Gov. Gary Herbert unveils new Utah compact committing to ‘anti-racist’ action
State leaders hope plan will serve as nationwide model of change amid unrest in wake of George Floyd’s killing
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and a diverse group of community leaders unveiled on Tuesday the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The document, with echoes of the Utah Compact on Immigration announced in 2010 and reaffirmed in 2019, seeks to commit its signers to “anti-racist principles and actions” meant to root out systematic racism, beginning with individuals, businesses, government and other institutions.
Herbert, announcing the compact at a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol, said it’s “only just the beginning” to change the tone around racial justice in Utah and elsewhere, and is meant to be a document that “individuals and businesses can rally around” to promote and enact anti-racist policies and actions.
Herbert said the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May, which prompted nationwide protests and demands for police reform and an end to systematic racism that has persisted in America, “reminded us all we have not gotten to the promised land yet. We are not where we wanted to be or should be.”
Floyd’s killing “pricked our conscience,” Herbert said, and has forced Americans to self-reflect as well as seek ways to reform institutions including law enforcement. He pointed to some actions Utah has already taken — such as the passage of a bill to ban police chokeholds early this year — but he said Utahns must do more.
Like Utah’s Compact on Immigration, Herbert said, the hope is Utah’s Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will serve as a model nationwide and be applied at the federal level to guide reform around systemic racism.
“This is only the beginning of the work that remains to be done,” he said, urging Utahns to join in signing the compact.
‘We need to face it’
Gail Miller, former owner of the Utah Jazz, spoke at the news conference as an “early signer,” beginning her speech with an apology.
“A year ago, I stood on the floor of the (Vivint) Arena and declared, ‘We are not a racist community,’” Miller said.
Miller made that statement in 2019, three nights after an ugly verbal altercation between Thunder star Russell Westbrook and a Utah fan made national headlines. Miller stood at center court aiming to deliver a heartfelt message about civility and respect. She said she was “extremely disappointed that one of our quote fans conducted himself in such a way as to offend not only a guest in our arena,” but also her family and team.
“This shouldn’t happen,” Miller said at the time. “We are not a racist community.”
But Tuesday, Miller said she felt compelled to apologize for declaring so simply that Utah doesn’t have a racism problem.
“I have sensed that we are, and we need to face it,” Miller said.
Miller said she’s “deeply concerned about the unraveling effects of racism and incivility” across the U.S. since Floyd’s killing.
“I stand here to say it can’t be tolerated,” Miller said, calling for Utahns to do “much better at listening, learning, understanding, acting and advocating” for change.
“Utah can and must be a leader in becoming a place of unity, hope and opportunity,” she said. “We are here to do our part and commit to the five principles outlined in the compact and invite everyone in Utah to join us, and hopefully it will spread across the nation.”
Five principles, actions
The compact’s five “anti-racist principles and actions” are:
- “Acknowledgment and action: We acknowledge that racism exists, and our actions make a difference. We call out racism wherever we see it and take purposeful steps to stop it.”
- “Investment: We invest our time and resources to create greater opportunity for people of color. Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities requires our significant effort and investment.”
- “Public policies and listening: We advance solutions to racial ills by listening and creating policies that provide equal opportunity and access to education, employment, housing and health care.”
- “Engagement: We engage to effect change. Broader engagement, equitable representation, and deeper connection across social, cultural and racial lines will uphold the principle — ‘nothing about us, without us.’”
- “Movement, not just a moment: Utahns unite behind a common goal to create equal opportunity. We affirm our commitment will not just be a passing moment, but a legacy movement of social, racial and economic justice.”
Miller stood in front of a group of Utahns representing a variety of ethnicities who were holding white signs with plain black text, stating excerpts from the compact. Some of the signs read: “Equal opportunity and access to employment matters,” “We will create opportunity for people of color,” “Race and ethnicity do not determine value, opportunity or life outcomes,” “We will listen,” “We will include you,” and “This is a movement, not a moment.”
“I’d like you to look at the people behind me,” Miller said. “Not just their signs but their faces. Recognizing they are all different. ... Every gathering that we have should have this kind of diversity. We need to be able to include everyone.”
Utah’s only Black lawmaker, Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said the unveiling of the compact marked a “good day.” As the mother of Black children and the wife of a Black man — whom she said she has stayed up late at at night for, wondering if he’ll come home safe because “I know his skin color can trigger some in our community” — Hollins said the compact is a “good step.”
“I’m excited to see that the state of Utah is ready to lead out on this in the U.S. and to say, ‘We need to do something,’” she said. “It is now time we make sure everyone is welcome in our community. It is time that wives no longer lay in their beds at night wondering if their husbands are going to come home because of their skin color. It is time mothers stop worrying about their kids ... having to explain racism at a young age.”
County, education moves
During its last meeting of the year on Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council unanimously voted for a resolution to support the compact and agreed to each sign it.
“Each one of us has been impacted by the events of this past year and by incidents that have left us all heartbroken,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said. “And I think that what we saw with responsible voices who were protesting and doing it in the right way honoring our rights of free expression in this country, our sense of community when we speak up — I think all of that has led us as a community to self-reflect.”
“We’ve done it individually, and I think we’re doing it collectively,” Wilson said.
She said county officials will share an “action list” of plans on the issue of inclusion and diversity in January or February. She said she’s excited to see “a statewide movement around this issue” with the compact’s creation.
Utah’s education system is also expected to take some moves this week focused on racial equality.
Later this week, the Utah Board of Higher Education is expected to vote on an “equity lens framework,” which would be used to evaluate new or existing strategies, policies or initiatives. Key considerations include access to higher education, using data to inform decisions, engaging stakeholders, implementation and measuring success.
The tool was developed after months of work with chief diversity officers at Utah’s public college and university campuses, leaders of the higher education board and the Utah System of Higher Education. It is made up of three major components: critical equity questions; shared beliefs; and common definition.
Meanwhile, a Utah State Board of Education committee recently approved a resolution denouncing racism and embracing equity. The resolution must go before the full board for consideration.
The resolution says, in part, that the state board is “deeply saddened by recent events evidencing racism and disregard for human rights, and by the associated violence, turmoil and societal unrest.
“We call on ourselves and on people everywhere to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group, to take action to create and maintain an environment of dignity and respect for all, and to strive for understanding. We commit to learn from the past, but will focus our efforts on building a bright and equitable future.”
Contributing: Marjorie Cortez, Ashley Imlay