Celebrating World Refugee Day with Mayor Mendenhall

July 30, 2020

Salt Lake City UNITERs team up with refugee students to highlight World Refugee Day and discuss the City’s response to COVID-19. 

“Salt Lake City has long had a strong relationship and I hope intentionally created a culture of welcoming for refugees from around the world…There are a lot of ways that we work within our city borders, within the county, and within the world itself to try to cultivate the learning and love and respect for people from all over the world.” — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall

Did you know that Salt Lake City (SLC) Mayor Erin Mendenhall wanted to be a dentist growing up?  For World Refugee Day, the SLC UNITERs, together with the University of Utah’s REFUGES students, got the chance to speak with Mayor Mendenhall to hear about the city’s COVID-19 response, how the refugee community has been affected, the problems with environmental inequity, and how she went from aspiring dentist to the mayor’s office.  

The University of Utah’s REFUGES program offers afterschool activities and academic support to middle and high school students from underrepresented communities in Salt Lake City.  REFUGES students got the chance to ask personal questions to the Mayor, covering a range of topics, including how to raise youth voices:

“One of the things we do as a city is we have youth city government…to engage and give feedback to the city on policy…promoting youths’ voices in our city decision-making.  I think afterschool and summer programming that gives youth an opportunity to see themselves in future careers or roles to get the hands-on experience, whether it’s a STEM related field, or it’s sports like basketball or soccer, or even a Lego or chess club at different levels of schooling — I think our youth need to have more opportunities to be the best you that you can be and to have the mentorship and structure that is free, welcoming and accessible.”

In Salt Lake City, COVID-19 has grossly impacted communities of color, with Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, Latino and Black residents suffering the highest infection rates.  Young people have also been disproportionately affected. Currently, the highest COVID-19 rates by age group are people between the ages of 20 and 29.  In response, SLC is publishing weekly PSA’s in 12 languages, offering free testing and meals, and working to close the digital divide by improving access to online resources.  To find out more about SLC’s progress, visit their COVID-19 dashboard.

UNICEF Unite SLC has been volunteering with REFUGES since Fall 2019 on campaigns such as Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, World Children’s Day, Advocating for Gavi The Vaccine Alliance, Student Rebuild: Hunger Challenge, and other projects to empower youth voices for advocacy. The UNICEF USA Fireside Chats serve as an intentional space where young people can ask their own questions and share experiences from a youth perspective. During these discussions, UNITERs and local youth share the stage with their elected officials to provide meaningful feedback on the policies and programs affecting young people and underrepresented communities. 

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