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Colorado Edition: Producers roundtable — favorite interviews from 2021

JayCee Beyale and Gregg Deal mural
JayCee Beyale
A mural wall shared by JayCee Beyale (left half) and Gregg Deal (right half) in Denver's RiNo Art District.

Throughout the last year, we have had more than 350 conversations with Coloradans across the Front Range and beyond. Our production team talked with all kinds of people — teachers, artists, park rangers, students, doctors, and more. Some conversations sparked joy, empathy and connection with different communities and people in Northern Colorado. Others were more difficult, reflecting the pain so many of us share as the pandemic has morphed and continued.

Today, we tried something new. Producers Henry Zimmerman and Tess Novotny joined host Erin O’Toole to talk about some of our favorite segments of the year. We want to bring you behind the curtain of how our show comes together every day.

Henry Zimmerman

Little Rock Nine Anniversary
In this Sept. 25, 1957, file photo, nine African American students enter Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., escorted by troops of the 101st Airborne Division. (AP Photo/File)

Among my favorite Colorado Edition segments this year was an interview I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. Back in February, we got the chance to interview Dr. Melba Patillo Beals. She is one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of Black students who were the first to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas three years after the US Supreme Court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional in Brown v. the Board of Education.

We got the chance to speak with her because she was giving a talk to a local Fort Collins group about her memoir and life story. Dr. Patillo Beals was so incredibly generous with her time and gave us more than an hour for the interview. It was remarkable to speak with her over a Zoom call, of all things, as someone who learned about the Little Rock Nine and the role they played in American history in school.

Dr. Melba Patillo Beals of the Little Rock Nine

Erin O'Toole

Rae Solomon / KUNC
Colorado Edition's Erin O'Toole chats with Black Smoke author Adrian Miller at Nordy's Barbecue and Grill in Loveland, Colorado.

One of my favorite segments from 2021 was my conversation with Denver-based author and food scholar Adrian Miller. His book "Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue" was published this year. In it, he calls out a glaring lack of representation of African Americans in barbecue. Miller traces the origins of barbecue in the U.S. back to Indigenous peoples and, later, to enslaved African Americans. But despite the popularity (and profitability) of barbecue in today’s media, he argues that the faces, voices, and contributions of Black barbecue cooks have been largely excluded from the current picture.

We met at a Northern Colorado barbecue restaurant to talk about some of these historic figures who helped shape the smoky meats and sides we know and love today – including some absolute legends of the Colorado BBQ scene, like Daddy Bruce Randolph and Columbus B. Hill. But our conversation was much more than just an exploration of a popular cuisine … and certainly not just an excuse to go sample some barbecue with an expert! It was a reminder that too many times, voices and lived experiences of marginalized people and communities have been written out of the history we know today. It’s important to acknowledge this, and to take action to restore these voices to their proper place in the narrative.

Celebrating African American Barbecue Culture And History With 'Black Smoke'

Tess Novotny

Danielle Seewalker mural
Danielle Seewalker
Danielle Seewalker's mural in Denver's RiNo Art District.

In November, we spoke with three Indigenous artists in Colorado who were just finishing up separate murals in Denver’s RiNo art district. We talked about each of their murals, which were planned for Native American Heritage month, and we also talked about the relationships between identity, art and social change. Gregg Deal, an El Paso County-based artist and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, had an interesting take on the meaning of “activist”:

“The title of activist, for me, it just feels too formal … I also feel like what one person calls an activist another person might call an adult with an opinion … I look at my role in this as sort of being disturbing spaces and trying to disturb the sort of status quo, the understanding of indigenous existence, the understanding of federal relationships with our communities, the way that we should look, the way that we should talk, the way that we should present ourselves.”

Deal said simply articulating the reality of Indigenous experience is significant and meaningful without the label of “activism”. Storytelling, art and conversation do not need to be “activism” to have an impact. Disrupting the status quo and cultivating mutual understanding resonates with me. Deal also said the English language limits how we describe support and love for one another. In other languages and communities, different words — advocate, elder, warrior — might better encapsulate someone's role than "activist". It's comforting to know that showing up for yourself and community can come from a rainbow spectrum of roles, rather than one rigid title.

Indigenous artists explore identity in RiNo district murals

More favorites:

Teachers of young students help them adjust to in-person learning — some for the first time ever

Rural Colorado teen documents coming out as trans in personal photo essay

Two Colorado women make history through their podcast, one of whom may be the first non-verbal podcaster in the world

Wilderness on Wheels camp in Park County

Sharing 9/11 Firefighters' Legacy, One Flight At A Time

24-hour bald eagle nest cam at Standley Lake

Colorado Edition is hosted by Erin O'Toole (@ErinOtoole1) and edited by Henry Zimmerman (@kombuchacowboy). Our production team includes Tess Novotny (@tess_novotny). KUNC news director Brian Larson is our executive producer. Web was edited by digital editor Jackie Hai.

The mission of Colorado Edition is to deepen understanding of life in Northern Colorado through authentic conversation and storytelling. It's available as a podcast on iTunesSpotifyGoogle PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

You can hear the show on KUNC, Monday through Friday at 2:30 and at 6:30 p.m.
Colorado Edition is made possible with support from our KUNC members. Thank you!

Our theme music was composed by Colorado musicians Briana Harris and Johnny Burroughs. Other music in the show by Blue Dot Sessions.

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