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SMALL STRUGGLES MAKE UP BATTLE FOR RIGHTS, AWARD-WINNER SAYS

SHARE SMALL STRUGGLES MAKE UP BATTLE FOR RIGHTS, AWARD-WINNER SAYS

The civil rights war wasn't won or lost in the '60s - it is a continuing series of small battles waged every day in the lives of ordinary people.

At least that's the way Betty Sawyer sees it."We all confront issues we have to take a stand on," she said. "Civil rights, I think, touches everything we do . . . education, getting a job, family."

Sawyer, who says she is "21 plus," is being honored by the Salt Lake branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with the Albert B. Fritz Civil Rights Worker of the Year Award. It's an honor, she said, to be singled out and to even be "mentioned with (Fritz) in the same breath," she said.

"You do the things you do not to be given an award, but just trying to make a difference," she said. "But it makes you feel good (to be recognized)."

A transplant from Maryland and the youngest of six children, Sawyer believes there is a great deal of work left to do in the area of civil rights and equal opportunity.

She quotes the NAACP's theme for the past few years, "The struggle continues."

Strong and self-assured, Sawyer does everything with a passion and a purpose. Those who've worked with her know she's determined to make a difference.

A graduate of the University of Utah's physical therapy school, her first job in Utah was working with minority students at the U. She's still working with young people and believes they need someone to light their way, even in the '90s, and especially in Utah.

"In Utah, I feel it's even more important because there aren't a lot of black people," said Sawyer, who's been at the Governor's Office of Black Affairs for the past eight years.

In other places, she said, young blacks grow up seeing black doctors, black lawyers, black politicians. That's not the case in Utah, where blacks make up slightly less than 1 percent of the state's population.

"We develop our role models from the people we interact with, the people we see in the community or on television," said the mother of four boys. "It's crucial to have someone . . . to get inspiration from, to get courage from, hope from."

Sawyer knows about mentors and can tell you of at least a half dozen people who helped, supported or inspired her as she grew and still grows.

Among those who shaped her are her parents, who were deeply religious, who taught her what racism was and how "not to take it personally." Her brother, Wil, who encouraged her to learn for herself and not take the word of others.

In her adult life, there's been Alberta Henry, former president of the NAACP. Close to home in Ogden, there's Mrs. A. E. Peoples.

"It's not always someone famous" who touches a child's life, she said. Ordinary things done in the course of a day, like going to work early every day, can show a child how life can be lived, she said.

Despite her accomplishments, Sawyer has no plans to slow down. A recent candidate for the Utah Legislature, she plans to run for political office again, noting that none of the state's legislators are black.

She wants to do more community work closer to her Ogden home and her husband of 18 years, Gerod. One of her pet projects is an after-school program for children.

"A lot of our young people are slipping through the cracks needlessly," she said.