African-Americans got to rub shoulders with old friends, associate names with faces and ponder the state of the black community Friday at the Salt Lake County complex..
An estimated 75 community activists, professionals, clergy and youths turned out for the seventh annual Black Leadership Conference and Youth Symposium. A similar turnout is expected for today's second-day workshops, said Betty Sawyer, executive director of the Governor's Office of Black Affairs. The office of black affairs is co-sponsoring the event with the Utah Humanities Council and the Governor's Initiative on Families Today.Conference participants attended "breakout sessions" on business/home financing, reaffirming the role of community-based organizations, African-Americans' role in Utah's political landscape and mobilizing college students. Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson welcomed attendees, while Gov. Mike Leavitt offered remarks. Rev. Ralph Crabbe, of Trinity AME Church, gave the keynote address.
"Wake Up Everybody: African-Americans Answering the Call" was this year's theme. Con-fer-ence-goers met all day Friday amid vendors' booths and health and organizational tables. Most said they came to bring ideas back to their individual communities on organizing and enfranchising themselves. Many others came to network among Utah's small black community.
In an afternoon session on the Million Man March, the audience was in agreement with one man's statement that the black community needs a new definition of "leadership." Some said the larger "Anglo-based" society tries to push its idea of a leader on African-Americans. "We need to define leadership in terms of community involvement," the man said.
Many other attendees noted that blacks in Utah have no collective voice because of the geographical and denominational boundaries they draw around themselves. All agreed that unity is the key to spiritual, intellectual, economic and community advancement.
"We live in a political system that still teaches `white.' If our kids have any intellect, they latch on to that, and they will be successful. But what about the rebellious ones?" Gerod Sawyer asked.
Jacquette Beard, an Ogden High graduate and freshman at Weber State University, noted that "Caucasian (guidance) counselors sweep us under the rug . . . unless we're involved in sports. They are not there."
Facilitator Korla Woods preached the gospel of preparedness to his audience with the proverb, "When your ship comes in, make sure your bags are packed."
Minorities have more to gain and more to lose in the political landscape, said Russ Berhrmann, former executive director of the Utah Republican Party, in the session "Is There a Role for African-Americans in Utah's Political Landscape?" On further questioning by a participant, Behrmann added that if his party can attract blacks, it would help Republicans "understand African-American issues."
"You need to be at the table. The way to win elections is 50 percent (of the electorate) plus one, and we can't afford to ignore the one," Behrmann said. "Neither can any party."
Answering a question on what his party had done to attract more black youth, Mike Zuhl, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, admitted Democrats "haven't done much, and that's a shame." He and Behrmann mentioned the lack of "qualified applicants" for the minority internship program in the legislature, but Zuhl stressed the need for more black political role models in the state.
The 7th Annual Black Leadership Conference and Youth Symposium continues Saturday at the county complex north building, 2100 S. State. Conference hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.