to the polls will be another top priority for the next year.

How can the criminal justice system be made more humane?
By holding people accountable. There's no reason for a judge to sentence two people—one black, the other white—and the black one gets 10 times more time than his Caucasian counterpart for the exact same crime. So, you really need to start from the ground up and go through each person to make sure they had the right to a fair trial. If they didn't, their cases need to be dismissed.

What do you need people to hear?
That black lives matter! It's been 400 years for us to get to this point, and we're still dying for the color of our skin, but we're done dying. I need people to acknowledge the past, present and future of the black community in the United States. We need to get our reparations so we can have the American life like everybody else wants.

We just want to feed our children, go to work and have fun without thinking there's a target constantly on our backs. If you want to know how the black community feels, stop breathing for eight minutes and then tell me what you value most. It's life! God-given life, and no one has the right to take that away.

How people can help
Of course, I'm always going to say "voting." Getting out and volunteering in your local communities and getting to know your neighbors. Holding each other accountable for racist practices, and help marginalized communities, whether it's donating to charities that benefit those communities by lifting people up or really engaging in police reform by requiring nonlethal force, banishing choke holds, requiring the escalation and implicit-bias training and, of course, having every police department abide by the same rules. And actually punishing officers—not putting them on administrative paid leave.

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