Organizers of the 13th annual Back 2 School BBQ at Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City spent the afternoon of Aug. 17 preparing kids to head back to school, running a blood drive, feeding and entertaining families and connecting Utah community members with local resources.
The event was hosted by members of the Iota Iota Iota Graduate Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. — a traditionally black fraternity founded in 1911. Tri Iota members Emmette Cornelius and Pastor Marlin Lynch III refer to the BBQ as a family reunion that brings together many families in the area. The event is part of their fraternity’s mission to uplift the community.
“I know that Whitney Houston song may sound cliché — ‘I believe the children are our future’ — but it’s true. We have to invest in our kids,” Emmette said. “This is our way to give our kids a fresh start each year.”
With multiple donations (including a large one from Studies Weekly), the Tri Iota’s gave out 536 backpacks with school supplies to children in the Granite and Salt Lake City School districts. There were also booths to help parents.
“It was great. There were so many community resources there — it was such a great impact to the community,” said Michelle Love-Day, associate director of Educational Equity at Granite School District. “It’s definitely a community gathering that people look forward to.”
Loki Mulholland, video manager at Studies Weekly and a member of Omega Psi Phi, has been a part of the annual BBQ for a few years.
“I’m not a social media activist. Being actively engaged in the community is how I was raised and as a member of Omega Psi Phi, it’s who we are and what we are all about,” Loki said.
This event is just one of the ways Loki is very involved in local and nationwide communities. He is a fierce advocate for teaching the untold stories of African-American history as a means of ending racism and hate through education.
He shares these stories through documentaries, children’s books and curriculum. And earlier this month, after three years of work, he was finally able to share another one of these stories at the historic Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. Loki, along with Reena Evers, provided a sneak preview of his latest documentary, “The Evers” as part of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center’s 8th of August Jubilee.
The film is about the profound love and sacrifices of Medgar Evers and his family during the Civil Rights Movement, told through the voices of Evers’ wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams, daughter Reena Evers and others.
Loki is connected with the Evers family through his upbringing as the child of civil rights icon and activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.
“Being surrounded by Civil Rights activists growing up — it becomes who you are. You can try not to be in your mother’s shadow, but you can’t avoid it,” Loki explained.
Loki added that he and Reena have discussed how they will always be known as “the son of” or “the daughter of” but they have come to embrace that.
“It’s our legacy. Our role is to create that connection to history,” Loki said. “People ask me, ‘Would you have sat at the lunch counter?’ and I tell them I don’t have to because my mother and others already did. However, I have to do what I do, because doing nothing is not an option.”
He is the founder of the Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation, an organization started in 2014 that works to end racism through education. The Foundation uses his mother’s eyewitness experience during the Civil Rights Movement to tell the story of that era, its well-known and unknown heroes, and its impetus to change.
“Through our work, we have found that the most effective way to change racist ideology is to begin with education. Racism is a learned behavior. The sooner we can teach children what racism is and to call it out when they see it, the sooner we can see a brighter future,” Loki and Joan explain on their Foundation page.
Each year, Loki and his mother — together or separately — connect with students and communities all over the nation through 70+ assemblies, presentations and events. In all of them, they lead listeners into the uncomfortable truth about racism and hate in America, then through to the avenues of empowering change.
“For my mom, it all comes down to three things: 1) Find a problem, 2) Get some friends together, and 3) Go solve it,” Loki said. “Her thing was the Civil Rights Movement. My mom said, ‘This is wrong,’ and did what she could do.”
What she did was participate in over 50 sit-ins and demonstrations by the age of 23. She also was a Freedom Rider and joined the March on Washington, the Meredith March and the Selma to Montgomery March.
“We help students take history and apply it,” Loki explained about their presentations and school assemblies. “When we talk to kids, we ask them what is their thing, and what they can do.”
The team at the Foundation also developed “Standing for Freedom,” a Civil Rights curriculum for grades 5-12 that is accurate, concrete and user-friendly for teachers and students.
Love-Day worked with Loki earlier this year to implement this curriculum for 15,000 students in her school district. She’s received emails from teachers thanking her for this actionable curriculum because it isn’t diluted down, offers inroads to the complex stories and events of the time, and doesn’t gloss over the not-so-easy stories.
“Loki is definitely using his privilege for good. You can tell he cares about what he’s doing, and has a way of saying, ‘Hey, this is what we can do as white people.’ In Utah especially, this helps teachers learn to be advocates, even when they don’t look like our minority students. He’s an example of an advocate, and I applaud him for that,” she said.
Loki’s advocacy extends to all areas of his life, including his work at Studies Weekly. He joined the company when its president, Ed Rickers, wanted to start a video team to record deeper stories of history.
“Ed said, and these were his exact words to me, ‘I don’t want to whitewash history.’ We now travel all over to get stories that reflect a greater depth of history and diversity that most education companies don’t want to touch,” Loki said.
These stories include firsthand accounts of the Japanese internment during World War II, detailed videos for Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, and many others.
Studies Weekly is also a consistent supporter of the Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation, and offers its Civil Rights curriculum through the Studies Weekly store. Loki’s films have won 15 Best Documentary Awards, an Emmy, and 40 Telly awards — 9 of those for Studies Weekly films.