Panel encourages African-American students to make their voices heard

African Americans must get involved in politics to have their voices heard, agreed panelists in the U’s Black Student Union and the Office of Black Affairs discussion, titled “Finding Your Voice: Civic Engagement and Political Involvement,” held in the Union on Feb. 9.

In honor of the U’s Black Awareness Month, Black Student Union Treasurer Aaron Wiley, senior in political science, organized the panel to discuss how African Americans in Salt Lake City can best voice their opinions and get involved.

“If they don’t see us there at caucus meetings and conventions, how can we expect to be included in anything?” said Charles Henderson, Kearns city council member.

Issues of the African-American community that need to be addressed include racial profiling, hate crimes and housing and development problems, Wiley said.

“We’re all people, but we are affected differently as people,” he said.

Wiley said he was racially profiled frequently in junior high school. As a young African American living on the east side, he was stopped and harassed by police on several occasions. He felt as though he didn’t have a voice, he said, and hopes panels like this one will help people know how to make their voices heard.

Political involvement is especially important for African Americans in Utah because they are so under-represented in government, said panel moderator Michael Styles, director of the Office of Black Affairs.

Racism still exists in this state, said Annette Daley from Rocky Anderson’s Office of Community Affairs.

Eagle Mountain has been advertising its new homes by publicizing the low number of minority residents, and a local high school coach recently had his team cheer a racial slur, she said.

“If we’re not involved in the NAACP or the Black Student Union, we have no one to blame but ourselves,” she said. “A government is only as good as the people who show up to run it.”

Although the purpose of the panel was to talk about how to get involved in the community and address issues of concern, much of the discussion turned to partisan politics.

Daley said that even though she would never vote for a Republican, her fellow panelist James Evans, chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party and former senator from the west side of Salt Lake City, is an amazing success story.

“Evans won because he worked his butt off. It wasn’t because he was Republican,” she said. “He was leagues ahead of his opponent, who should have won because the area is mostly Democrats.”

Henderson mentioned Booker T. Washington and Colin Powell as his role models, while Evans said his were Booker T. Washington and Ronald Reagan. Daley named Bill Clinton as her role model.

Evans spoke out against Democrats who don’t believe it’s right for African Americans to be Republicans.

He said if he wasn’t allowed political freedom to choose a party, “you might as well put (him) back on a plantation.”

Evans related the parties to Smith’s and Albertson’s grocery stores.

“Both (parties) are operating as businesses. You must look at who is offering more,” he said.

A member of the audience asked how to get involved without being accepted as a token minority.

“There’s no way to avoid being exploited,” Henderson said. “If you want to get involved, there’s a chance that will happen.”

Evans emphasized that exploitation is a contract.

“Ask yourself if you’re selling out cheap or really getting something for the community,” he said.

Melania Mills, junior in political science and sociology, said she attended the panel because discussions like this are very rare.

“It’s helpful to get to these issues and see where everyone is coming from,” she said.

Lily Deng, sophomore in political science and women’s studies, said it was good to hear from involved people.

“I thought it was open-minded,” she said.

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