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Utah Black Chamber’s new CEO aims to ‘challenge and change the narrative’ for Black Utahns

Sidni Shorter will be the first full-time, paid CEO for the group, which represents 400 businesses.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) The office of the Utah Black Chamber in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. The group has hired a new President and CEO, Sidni Shorter.

In her first appearance as CEO of the Utah Black Chamber, Sidni Shorter declared that she is eager to show that Utah’s Black population may be small — only 1.5% of the state’s population — but it’s mighty.

“We will show this nation exactly what Black people are doing in Utah. We will challenge and change the narrative and vision,” Shorter said in an invigorating speech Friday night.

Friday’s event introduced Shorter — a transplant from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who worked in various business and management roles — to the members of the Utah Black Chamber, which represents some 400 small businesses in the state.

She is the first person to hold the CEO job as a full-time, paid position. James Jackson III has been the group’s unpaid CEO since he founded the organization in 2009. Jackson, who recently compiled a book showcasing the state’s thriving Black community, will stay on in an “advisory capacity.”

Shorter found out about the book, bought it and reached out to Jackson about her new position.

Shorter’s arrival, Jackson said, is a moment he has been anticipating for a long time. He talked about the organization’s growth — 400% in the last four years — and noted that for a two-month stretch in summer 2020, a new member joined every day.

“One of the main reasons why the Utah Black Chamber is one of the strongest Black chambers in the country, [is] simply because of the culture and the community that Utah has here, where everybody wants to help everybody,” he said. That “incredible support within the community,” he added, has shown him the Chamber “has a very special purpose.”

Shorter said she aims to hit the ground running, by meeting with all 400 members of the Chamber. She also said she aims to include young people — whom she called the next generation of Chamber members — in her strategies.

She said she has seen the data — such as 2020 census figures that show 1.5% of Utah’s population identifies as Black — but is more interested in “utilizing that data to design solutions.”

Shorter also highlighted her personal definition of diversity, equity and inclusion: “Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. But inclusion is the action.” The letters of DEI should be reversed, Shorter said, because inclusion prompts conversation and dialogue.

The audience assembled at Friday’s event included State Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, and Chamber members whose time with the organization ranged from three weeks to nine years. Shorter took questions from the audience, and heard concerns about outreach to the state’s north end, how the Chamber will interact with Black military families and Black students, and how to get more Black residents to stay in Utah.

Shorter pushed against the old notion that the United States is a “melting pot” of cultures. “Utah is not a melting pot, because melting means we have to just all blend together and lose who we are.” She prefers the metaphor of gumbo: “Everything maintains its special flavor, but together, it is amazing.”

Shorter ended her speech by having the crowd repeat after her: “Black is Be-Utah-ful.”

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