EPHRAIM—Racism is not something that is fading away in America, according to an African-American resident of Ephraim. And based on her experiences, Sanpete County is not immune from displays of racism.
“Racism is the other pandemic,” says Dana Bagnall, who has been a mental health counselor, special education teacher, financial planner and manager of scholarships at Snow College.
“It is institutionalized. It is systemic.” And, she says, once people learn racism, they don’t realize they are racist. “It’s subliminal.”
Although Bagnall grew up in a middle-class, predominantly white suburb of Pittsburgh, is a college graduate and has held professional jobs, she has felt the sting of racism.
She felt it as she observed a Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlotte, N.C. , as a student involved in a biomedical research program at the University of Vermont, and more recently, in her job at Snow College.
Bagnall believes the nationwide protests that grew out of the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta reflect two forces:
First, she says, when a group is not recognized for its efforts and accomplishments, when opportunities for social and economic advancement for group members are restricted or shut off, or when group members must constantly expend exceptional effort to get ahead, pressure builds up.
Second, COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns around the country set up the United States and much of the world for a time out. She says it provided “a great time to look within ourselves and evaluate what’s working, what’s not working…as well as, are we aligned with who God says we are.”
After witnessing the Floyd and Brooks killings, Americans of all races decided police practices, the justice system and society as a whole weren’t working, and took to the streets.
Bagnall’s family has been in America for many generations. A turning point in her family history came when her grandfather became the first African-American to be granted a license to open a shoeshine business on the street in downtown Pittsburgh. Later the business moved to a downtown storefront.
Her grandfather’s children built on his occupational and economic progression. Her father became an entrepreneur. An aunt was the first African American to design uniforms for the Pittsburgh Pirates. An uncle became an internationally known drummer and at one time played with Ray Charles.
Her parents split up, and after that, her mother worked two and three jobs to put her children through college. Then her mother went to college herself.
Because Bagnall wanted to explore her African-American history and identity, she chose to attend Johnson C. Smith University, an historically Black university in Charlotte, N.C.
“Within my first two weeks, I kid you not, there was a KKK rally in downtown Charlotte, and the police were there to protect the KKK,” she says.
While in college, Bagnall qualified in a national competition to participate in the Minority Biomedical Research Symposium, a program that enabled undergraduates to spend the summer studying at the University of Vermont Medical School in Burlington.
One day, she was about to examine a patient when he said, “I’m not letting a N_____ touch me.”
“I thought, ‘This is racism.’ I quickly went from being hurt to being angry,” she says.
Her supervisor told her she could either go back and face the person “or walk away knowing that you’re allowing people who chose to be ugly and rude define your future.” She went back to the room but arranged for somebody else to do the examination.
Bagnall graduated with honors in three and a half years, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and early childhood education. She returned to Pittsburgh, where she got a job with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as a mental health clinician.
After a year and a half, she decided to go back to Charlotte and spent the next 28 years there. “I consider Charlotte my home away from home,” she says.
She held a number of jobs, including therapist for the largest medical system in Charlotte; special education teacher; liaison between the county government in Charlotte and the schools, mental health system, juvenile justice system, social services and faith-based organizations; and regional director for a program that arranged for after-school tutors for struggling students.
After many years being involved with people and their problems, she felt she needed to change gears and became an insurance agent and financial planner for New York Life Insurance Company.
Toward the end of her time at New York Life, she says she got a vision of what she wanted to do most in life. She wanted to set up a company to offer life coaching to women. “I wanted to help people break through past pain, hurts and fears, and live life abundantly,” she says.
That’s what she’s doing now. Her company, “Making a Difference Because U Matter,” offers on-line coaching to women in small groups and sometimes one-on-one. Clients can select a 90-minute, eight-week or 12-month program.
The coaching covers 12 dimensions: spiritual, emotional, financial, character, love and relationships, life vision, career, health and fitness, intellectual, parenting, service and quality of life. Her goal is to help women figure out “how do I amplify all of these things in my life.”
Besides coaching where she meets online with clients, she is setting up an on-line academy called “Live Life Abundantly” where clients can log in and view her video talks. She plans to offer some of the academy programs at no charge.
In October 2015, while living and working in Charlotte, she attended an education conference in Atlanta with more than 200 participants. The participants were divided into two groups: one group of 160 and another group of 40. She ended up in the group of 40 with Rawlin Bagnall, who had grown up in Ephraim but was living in North Carolina.
At the end of the conference, “we hugged each other, and at that moment, we spiritually connected,” she says.
