SALT LAKE CITY — With dreams of a doctorate degree in educational psychology, Bryan Hotchkins brought his wife and two children to Utah from Oklahoma City in 2008.
"I got into the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State," he said. "But neither one of those higher ed programs have teaching assistantships. My logic is, how can I learn to be a professor without a teaching assistantship?"
Hotchkins' teaching work earns him a tuition waiver at the University of Utah, keeping schooling costs down, which is a positive about life in Utah.
However, the family's been startled by how few black people live in their east-side neighborhood, and most other places in Utah they frequent.
"In the community we live in, I don't know if there's any African Americans," he said about his neighborhood off 2300 East. "I haven't seen any."
Yet Hotchkins and his family, when they arrived in Utah in 2008, were part of an uptick in the number of blacks who moved to Utah between 2008 and 2009.
According to information released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday, there were 50,019 blacks among the state's 2.8 million residents as of July 1, 2009, an increase of 7.2 percent from the previous year.
In 2000, Utah's 16,644 blacks didn't even comprise 1 percent of the state's 2.2 million residents.
Blacks now comprise 1.8 percent of Utah's population.
The increase is a combination of blacks moving to Utah from other states and refugees moving to Utah from Africa.
"There's been some here-and-there numbers of an increase (from out-of-state) mainly because of jobs," said Debra Charleston, director of black affairs in the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs.
However, the bulk of the blacks arriving in Utah have arrived as refuges fleeing war and violence.
According to the Utah Refugee Services Office, 1,008 refugees arrived in Utah in 2008, and 1,265 arrived in 2009.
During those years, 258 arrived from Somalia, 79 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 62 from Burundi, 52 from Eritrea, 13 from Rwanda, 10 from Liberia, six from Ethiopia and six from the Central African Republic. A handful of others came from other various African nations.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake branch, sees two other factors at play. One is that families of Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans are moving to Utah to join their relatives, and the other is that more blacks are opting to stay in Utah for college than in the past.
Being black in Utah isn't always easy.
Hotchkins was shocked when his son was called the "N-word" three weeks after he arrived at his new Utah school.
Being black can also be isolating. The family has found acceptance at their multicultural New Pilgrim Baptist Church, Hotchkins said.
"In Oklahoma, there are places I can go and not experience racism and not see white people for days if I want to," Hotchkins said. "There's no places like that in Salt Lake."
The Census data released on Thursday found that in addition to growth in the black community, whites and all ethnic groups in Utah increased in numbers in 2008 and 2009, years when the state's economy was in recession. Some places, such as the Detroit metro area and Florida, have experienced population decreases due to the recession.
The Census' numbers are estimates based on government administrative records, births, deaths and tax records, said Robert Bernstein, Census spokesman. Hard data reflecting the Census count is forthcoming.
"These are the last such numbers before the 2010 Census results are released early next year," Bernstein said.
Populations in Utah on July 1, 2009, compared to July 1, 2008
Entire state: 2.8 million; 2.1 percent increase
Black: 50,019; 7.2 percent increase
American Indian/Alaska American: 53,679; 2.9 percent increase
Asian: 76,493; 4.9 percent increase
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 31,314; 3.5 percent increase29 comments on this story
White: 2.3 million; 1.6 percent increase
Hispanic: 343,164; 4.6 percent