Cherie Wood: Memories of heartbreak and hope reaffirm our commitment to diverse communities

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune A portrait of Hser Ner Moo hangs on the wall at the Hser Ner Moo Community Center in South Salt Lake City Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

On July 16, the city of South Salt Lake dedicated a new park in memory of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo, on what would have been her 20th birthday.

So many emotions flooded back to the day our community learned of the little girl’s disappearance from a housing complex that serves a large resettlement of refugee families – and her subsequent murder.

Hser Ner Moo was born in a Thai refugee camp and lived there until she came to the United States with her family in August, 2007. With her family and other refugees, she learned to make South Parc Townhomes and South Salt Lake City her new home. She embraced life and was eager to learn new things. She had a ready smile and was quick to run and give hugs to her friends.

At the time she lived at South Parc, many kids were eager to learn and become a part of their new community, but often found themselves detached and in need of connection to people and resources that could make a real difference in their life.

Hser Ner Moo’s life and ultimate death was a turning point in both my career in public service and my personal life, as I came face to face with a mother’s worst fear. South Salt Lake vowed that never again would a child be lost or suffer such tragedy.

This tragic event rallied our community to push for additional programs and services to support our refugee community. It became a defining moment in our city. Out of the confusion and heartbreak, we found so many friends and helpers. The number of people who committed to helping our youth, particularly refugees, grew by leaps and bounds.

We realized this was a movement. Donations, volunteers and community partners flooded in. A community center was established at the South Parc Townhomes, in Hser Ner Moo’s name. It began offering preschool, after-school activities, parenting classes and a warm welcome to our community and our country. Our city became an integral part of Utah’s refugee community and organized the contributions of United Way, Granite School District, numerous churches and university service programs.

And thus, Promise South Salt Lake was born. Our commitment to education, health, safety and prosperity became a public policy and priority. Inspired by the actions we established Promise South Salt Lake as a cornerstone of our community.

I have shared this story many times in the last 12 years. But it strikes me in profound ways as I see how our Country still struggles with diversity issues. It is a reminder that while South Salt Lake has grown tremendously as a community over the last 12 years, there is still so much more to do. We need to recommit to addressing today’s challenges and solving today’s problems.

So to the residents of South Salt Lake – and to all of Utah – I say let’s not forget Hser Ner Moo. Because as painful as the memory is, there is also a message of hope.

The residents of South Salt Lake have demonstrated that we can and will change the odds for all of our children and it begins with a promise.

Cherie Wood

Cherie Wood is the mayor of South Salt Lake.

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