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Black-affairs chief pursues balance

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In a conversation with Montone White, Utah's new director of black affairs, words such as "balance" and "mediation" continually crop up.

They are the kind of virtues he hopes to bring to his office.

They are also virtues he's tried to bring to his life.

A former football linebacker for Mike Price's Weber State University Wildcats in the early 1980s, White is a Baptist with strong Buddhist leanings; an athlete who enjoys a good book. As a probation officer for 10 years he learned to take action. As a graduate student he learned the value of listening.

"I try to have a balance in what I do," he says. "I exercise, do service projects. I've also learned you always want to listen more than you talk."

And in his first three months on the job, he's done a lot of listening.

"Right now," he says, "my biggest challenge is there aren't enough African-Americans in Utah for a real political stronghold, so we need to get people in my community to join with people in other communities. If you combine the African-Americans with the Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and women in Utah, you have 66 percent of the population."

White admits, however, that getting those groups to agree on issues will tax his skills as a negotiator.

Still, he's had some good mentors in mediation along the way. He points to Jack Womack, a football coach at Redlands High School in San Bernardino, and Diane Hamilton, who trained him in the skills of conflict resolution.

"I still value her insights about finding the peaceful path," he says. "My perception is it's hard to convince people. They must be touched, they must see what their lives are really about. Then they will do things."

For the moment, however, such philosophical concerns will have to wait. There's some hands-on work to be done. Most of White's time at the moment is going into filling the vacancies on the Black Advisory Council and getting ready for the Olympics.

When asked if he has an initial message for the people in the state, White sounds the note of partnership.

"The African-American population in Utah is open to embracing the community," he says. "We're Americans, we're Utahns and we're going to make a difference."

It seems the Wildcat linebacker in Montone White is poised and ready to make a play.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com