EDCUtah DEI Profile: Utah Black Chamber – Building New Bridges

February 7, 2022

EDCUtah is highlighting a Utah community organization or multicultural resource group each month. This is part of an effort to inform our investors about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices and resources in Utah.

In recognition of Black History Month, we spoke to James Jackson III, Founder of the Utah Black Chamber. James is also Vice President of Supplier Diversity at Zions Bank and an independent diversity and inclusion coach.

Historical footnote: Like many Black families, the James’ family emigrated to Utah in the 1950s to work on the railroad. After his railroad gig, James’ grandfather – the first James Jackson – went on to work as a custodian at the University of Utah for more than 40 years. His father, JamesJackson, Jr., graduated from West High School in 1977.

Tell us about founding the Utah Black Chamber and its mission today.

It’s easy to remember the anniversary because we founded the Utah Black Chamber on “nine nine oh nine”  – September 9, 2009. Our first official event was in August of 2011. We hosted a community barbeque and concert at Sugarhouse Park and were excited to draw about 200 people. Eight years later, in 2019, our community barbecue had grown to 8,000 people.

It’s easier now than it was thirteen years ago to find Black people in Utah, but it’s still hard to find Black businesses. What our barbeque event did was create a community gathering place where the Black community could connect with each other, and also with the community at large. Building visibility – that was the first step.

Today, the Black Chamber has about 300 members which represents a 400% increase in the past three years. Our membership is about 50% Black, and we enjoy lots of support from the broader community as well. Members range from corporate partners like Zions Bank and nonprofits like Curly Me, to small businesses as well as individuals. Today we have two main goals – first, to help Black businesses grow and succeed, and second, to build a pipeline of Black professionals for our corporate members.

One other unique feature about the Utah Black Chamber is that we’re a statewide organization -- one of the few nationally. We’re proud to have members from St. George to Ogden.


What is the Black Success Center?

The Black Success Center is our program to help develop the pipeline of Black professionals in Utah. One element is an internship program which includes a six-week online curriculum called “workforce ready.” Participants get coaching on building their LinkedIn presence, salary negotiation, resume writing, etc. The goal to help them get a position in their field of choice and to retain them in the Utah community.

In addition to developing new Utah professionals, we’re trying to build a community that makes Black folks want to stay in Utah. Part of that is through storytelling. On February 1 we released Black Utah: Stories from a Thriving Community – a book of real stories of people who’ve successfully navigated being Black in Utah and have thrived. Look for it on Amazon.


What are some of the Utah Black Chamber’s main outreach events?

Evening in Harlem – April 1, 2022

Our flagship event is our Evening in Harlem. The event celebrates the Harlem Renaissance – the artistic explosion of the Black community in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance – Wallace Thurman – was actually from Utah. He was a member of Calvary Baptist Church here in Salt Lake City before he went to Harlem. 

Evening in Harlem is a wonderful event – everyone wears their best Gatsby-themed attire and we celebrate with food and dance at The Leonardo. It used to be majority Black, but today it’s about 50/50. The event is a fundraiser for our 501c3, whose goal is to build a permanent community hub and co-working incubator space to elevate the Black community in Utah. We’re currently housed at The Shop in downtown Salt Lake City.

Incidentally, we’re also working with The Leonardo to open a permanent Black History Museum – in partnership with the Utah Black History Museum – set to debut in February 2023.

Black Business Expo and Motown Show – Aug 5, 2022

We’re still hosting our annual community barbeque, although now people may be more familiar with it as the Black Business Expo and Motown Show. We host at the Gallivan Plaza with terrific music, food trucks, and an expo for our small business members.

First Fridays – ongoing

Like most Chambers, we host a business networking series. Ours is called First Fridays, and it’s hosted at revolving locations on the first Friday of the month. Everyone is welcome and you can find details on our website.

What can EDCUtah investors do to support Black professionals in Utah?

In Utah, with its small diverse population, you have to be intentional. Utah is good at this – we’re ‘Small Lake City’ – you can make connections. But you have to be willing to try something new. Become a partner with the Black Chamber. We’re here; you just need to build the relationships with us so we know, first, that you have the opportunities, and second, that you have a culture that will welcome us and allow us to grow and thrive. 

Also, in addition to building an inclusive culture at work, you have to consider what happens with “diversity after five.” When your Black employee leaves the office – especially if they’re from out of state – do they still feel safe? Welcome? It’s important to reach out and support Utah’s Black organizations, including the Utah Black Chamber, because they’re creating a community that is a fit for Black people in Utah. As an employer, you can help your Black employees by making these connections.

Finally, we need to rebrand Utah. EDCUtah’s We Are Utah video, our Black Utah book, programming on PBS – these media platforms are important. We need to kill the noise of those who are saying ignorant things about Utah that end up as jokes on the Tonight Show or other national media. We need to come together and show people what Utah is really all about.

Utah is a small market, but we play big. To play even bigger – to compete with Atlanta, Chicago, New York – we need to be more intentional around diversity. That’s the key element that’s missing. We’ve got the economy, the business environment, the community connections, the landscape – we just need to strengthen our platform around being welcoming and understanding to everyone. Let’s work together to make sure that people from all backgrounds can thrive in Utah.


How can EDCUtah Investors support the Utah Black Chamber?

First, become a member and support us financially. After that, offer something specific – do you have pro bono expertise? A platform or strategy we can leverage? We’re always looking for ways to strengthen the Black community and amplify our voice. Come to us with your ideas. Don’t be afraid that you might offend us. We’re patient, and willing to work you.

Salt Lake City has a lot of bridges – the community kind; not the physical kind. Connect with us and let’s build some new bridges together.

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