Columbus Center renaming put on holdAug 25, 2021 12:07PM ● By Bill Hardesty
Is the Columbus Center name changing? Formal opposition says no. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
Since last October, South Salt Lake has been considering changing the name of the Columbus Center. However, formal opposition is starting to form.
In October 2020, during the mayor's comments section of the South Salt Lake City Council meeting, Cherie Wood spoke about a request she received. Jevahjire France, a young resident of SSL, wrote asking the City to rename the Columbus Center.
"As a young immigrant just like many in South Salt Lake, I have always wondered if the members of the Council of this City ever question how a young immigrant or refugee feels knowing that he is frequenting a library named after an oppressor not too different from the one(s) they or their parents were fleeing from back home?" France wrote.
In the May 26 City Council meeting, the SSL Youth Council presented their research and proposal to change the name. They suggested three names: Amani Center, which is the Swahili word for "Peace;" Bridges Center, inspired by the idea that bridges are used to overcome obstacles and symbolize unity; or Promise Center, inspired by the Three Promises representing the City's highest hopes for SSL residents.
“I commend our Youth City Council for taking on the task the City Council requested of them. They completed six months of research and community outreach and presented their findings,” Wood said.
While concluding the Youth Council presentation, France said, "Again, we don't want to cause more division within the community. We truly believe after our research and work into this process that the new name will be beneficial and can unify us even more."
France's hope might not be possible because formal opposition is forming. They shot their first salvo in the July 28 City Council meeting.
Sean Marchant, who wears many hats in SSL, started the parade.
"Tonight, I'm here with a different hat. As a resident and a father," Marchant said, "For years, I noticed a pattern with all my children, that they would come home from school starting at Woodrow Wilson through junior high and high school, having been taught about Western historical figures with an attitude that was largely negative."
This situation made Marchant research more about Christopher Columbus. He went to original sources. After four years, Marchant wrote an essay about Columbus summarizing his findings. He also told of a conversation he had with his 6-year-old son last October. Marchant asked his son what he had learned that day. His son mentioned he learned about "the bad man who had killed lots of people and never made it here."
"This is a 6-year-old in first grade. It took me a few seconds to realize it was Columbus Day," Marchant said.
Marchant continued the story explaining that the teacher used a worksheet outside of the approved curriculum.
"Let me tell you that what the teacher brought to school that day, from outside the curriculum, was not only completely out of context, but it was intentionally misleading and mostly factually incorrect. For a first grader with his first exposure to Columbus, it was indoctrination, pure and simple. When I asked him what he thought about Columbus, he replied, 'I hate him.' I've never heard him use that word before," Marchant said.
Marchant continued by talking about Columbus from his research. Then, he moved on to speaking about the naming process. Marchant questioned the motivation of the initiative and those involved. He also voiced the opinion that this renaming issue is more severe than people might think and that for many residents, the decision who they will vote for in November will depend on this issue.
After his remarks, many in the audience clapped.
Seven additional residents spoke against changing the name.
Even though the renaming was an agenda item, the City Council had already planned to move the item to sometime in the future. Council members voiced they want to hear more opinions.
In a later interview, Marchant said, "The real question that no one has asked is why should we change the name. Everyone just assumes we should and made plans to do so."
In the same interview, he talked about how Columbus represents what the Columbus Center is all about. "In a world of social classes, Columbus beat the odds. He was self-taught. He embodies the principles of hard work. He achieved his dream."
Marchant mentioned there is no formal group yet. To get people to the meeting, "I just emailed people I know who are of similar thinking as me."
However, in the coming months, this will change. The plan is to create a website that will "give the facts and let people decide," Marchant said. They also might be doing some community outreach, including newspaper ads.
Portia Mila’s experience
Councilmember Portia Mila was not able to attend the July 28 meeting. However, she later posted on her Facebook page her thoughts.
"Since the last meeting we had, I am still at the same place. I have only had one of my district 4 constituents reach out to me to favor the change. The rest that have reached out are against it," Mila wrote. "And of all the people who I have directly talked to or heard from, it is still not a good representation of our city's 25,000 residents. So, I am in favor of looking for a way to hear from more of our residents, and where our attorney does not feel we can do that on a ballot, I want to look at purchasing something that will help us to survey our residents. It will be great for this issue as well as others in the future."
The comments were a mixed bag. For every person who supported the name change, there was one who was against it. A couple suggested survey building apps. Mila mentioned why the City must use a third-party survey system.
"Unfortunately, we have too many people that believe the City will somehow manipulate the numbers. We need an outside third party professional source to help us. Hopefully, that makes sense; otherwise, believe me, we would have already been down that road!" Mila wrote.
August mayor statement
“During my administration, I have set out to celebrate South Salt Lake and our local history,” Mayor Cherie Wood said, “This is evident in the naming of Historic Scott School, Promise Park in memory of Hser Ner Moo, and Bickley Park. The impacts each of these individuals has had on our City deserves to be commemorated. We have much to honor and remember in South Salt Lake.”
“The Ordinance presented to the City Council on August 11 will formalize the process for naming facilities within our City. This will allow for a transparent process and dialogue in all future naming,” Wood said, “Just as many states now recognize Indigenous People's Day, and we all become more aware of the reality of the colonization of the Americas, I agree with many in our community that it is time to rethink the name of this building and how it serves today's residents.”