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New nonprofit BL4CK Utah hopes to unite, inspire, educate

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Spectators listen to the speeches during a peaceful assembly at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When CJ Drisdom looked across the steps of the Utah State Capitol he saw beauty, power and hope.

“What a powerful experience,” said the ordained minister, musician and founder of BL4CK Utah, a new nonprofit that aims to educate, inspire and rally Black men. “It’s never happened here in the state of Utah. It’s the first time that Black men have come together like this on the steps of the Capitol, to come together in unity, it’s the first time, and I’m so grateful. And it won’t be the last time.”

About three dozen Black men and boys dressed in suits, along with about 20 other family members, business owners and supporters, gathered in front of the “halls of power” to let the world know they were coming together and support each other as the country wrestles with racial inequities and social justice.

Drisdom, who said the idea for the group came when a white friend asked him “what he could do” in the wake of George Floyd’s very public death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“I was a little lit, livid even, a couple of months ago, when everything was going on, and I haven’t changed my energy, but I have changed my position,” he said. “My brother Chris reached out to me, and he said, ‘What can I do?’ How many people have heard that question?”

He said they’ve met nearly every day since that first phone call. The result was the nonprofit BL4CK Utah, which is the entertainment and social arm of the Black Chamber of Commerce.

“We can’t help what’s happening everywhere,” said the father of three. “But we can do something here. ... What we’re going to accomplish is education for ourselves, and those who want to know what they can do. A lot of people are already moving in the direction of change. This looks way different than Rodney King riots and things like that were going on when I was growing up. ... Just changing the narrative.”

They plan to have other gatherings and “town halls” that will facilitate difficult, even uncomfortable, conversations that will address the real issues Black men face at work and in the community.

“I’m encouraging people to say something ... that will help change the narrative of what we are actually going through in the world,” Drisdom said. “Not fake, not fraud, but real testimonials of real racism that happens. Before I was an entrepreneur, I had jobs. I was fired 14 times. There are real issues going on.”

Drisdom’s brother, Tim Drisdom, who played at the University of Utah and now coaches high school basketball at Intermountain Christian, endured a high-profile series of incidentsinvolving him and his players and Tabiona High School that included racist slurs and an investigation by the school district and the Utah High School Activities Association. At the time, Tim Drisdom said many aspects of what happened hurt him deeply, and that pain is one of the things his brother wants Black men to share.

Several speakers, including Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, also addressed the crowd on the warm, windy afternoon, and all of the speeches talked about finding common ground and uniting for positive change.

“So many talents and gifts here, united,“ James Jackson III, founder and director of the Black Chamber of Commerce. “I’m a native Utahn, and when I started the Black Chamber back in September 2009, we had 0.9% of the population, I never would have imagined the Black community looking like this.”

He continued, “If you think you don’t have a voice, think again. Your voice is meaningful, no matter where you come from, who you are, your background ... 11 years old or retired. ... We’re all here together to grow.”

CJ and Tim Drisdom performed with their other brother, Erne, and CJ’s wife, Anise Drisdom, to end the event. Those who attended said it was an opportunity to come together in ways they hadn’t before and influence the changes that are occurring right now.

No one was more excited about the group’s purpose than CJ Drisdom’s family.

“I think it’s amazing,” Tim Drisdom said. “I’m proud of him, first of all as a brother, but also as a Black man, to bring the unity where there are a lot of things going on, it’s amazing.”

CJ Drisdom said anyone is invited to join BL4CK Utah, as long as they are willing to support the mission of “enhancing and elevating us as a Black people. ... It’s not anti-white, it’s for Black.”

He said the group plans to have fun and bring joy, while “creating a path for education and a renewal and rejuvenation of people who are lost.”