They stayed in touch on a professional level. Then one day, they got together to co-train for a different educational conference in Georgia. They traveled to Georgia together, and on they way, Rawlin told her how he felt about her.
Several months later, they got married in Nevada, and six months after their marriage, he was offered a job as a regional executive for the Boy Scouts of America covering Central Utah, including Sanpete County. They moved to Ephraim, Rawlin’s hometown. And Bagnall got a job heading up the scholarship office at Snow College.
On the whole, Bagnall found her colleagues at Snow to be “wonderful, gifted and skilled” people who sincerely cared about students. “I loved what I did,” she says.
But she also encountered prejudice. On her first day, when she was turning in paperwork, she was introduced to a management-level employee. She extended her hand. He refused to shake it.
A little later, she was introduced to another management-level staff member. Again she extended her hand. She says the staff member “drew her arm back as if there was something on my hand. It was weird and uncomfortable.”
Subsequently, Rawlin and Dana Bagnall went to their Ephraim ward in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sat down in the row in front of where the woman who had withdrawn her hand was sitting. The woman and her family moved.
But displays of prejudice were just beginning. The two Snow College employees who had refused to shake Bagnall’s hand jointly complained to the President’s Office about a picture hanging in her office. They said the picture was inappropriate.
The picture showed a sheepherder with a flock of sheep. But when the viewer looked at it from a different angle, the sheepherder became Jesus Christ and the sheep a crowd of people around him.
“It was a conversation piece” that most visitors seemed to enjoy, Bagnall says. The college attorney investigated and concluded there was nothing wrong with the picture being in a college office.
The same two people complained that Bagnall was rude and belligerent to students. Her direct supervisor stood up for her.
The complaints from the two employees “were something I had to withstand,” she says. “It became a relentless mess.”
Another disturbing incident happened when a man from St. George brought his bi-racial grandson, who was Caucasian and African-American, to her office to find out what scholarships might be available for the young man.
Bagnall’s name was on the door identifying her as the scholarship manager. The man walked in and asked for Mrs. Bagnall. “That’s me,” Bagnall replied
“I don’t mean any disrespect,” the man said, “but can I see someone who’s in charge of scholarships…above you?”
She ended up having a 45-minute conversation during which she tried to gently educate the man about prejudice. At one point, she stopped him as he was about to say the “N” word.
Bagnall says her years at Johnson C. Smith University helped educate her about the scientific basis of race and how, over the centuries, people have attached false connotations to skin tone.
Race, she notes, is determined by how much melanin someone has in his or her skin. In the evolution of man, people who lived closer to the equator had more melanin and people who were further away from the equator less melanin in their skins. So race is a function of how humans evolved in response to exposure to the sun.
Egypt is the cradle of human civilization, yet the history books don’t mention that Egypt is part of Africa, she says. “In my history books,…they displayed people from Africa pretty much as savages. They were always walking around naked.”
The phenomenon of a society dividing the population into racial or ethnic groups and labeling one group as superior to the other really began in the pre-World War II era with the Germans and the Jews, she says.
The term “racism” didn’t exist in the United States until the last half of the 1900s, she says. It started with academics writing articles associating race with sociological traits. Pretty soon, the government and businesses drew up questionnaires asking people to classify themselves, such as checking a box saying they were of European descent.
“It picked up traction,” she said, resulting in many Americans believing that one race was superior to another.
Bagnall says such stereotypes cause physical, emotional, and spiritual duress for African-Americans. For example, an African-American woman may have concerns about giving birth to a Black boy because the media portrays African-American men as not wanting to fill the role of fathers. And the mother knows a high percentage of African-American men end up in prison, often on exaggerated charges.
Through education and hard work, African-Americans can get ahead in America, just as other races can. But “because of stereotyping, they are less confident that it’s possible for them,” she says. “It takes a lot more energy” for African-Americans than for whites.
Several things need to be done to start to eliminate racism, Bagnall says. The federal government, communities and businesses need to commit to moving minorities into top leadership positions. Businesses need to hire them as CEOs and put them on corporate boards. Funding within organizations needs to be reallocated to those ends.
History books need to be rewritten to accurately reflect the contributions of people of African descent, she says.
Colleges need to put African-Americans and other minorities on their faculties so students can get to know minorities and learn from them.
Above all, Americans as individuals “have to do this hard introspection. We have to ask ourselves, ‘When I look at others, do I react to them in a way that devalues them before I get to know them?’
“Until we come together and begin having honest discussions,” she says, “racism is going to continue.”
Bagnall can be found on the internet at http://www.danabagnall.com.