ELI Event Highlights Young Leaders Creating Inclusive and Diverse Communities throughout Utah
As part of the a series of opening events leading up to the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference taking place in Salt Lake City on August 26-28, the Emerging Leaders Initiative of Utah (ELI) led a hour-panel discussion on Facebook Live on Tues. Aug 13.
In conjunction with the conference’s theme—Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities and Communities—the panel explored embracing diversity in the community.
“We really wanted to create a conversation around how young Utahns can play a role in creating inclusive communities through civic engagement,” said Kelsey Price, executive director and chair of ELI. “Our panel also highlighted how young leaders under 35 are leading the way in advocating for and creating change.”
Mario Organista, one of the youth co-chairs for the upcoming United Nations conference, moderated the discussion. Organista serves as the director diversity and inclusion for ELI, and is the PACE Scholarship Advisor for Salt Lake Community College's Office Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.
Panelists Lucas Horns, Eliza Stauffer, Ashley Cleveland and Joél-Léhi Organista Estrada joined Organista for the discussion.
Together, the panel explored variety of topics, such as what diversity and inclusivity meant to them.
“I think diversity means that you aren't looking at somewhat as a token of a particular group. You are looking to incorporate all the strengths of different members and build a coalition that increases opportunities,” said Stauffer, who is a voting and disability rights advocate and works at the Disability Law Center. “It’s important that you seek the strengths of your community and use them as an advantage to build."
Cleveland leads Millcreek City’s Promise Program, which aims to remove discriminating and inequitable barriers to education, health and safety, and economic well being for residents such as youth and refugees. She noted inclusive and diverse communities need to go beyond simply representation, but also create a community wherever can participate.
“A lot of times we get stuck in silos and our work and our social setting, so [we have to try to] make sure that we step outside of that. I want to make sure that everyone's at the table,” Cleveland said. “Those people who are invited to that table actually have a power and a framework and a structure to actually influence things that you're doing, whether that's in a social capacity or in your everyday work.”
Additionally, panelists shared their personal experiences that inspired them to become leaders in creating inclusive communities here in Utah.
“I grew up in [suburban Utah], really on the outskirts. And I thought I was the only gay person in the world,” said Horns, Founder of Project Rainbow. The non-profit organization that works to increase visibility and support for the LGBTQ community in Utah. Since it was in 2018, Project Rainbow has staked thousands of pride and transgender pride flags in cities across the state, from Logan all the way to St. George.
“I remember walking in [the Utah Pride Center] and being ‘These people are so like out there about their sexuality’…It connected me to a community that was similar to me at least in one way. And I didn’t feel so alone,” continued Horns. “That's what the whole idea behind Project Rainbow…to show you're not really alone.”
Congruent to ELI’s mission to increase civic engagement among young Utahns, panelists stressed that age and youth are often overlooked when having discussions about inclusivity and diversity in communities and government.
“It's easy to feel ageism a lot and feel intimidated,” said Horns, noting that all the panelists were under 35. “[You have to understand] your age is part of what's bringing a diverse perspective to the table.”
Panelists also shared their advice for other young professionals looking to get involved and make a difference.
“Show up and speak up…even if [you’re] not experts yet,” said Stauffer.
“You can't support your own community if you don't show up,” said Organista Estrada, who is the founder of Casa Quetzalcoatl, a local nonprofit that seeks to empower Utah’s Latinx community. “You have to start building within your own community….You're responsible for your own community, but you might have ideas that might help other communities. Allies are very important.”
Lastly, panelists stressed that while it’s easy to feel it intimidated or that you may not be qualified to share your experience, it’s crucial to add your voice to the conversations around you.
“Sometimes you don't mean to put yourself out there, sometimes you trip over your own word,” said Cleveland” Don't be afraid to try stuff. You going to stick your foot in your mouth 100 billion times in front of people…You just get over it, you just do it and then eventually your momentum just carries it through.”