Representation and Inspiration

By Stacey Hollenbeck

Visitors to the Salt Lake City school district’s website won’t have any trouble distinguishing Alama Uluave from the other board members. Amid the collared shirts, coats, and ties, he’s the one wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

A Polynesian immigrant, Uluave is the district’s only nonwhite board member. He also holds that distinction in Salt Lake County, which is home to three other districts. But as the area’s minority population grows, so does the significance of his presence on the board.

“Just to see my face on the wall of members at the school district, people get really excited about it,” said Uluave. “They feel like, ‘Hey, somebody’s battling for us who understands us.’”

Uluave, who was elected to his first term by only one vote, is no stranger to adversity.

Now, the challenges he has confronted -- learning English, living in poverty, and battling a debilitating disease -- are helping him make decisions for Salt Lake City families who face similar obstacles.

Just over half of the district’s 25,000 students are ethnic minorities. The largest groups are Hispanic and Pacific Islanders. “Traditionally, at least in our city, minorities have been underrepresented in management and administration, and haven’t been as involved in decisions that affect children,” board President Doug Nelson says.

Uluave hopes to change that. Recently, a minority community member from a neighboring town called Uluave and told him he inspired her to run for office.

“That’s how I’m making an impact,” he said.

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