If the events of the last year have taught me anything, it’s that we have a unique opportunity nationally — and even right here in Utah — to make progress on the topic of racism. Three years ago, when I penned an op-ed headlined “Celebrating Black History Month in Utah,” I hoped that citizens of this mostly Christian and white community would open their minds and hearts to the small, growing Black community in Utah. That op-ed is still relevant today and worth the read.
The intent was not to provoke any type of confrontation, but merely to invite a state that counts two-thirds of its residents as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which has a heritage of sending missionaries to foreign countries to embrace different cultures and people — to do the same right here within this state and country.
Now, as events have unfolded, I believe this state can be a beacon to the rest of the country in how we tackle uncomfortable conversations about race both in our communities and businesses, making this state a destination where Black families can advance their economic opportunities.
Utah has an opportunity to be one of our nation’s economic engines for the Black community. It has a current unemployment rate of 3.6% and a job growth rate of 3.3%, compared to the national averages of 6.3% and 1.5%, respectively. Furthermore, Milken Institute recently released its powerhouse cities ranking, in which three of the top 10 cities are along the Wasatch Front. Add to these numbers the recent unveiling of the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion by former Gov. Gary R. Herbert, and you have a groundswell that cannot be ignored.
One final anecdote to support this are the full page “Black Lives Matter” ads placed in both the major newspapers on June 13, 2020, showcasing the support of local businesses and organizations for the Black community.
A key way to support these lives is advancing equitable opportunities. History shows that longstanding systemic inequities have had a compounding negative effect on generations of Black families. A report from the Economic Policy Institute highlights that in 2016, the median household wealth of white households was 10 times that of Black households ($171,000 compared to $17,409). The report notes: “One of the most important forms of wealth for working and middle-class families is home equity. Yet, the share of Black households that owned their own home remained virtually unchanged between 1968 (41.1 %) and today (41.2%).”
To truly realize the bold statement proclaimed in the full-page ads, the Utah business community must breathe inclusion into our business strategies, cultures and practices. Personally, I have seen firsthand how a focus on inclusion can shift economic outcomes not just for Black people, but also for the financial performance of a business. To achieve this type of success business leaders must be proactive and strategic, working through a process that I call “Learn, Connect, and Act.” The process provides a structure for businesses and organizations to start building a culture of inclusion.
As I shared in my previous op-ed, there may be fewer than 44,000 Black people in the state, but through the influence of the Utah business community, we can ignite growth in numbers while playing a key role in improving the economic prosperity of Black families.
Ronell Hugh leads a product marketing team at Adobe and is heavily involved at his company and in the community in driving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.