Three Generations Of Colorado Women Who Are Black Scholar-Activists Reflect On The Moment
Protests against racism and police brutality continue in Colorado, but there are many faces and voices that are missing. Here, four Colorado women who are Black activists and scholars share their thoughts on what this moment means to them. They’ve opted out of protests, due to health complications or because they’re participating in other ways. Scroll down for their full bios.
“We’ve been doing equity, diversity and inclusion training the past 50, 60 years and we still see what we see. If training is going to be effective, it can’t be something that people are saying that they’re going to do so that they can get a grant, or so they can sell more product ... It really has to be a deep, sincere desire to say, ‘We want to change our internal systems so that we are not intentionally or unintentionally violating the human rights of individuals.'”
“The question that I sit with right now is: How can we really and truly create a civil society? What does true democracy look like? And I really believe that people who are marginalized are the best ones to tell you about democracy.”
“Breonna Taylor. She died the same way as Rekia Boyd and Sandra Bland. I mean the list of Black women who have been killed at the hands of police...it breaks my heart. Black women need a voice we need to be visible and present in the fight against oppression.”
“I’m hearing people say, ‘COVID is really pulling back the covers on health equity.’ And in my mind it’s like: If you didn’t realize that there were inequities in the health system, you have been living underneath a rock for the last hundred years.”
“I’m more on the end of public policy and of changing law. And until laws change, we can be in all the conversations we want and all it is, is a feel-good conversation.”
“If nothing else, I hope that everybody who is eligible to vote, votes. Stay mad and go out there and vote.”
“When we moved into our home, my son was four years old and all of my neighbors thought he was cute and well mannered and they loved him. Until he grew taller. By 12 years old, he was already 6 feet. And I remember the day my heart broke when he said, ‘Mom, when I go for walks in my neighborhood, my neighbors don't speak to me anymore. They act like they're afraid of me.’ And he noticed that before they started calling the police on him.”
“Look at the statistics of our schools. We have more police officers in our schools, especially those schools that are deemed ‘urban,’ than we have counselors and psychologists. We have a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic children who are suspended from schools. We have a disproportionate number of Blacks who are referred to special ed in the category of ‘behavior disorders.’ They're overrepresented there, but underrepresented in autism. I was asked the question once, ‘Well, what happens to Black children with autism?’ I said, ‘They get punished and suspended, where white children get treated and supported.’”
“Black families and communities of color talk about race all the time. We must prepare our children to live in a racialized society. So we have to break their hearts very early and let them know that there will be people who do not like them simply because of the color of their skin. And studies show that when we have those conversations, that children of color have a much more positive view of race relations than white children. On the other hand, white families who are committed to diversity, they will promote diverse issues. They will take their children to diverse activities, but rarely will they talk about it. So we have whole generations of people who have never really talked about race.”
“My father fought for the civil rights movement. I fought in the Black Power movement. I never thought that my son would now be fighting in this movement. When does it end? What will it take so that my grandchildren will not be fighting the same fight?”
“I was in college in the late '70s, early '80s, and this was toward the end of the Black Panther power movement. There was a football player, one of my classmates named Ron Settles, and he was murdered by the police and they blamed it on suicide. And it was my first time taking to the street in protest. Following that I became the president of the Black Student Union, and we began to fight police brutality that was running rampant in our communities. So, the times then were very much like the times now. The biggest difference is the diversity and protesters of the allies that we have now that we didn't have then.”
“This is not a sprint. It is a marathon, a very long one. And while we appreciate the allyship of participating in protest today, we need you more than ever six months from now, six years from now to create substantive changes that will definitely change America. George Floyd's daughter said, ‘My Daddy changed the world.’ Let’s make sure that's a reality.”
“Is this moment different? My heart and my soul, unfortunately, tells me ‘No.’ As a Black woman who’s married to a Black man, who has Black kiddos, I think that the ways in which we’re being exposed to the root -- which is white supremacy and institutionalized violence manifesting through that -- it’s unfortunately not different. The ways in which others may be digesting is different.”
