Utah's black organizations must become more visible and active and upgrade their communications systems to win the battle for equal opportunity and against racism, says the western director of the NAACP.
Jim Martin, who directs the organization in eight Western states and Japan, told members of the Ogden chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People they need to increase the dynamics of the organization through cooperation, pressure on the Legislature and increased membership."We're going to take the offensive and be pro-active rather than reactive," he told about 35 people who gathered recently in the Ogden Area Community Action Agency.
"Blacks in the state have a strong voice, even though they make up only seven-tenths of 1 percent of the population, because they work together strategically," Martin said.
He said the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was passed in Utah with relative ease despite the presence of only one black legislator.
However, Martin said he was surprised to learn the number of cross burnings, white supremacist activities and incidents of police violence against minorities in the region when he assumed his post three months ago.
"Racism is still alive in the western United States," he said.
Equal opportunity employment for minorities is a major NAACP issue in northern Utah, and the group needs to make sure government programs are giving opportunities to minority-owned businesses, Martin said.
He said the NAACP also must try to overcome the negative image of blacks portrayed by news organizations that stress gang violence and crime and ignore positive educational and humanitarian victories by blacks.
White supremacist groups like the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan are using computer technology to spread their racist messages, and the NAACP needs to upgrade its communication systems to help combat it, Martin said.
Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, Martin told the audience to "walk softly and carry a big stick."
Before Martin's speech, a Weber State College official spoke against three tax-limitation initiatives on the ballot in Utah.
Richard Ulibarri of the school's Division of Continuing Education said the measures would hurt the poor, elderly and minorities because more service charges would be implemented if they are enacted.
He said public education, already strained by the large number of children, would be hurt most.
"The people of Utah are going to have to face the fact that if they're going to have large families, they'll have to pay for them," Ulibarri said. "And they are not willing to face up to this."
Jim Gillespie, president of the Ogden branch of the NAACP, urged members to vote against tax-limitation initiatives.
"We're going to say, just like Mrs. Reagan, `Just say no,' " he said.