Event celebrates Utah's increasingly diverse community

Published: Friday, March 28 2014 10:35 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted an "Evening of Dialogue" on Friday at Rowland Hall's Larimer Center to bring awareness to the local impacts of Utah's growing diversity.

Hip-hop artist, filmmaker and former Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal shared his experiences in spreading peace and equality through music and discussion.

"I believe when you share your experience, you create a conscious awakening," he said. "When you put a spotlight in a dark place, evil will prevail less. Every person that is doing good is like a light shining in a dark place."

The program also featured a panel of local speakers who shared their experiences in addressing challenges faced by minorities, immigrants and refugees.

Pam Perlich, an economist with the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said many of today's institutions that were built for "us old, white baby boomers" have become overwhelmed because of rapid social change.

In 2010, the majority of births in the U.S. were among groups considered minorities. Utah's fertility rates are dropping, and the majority of the population is aging. Salt Lake City has acquired the diversity of a world city, Perlich said.

"Utah is forever changed," she said. "We're not going back to the economy or population of the 1950s. … Housing policy is population location policy."

Perlich said Utah's ability to adapt to change lies within individual families and the policies that promote their success.

"The most important determinant of intergenerational economic mobility is the stability and resiliency of families," she said.

Joe Nagas, an economist and former resident of Sierra Leone, says what helped him as a refugee in the U.S. was the mentoring he received.

"As you meet and talk with (refugees and immigrants), give them direction," he said. "It's not about giving them money or food. It's about giving them direction. That can make a significant difference in their lives."

Kim Buhler, who works in corporate and family-based immigration law, attributes her success as an immigrant from Vietnam to helpful teachers and school counselors.

"You have among you people who would do anything for your guidance and compassion," she said. "Encourage every child in America and every immigrant and refugee to get an education."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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