In the opening scene of the pilot episode of Off The Beaten Path, images of powder skiing, Delicate Arch, and the Bonneville Salt Flats flash across the screen while a voice-over says, “When most people think of Utah they think of this.” The camera then pans to two African American men standing in the foothills who point at each other, shrug and say “They definitely don’t think of us when they think of Utah. They don’t even know we’re here.”
As an African American in Utah, Lonzo Liggins grew up thinking black people were either one of two things: gang members or church people. “I never thought about the in-between,” he said. Growing up with little exposure to people of color in professional roles he explains, “If you don’t have that point of reference, you have to rely on the news media or some other outlet to tell you what those people are like,” and media coverage of people of color thriving in Utah was hard to find.
It wasn’t until he moved to California when he was 18 that he realized “there were all kinds of black people doing some great things. There were all sorts of cool positions in the world that I had no clue about.” He credits misconceptions about race having more to do with the lack of experience and the lack of stories about people of color than blatant racism and this is something he wants to improve upon in Utah.
Inspired by his work on a documentary about the African American population in Utah called “Two Percent” that ultimately fell through, Liggins teamed up with fellow actor Danor Gerald, a Utah transplant from Dallas, Texas, to create a new show highlighting diverse cultures in Utah.
Off The Beaten Path seeks to go where no other Utah media outlets tend to venture. The show will explore topics ranging from diverse foods and entertainment and where various cultures gather for fun to which schools are the most diverse and what places of worship there are other than LDS and Christian. Their goal with the show is to dispel incorrect myths people have about Utah, while also highlighting underrepresented communities.
“A lot of people in Utah aren’t really familiar with everyone in their community, especially people of color because we don’t have a lot of media showing African Americans, Asians, Middle Eastern people, and Jewish people thriving and doing a lot of cool things,” says Liggins.
Each episode of the show will feature a special guest such as a celebrity or prominent business leader from outside of Utah. The hosts will show them what there is to do in Utah by visiting off the beaten path locations, meaning diverse restaurants and entertainment venues that rival what you’d expect to find in larger markets like Portland and Seattle. They’ll also profile diverse community members that have made significant contributions to the state.
“A lot of people don’t know the unique and cherished stories about people who are immigrants or people of different cultures who have contributed vastly not just Utah but to mankind,” says Liggins.
Liggins and Gerald created the pilot episode out of their own pocket and with their own free time. They are currently looking for sponsors to support future episodes. They feel that their show could be a powerful recruitment tool for companies looking to attract more diversity to the state in addition to providing an alternative source of media for people here in Utah.
This is not to say their experiences in Utah have been all positive. “Some stereotypes about Utah are true and it is not just the state. We see it with the United States as a whole and we’ve seen the fallout from this quite a bit over the last month and a half with the police situation,” says Gerald.
This show was well in the works before the coronavirus hit and the recent wave of protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. Gerald wants people to know that the show is not about choosing sides, “This is not about the politics of Black Lives Matter. It’s not about the politics of Democrat vs Republican. This is about the community. This is about the people. The hardworking, tax-paying citizens who are looking for a way to build and rally around each other. It’s about eliminating the sides and creating harmony,”
With support, Off The Beaten Path could start filming as early as this fall. “Shows like this,” says Liggins, “can help our communities learn to understand each other better.” You can follow the progress of their show on Instagram or Facebook.