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Behind the University of Utah’s new George Floyd Memorial Fund

Student body president Ephraim Kum explains how the fund is an opened door for Black students

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

My name is Ephraim Kojo Kum, and I am a lot of things. I am an immigrant who came with his parents to the United States from Ghana at the age of 1. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the son of a returned-missionary mother. I am an older brother with two younger, loving siblings, the youngest of whom is on the autism spectrum and has taught me what love truly means. And I am the third Black student body president — and the first Ghanaian-born student body president — in the University of Utah’s history.

But more than anything, I am a man whose life has been undeniably defined and changed by the power and miracle of an opened door. If there’s one thing about me that I want you to keep in mind as you read this column, it is that.

Most people know me for my perceived successes, but few know about the journey that brought me to where I am today. They don’t know about when I had to withdraw from school because I couldn’t afford it or about when I used to have to sleep on my friends’ couch. And if they don’t know that about me, then they definitely don’t know that so many students who look like me have had it much worse.

Some people might know about the times in my life when a door was opened just wide enough for me to slip through. Like when my friend in the Black Student Union made me aware of an open internship position at the Salt Lake City Mayor’s office. Or how that internship led to working at the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and the Utah Legislature, to being appointed to Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s Council on Diversity Affairs, and now having my tuition paid for as president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah. But that’s the thing; the door was just barely open enough. I was lucky.

Ephraim K. Kum

In June of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, my university created a George Floyd Memorial Fund with the goal of advancing the interests of the next generation of aspiring Black leaders. The announcement of this fund sent shockwaves across campus, especially in the Black community at the U., because of what a fund like this could mean for Black students: a newly opened door.

The power of this George Floyd Memorial Fund is that maybe, just maybe, students who look like me, have the same aspirations as I do and also face the same challenges as I have will not have to be as lucky as I was. It is with that in mind that I am embarking on a campaign to raise a $1 million endowment for the fund.

We need to ensure that we are supporting the next generation of aspiring Black leaders in our state. My university has taken the first step in that direction; I hope to spark the necessary conversations to ultimately engage the community in supporting this endeavor.

Ephraim K. Kum is the president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah and a senior majoring in political science.