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Utahns encouraged to take a stand against racism, celebrate diversity

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 3:40 p.m. MDT

Josie Valdez dresses as Lady Liberty at the Stand Against Racism event at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 26, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Josie Valdez held her foil-wrapped, cellophane torch high as she morphed from a recognizable Statue of Liberty to one more accepting of the diverse population it represents.

With white-and-blue starred fabric draped over one shoulder and a Mexican tapestry on the other, the community activist pleaded with people to be more accepting of diversity.

"I do not want a label. I do not want to be something you call me," she said, adding that the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be available to every American.

Valdez's display capped the Salt Lake County Council on Diversity Affairs' participation in a nationwide Stand Against Racism event, sponsored annually by the YWCA. Other events were held throughout the state, including at schools and government offices. More than 39 states participated in Friday's exhibition.

"To take a stand means to let … those who bully others or who exclude others know that there are more of us who celebrate and welcome diversity," said Rebecca Sanchez, director of the county's Office of Diversity Affairs.

Sanchez said no group should be singled out — for race, religion or lifestyle, among other reasons. Instead, people should be more understanding of each other and celebrate the differences, she said.

County Mayor Ben McAdams said it isn't enough to believe in peace, but that society must work at it.

Former Utah state Rep. David Litvack said he understands what it takes to work for justice for all. He spent several years working for the National Conference for Community and Justice "fighting bias, bigotry and racism" throughout America.

As a profession, Litvack said it came easily to him, but he consciously continued the fight in other walks of life, and as a legislator.

"Justice is not something we do. It has to be something we are," he said, emphasizing the need to be vigilant. "We must live the morals we wish to see."

Salt Lake County contains one of the state's most diverse populations, as more than 28 percent are reportedly not Caucasian, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Sanchez said that while there are differences in race, culture or other ways of life, and those should not be ignored, "we should focus on what we can do to come together."

She said that as long as there are acts of hatred, there is racism, and rather than focusing on what is wrong, she wants people to see the good in having a diverse population.

The Take a Stand campaign aims to "eliminate racism by raising awareness of it," according to the YWCA website.

"Taking a stand is sometimes uncomfortable to do … but we all have the responsibility, the obligation and, better yet, the moral obligation to take a stand against the evils of our society," said Roderick Land, an assistant professor with the University of Utah's ethnic studies program.

Land said a tremendous disparity exists between races around the world, yet the differences do not always signify a deficit.

To stand against racism, violence, hatred, discrimination, prejudice and injustice, he said people must be hopeful, unified, resilient, truthful and speak out for what they believe.

"Let's not only take a stand against racism. My fellow Americans, let's end racism," Valdez said.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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