“Policy has been passing forever, and it ends up being consumed and overhauled and co-opted by interest convergence. This notion that we passed the policy, but we're only going to implement it to the point that it benefits white folks. So for affirmative action, it was white women. For Brown v. Board, it was white students and white families who were really the beneficiaries. I'm really, really hoping that we don't only rush to policy as sort of the silver bullet, and not have that heavy monitoring and fidelity and integrity within the implementation process.”
“There’s been a lot of romanticizing of race and racism and folks feel like they’ve done their work by simply naming that. And it’s like, that’s the easy part, actually...Let’s really think about the ways in which whiteness manifests through all of us. So, how are you positioned in this society and in your community and how does that inform the ways in which you see the world? Those are the often invisibilized and normalized ways in which racism persists and whiteness persists through us.”
“There’s this deep desire to have pictures of us angry. I’m not going to perform anger for you. Yeah, I’m mad as hell. But everybody should be mad as hell, not just me. I don’t care what your identity is, you should be pissed in this time.”
“I came to this realization in my late twenties that I don’t have to physically put my body on the line to be civically engaged. I don’t need to engage in persistent racial battle fatigue. And I also don’t have to physically put my body on the line. I definitely encourage our white allies to do that, because we know that their bodies are read differently...I’m a scholar-activist, and I run an organization. Our daily work is a protest, and a clapback to white supremacy.”
“I grew up around a lot of people who didn’t look like me, didn’t worry about things that Black people do, like microaggressions, racism, stuff like that. And so I was just unaware. But then when I got to college, I started learning about things like systemic racism, microaggressions in the workplace...and the prison system being yet another form of slavery.”
“I think about Breonna Taylor more now. I don’t want people to forget...People just don’t talk about how invisible Black women can be in every aspect. And I haven’t heard about other Black women who’ve been victims of police brutality. It’s like it just gets glossed over.”
“I just want people to make sure that they’re listening to African Americans because when this all first started, I was constantly seeing people that aren’t of color making opinions about what’s going on, but the point is to hear us … Just make sure that you’re listening.”
“I’ve never seen this before in my life. We can’t let it die down. For the longest time people were saying that, like, ‘Oh we gave you Obama, it’s fine.’ No. We have to keep it going.”
Dr. Carolyn Love is a businesswoman, activist, feminist and grandmother. She founded Kebaya Coaching & Consulting, which is focused on leadership and organizational change. She has worked for many years in the Denver business community, and facilitates “meetings between municipalities and minority business owners to make sure that there’s equity in the procurement process.” She facilitated conversations between the public and Boulder police about traffic stop data, and guided the process of establishing the city’s Police Oversight Task Force. Her PhD dissertation looked at generational differences in how Black women social activists in Colorado perceive race. Love is also on the board of directors of the ACLU of Colorado. She is originally from Gary, Indiana, and has lived in the greater Denver area for decades.
Dr. Rosemarie Allen is an associate professor in the School of Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver and the president and CEO for the Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence, which aims to, among other things, address inequities that result from bias and dismantle the preschool to prison pipeline. After realizing how little white teachers understood about basic hygiene of their Black students (“I had a teacher ask me once if black children were dirty because she found that their hair and skin was greasy. It helped me to understand that we don't even know about basic hygiene of different races”), she wrote two children’s books about African American hair care. She is originally from Los Angeles, Calif., and has lived in Colorado for 26 years.
Janiece Mackey is the co-founder and director of a youth engagement organization, Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism (YAASPA), which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. The goal of the organization is to cultivate students of color, from middle school through college, to be civically engaged in community and career. Mackey is also a PhD candidate at the University of Denver, where her dissertation is about 10 Black undergraduate students studying political science (“I'm really obsessing over what I'm calling ‘Black finesse,’ and the ways in which they create space for themselves and agency for themselves within the discipline”). She grew up in Aurora, Colo., where she now lives with her partner and children.
Michaela Lee is double majoring in ethnic studies and psychology at the University of Colorado Denver. She also works with YAASPA, where she is focusing on a transit equity campaign that aims to get free bus passes for students so they can participate in concurrent enrollment. She is from Denver and currently lives in Commerce City, Colo.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico and support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.