“The main thing I like about Salt Lake City, man, it’s peaceful. It’s not loud. There’s not a lot of stuff going on. It’s peaceful. You go home and get a peace of mind. That’s the main thing I like. That’s why I bought a house out here, because I hope to make this my home. I hope to retire here.”
— NBA forward Derrick Favors on why he signed a contract extension with the Utah Jazz
There is no question that Utah has become more diverse. The story is told in demographic data and in blossoming ethnic communities along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere. The most dramatic example comes in the Latino population, which grew by 157,000 people between the 2000 and 2010 census, and now comprises almost 15 percent of Utahns.
But one important group has not changed much: African Americans. Those who identify as black or African American are still less than 2 percent of Utahns compared to more than 13 percent nationwide. While Utah added more than 530,000 people during those 10 years, the black population grew by only 14,000.
So having a high-profile athlete like Favors say he wants to retire here is heartening, even if it’s only a warm fuzzy from a guy who just got a multimillion-dollar contract extension. Utah can’t expand its black population by relying on star athletes, but the voice of a high-profile African American can carry some weight.
And this is something Utahns want. In 1997, the planning group Envision Utah hired Harris Interactive to survey Utahns on their key quality-of-life issues, and the answers included the usual stuff: clean air, safe streets and good education. But when they updated the survey in 2007, they noticed a couple of new factors, notably diversity. Utahns wanted their children to know more than just white people.
There’s a cultural critical mass that needs encouragement. The restaurants that serve the black community need the patronage of all Utahns to prosper, and more African history should be taught in schools. Even things like training barbers and hair stylists are an important piece of the cultural infrastructure. (Believe it or not, that’s a big issue, particularly outside Salt Lake City and Ogden.)
Some may point to the LDS Church as a limiting factor, given that until 1978 the church wouldn’t allow black priests. But that was 35 years ago, and in the years since the church has made every effort to leave that past behind. Besides, Utah shares this demographic distinction with the rest of the Intermountain states.
No, this is on all of us, and all of us can do better. If we succeed, it will be much more than just a slam dunk.