George Pyle: What I learned about Salt Lake City by hearing leaders explain it to out-of-towners

Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is basically critical race theory demystified.

(AP Photo | Charlie Riedel) In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2020, a homeless woman sits on a bench near the J.C. Nichols fountain in Kansas City, Mo. The city's board of parks and recreation is considering a proposal to remove the J.C. Nichols name from the fountain and a nearby street as it addresses racial concerns about the influential local developer. Nichols developed some of the area's most desirable neighborhoods as well as the city's Country Club Plaza shopping district in the early 1900s, but excluded Blacks, Jews and other minorities using deed restrictions on his properties.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Mark Twain

When looking to solve a problem, it can be useful to see if you can find someone else who has faced similar issues and might have some ideas you could use.

Or you could round up maybe 200 of your community’s movers and shakers and take a road trip to another community to see what their movers and shakers are doing about their problems, which probably aren’t all that different from yours.

Or you could save yourself the trip and just listen in on what your hometown leaders are telling the visiting town leaders. Maybe you will learn some encouraging things you didn’t know about your own city. Such as that there is awareness, at the highest levels of our government and business community, that racism is a real and harmful thing that needs to be addressed. And a belief, at those same high levels, that immigrants and refugees are to be welcomed to any community.

That’s what happened to me when a hotel ballroom full of elected officials, bankers, engineers, educators, transit system managers, lawyers, real estate developers, health care administrators, government managers and nonprofit leaders chartered a plane to fly from Kansas City to Salt Lake City last week to spend a couple of days looking around, eating, drinking and wondering what it is that keeps our town’s leaders up at night.

Apparently, the Kansas City Chamber’s Leadership Exchange program mounts such an expedition just about every year. Organizers told me they generally invite someone from the local news media — in this case, me — to join their discussions on the assumption that we’re more likely to give the unvarnished truth rather than toe the, well, chamber of commerce line.

I didn’t crash every panel during the three days the Kansas City folks were here. I did listen in on presentations about how Utah and Salt Lake City are dealing with issues of immigration, race and equality. And, even allowing for how such talk is generally spun to give the best possible impression, it was worth hearing.

One discussion centered on the Utah Compact, the 2010 statement by Utah leaders in politics, business, education, medicine, law enforcement and nonprofits that took a stand in favor of treating immigrants and refugees humanely, keeping families together and not entangling local law enforcement in the federal matter. It was a move noted far and wide and won Utahns a lot of credit for being decent and welcoming when so many others, especially in other red states, were taking a hard anti-immigrant line.

Then there was another compact — the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion — an echo of the first compact putting our leaders on the record as not only opposing racism but also taking a big step further.

The heart of the second compact said:

“We view racism as more than just an individual character flaw. It is a system of ideas, beliefs, practices, structures, and policies that give some people greater opportunity to be fully human and live a happier and healthier life than others. Unraveling centuries of internalized and systemic racism requires bold anti-racist actions and policies right now.”

Don’t tell anyone, but that’s basically a description of critical race theory, the academic concept that’s drawing such heat in legislative hearings and school board meetings around the state and the nation. Signatories include Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, who was heard to complain that Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell didn’t understand what CRT is. Maybe Adams didn’t understand what he signed.

The compact on race, rolled out by then Gov. Gary Herbert in December, didn’t get as much attention as the compact on immigration. Maybe because it was drowned out in all the news about the ongoing pandemic or all the fuss about whether the presidential election we’d just had was going to be overturned by the fascist then in the White House.

Or maybe I just missed it.

But now our big shots have bragged about it to someone else’s big shots. The least they can do is stand by both these compacts, not just in words but in real actions, and attract other large delegations from other cities to come spend their money here and learn from us.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was drawn to this meeting with the Kansas City Chamber because he was born in Kansas City and later spent the 1980s working for a newspaper in a K.C. suburb. (Which doesn’t exist any more. The newspaper, that is, not the suburb.)


Twitter, @debatestate