President Uchtdorf Lauded as a Community Builder

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 21 March 2015

From left, Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger; President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Sister Harriet Uchtdorf; and Professor Ronald F. Coleman, history professor at the University of Utah, gather at the 48th Annual Humanitarian Awards event at the Rail Event Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 19, 2015.  Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

The Inclusion Center for Community and Justice honored President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on March 19 for his ongoing commitment to bring people of all backgrounds together and to better their communities.

President Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, was presented with the organization’s Humanitarian Award during its annual awards social in Salt Lake City.

“President Uchtdorf is someone who transforms the world around him,” said Paul Draper, the evening’s emcee. “He is someone who leads people, mentors them, and inspires them to be greater in their own lives and communities.”

The Inclusion Center for Community and Justice is a human rights organization charged with building communities of respect and inclusion across all racial, religious, and class lines. The center offers solutions through conflict resolution, education, advocacy, and empowerment.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was awarded the Inclusion Center’s annual awards social in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 19, 2015. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Pamela Atkinson, advocate for the homeless, chats with Sister Harriet Uchtdorf and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, at the 48th Annual Humanitarian Awards event at the Rail Event Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 19, 2015.
Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

For almost a century, the Inclusion Center has recognized individuals and organizations whose efforts and actions help build inclusive communities.

Having been a refugee twice in his life, President Uchtdorf can relate to those who are hungry or feel discriminated against, bullied, or talked down to.

Born in Ostrava, in the former Czechoslovakia, in 1940, the backdrop of his childhood was the devastation of war. He saw how innocent people suffered because of the cruel decisions and actions of others. When his father, Karl, was conscripted into the German army and Stalin’s forces were pushing in from the east, his mother, Hilde, left their possessions behind and fled westward with their children. After the war, the family was reunited at Zwickau, Germany. Since Karl had opposed both the Nazi and communist regimes, the family once again left behind their possessions and made their way to safety in Frankfurt, Germany.

Of this period President Uchtdorf has said: “We were refugees with an uncertain future. … I played in bombed-out houses and grew up with the ever-present consequences of a lost war and the awareness that my own country had inflicted terrible pain on many nations during the horrific World War II” (“The Global Church Blessed by the Voice of the Prophets,” Oct. 2002 general conference).

In his remarks at the awards ceremony, President Uchtdorf said the Church is making “great efforts” to make a difference for good in the lives of people across the world. He spoke of his support of the Inclusion Center’s efforts to battle prejudices, bigotry, and discrimination. He noted that he had spoken out against destructive actions such as bullying and gossiping in a recent general conference address (see “The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” Apr. 2012 general conference).

His counsel then—and now—to anyone involved in such behavior? “Stop it!”

“We must move forward and lift up our fellow men, whoever they are,“ he said. “We must invite them in to our circles, wherever they are, and do it in a way that they do not feel excluded.

“We are all brothers and sisters,” he added. “We are all children of our Heavenly Father.”

At the conclusion of his remarks, President Uchtdorf presented the Inclusion Center leaders with a check of $10,000 as a gift from the Church.

Also honored with Humanitarian Awards at the event were University of Utah history professor Ronald F. Coleman, the advocacy group Utahns Against Hunger, and a pair of Inclusion Center volunteers.

In his remarks, Professor Coleman said he came to the Beehive State more than four decades ago to play football at the University of Utah. There he was mentored by many generous people who put him on his academic and professional path.

“No one gets through this journey of life alone,” said the professor, who has published much of his research on the rich history of African Americans in Utah.

Utahns Against Hunger was also lauded for its tireless work to ensure that Utah families in need do not go hungry. The organization’s executive director, Gina Cornia, accepted the award. She invited all to take action and do what they can so people have sufficient food.

“The road to social justice may be long and it may be hard, but it is worth it,” she said.

The Inclusion Center also recognized a pair of volunteers—Levi Webb and Zayla Long—for their exemplary service.

The proceeds from the event—including the donation from the Church—will provide scholarships for youth and local schools to attend the organization’s human relations leadership retreats and workshops. Conducted in the Utah mountains, the retreats bring together diverse populations and build connections and unity through empathy and respect.