Addressing Inequality

(Sept. 21) – Rep. Angela Williams and other members of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus said today that they were considering legislation intended to reverse a trend toward greater economic disparity between white Coloradans and Coloradans of color.

Speaking to an audience of about 300 at the “Losing Ground Summit,” a community meeting at Manual High School in Denver, Rep. Williams said she and the rest of the black caucus were considering a variety of options, including measures to study the state procurement process for disparities against minorities, the disabled and veterans; to promote “safe and affordable lending practices” to help those whose credit ratings took a hit during the Great Recession; to train more Coloradans for skilled jobs available here in Colorado; to study ways to provide a livable wage; and to consider the impact of legislation on communities of color.

Rep. Williams called on the audience to make their voices heard at the state capitol. “We have a greater voice if all of us in this room move forward,” she said.

Also speaking to the meeting were Reps. John Buckner (D-Aurora), Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) and Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), along with state Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver); Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver; Denver City Councilors Albus Brooks and Chris Herndon, Denver Public Schools Board Members Happy Haynes and Landri Taylor; and Joe Neguse of the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Rep. Buckner said his goal as a legislator was to reform systems, including the K-12 education system in which he worked as a teacher and administrator for 40 years, that allow too many students, including minorities, to fail. “When I look back on my job, what I did most was protect my kids from a system that didn’t support them,” he said.

Rep. Melton noted the disparities in the availability of health care and simple conveniences like supermarkets in northeast Denver and north Aurora as indicators of a system gone awry. “We’ve got to continue to push forward the idea that our lives are more than just a marginal item,” he said.

Rep. Fields mentioned her service on the state Economic Opportunity and Poverty Reduction Task Force, which was disrupted recently when a white state senator linked poverty among African-American and Latino Coloradans to their diets, including chicken and barbecue. “We’re trying to have a serious dialogue about what we can do to pull people out of poverty and into the mainstream,” Rep. Fields said, “and during this dialogue we have people talking about chicken. Really.”

The gathering was convened by the Colorado Black Round Table and prompted by “Losing Ground,” an I-News/Rocky Mountain PBS report issued this year that documented increasing gaps in economic standing, education and other measures of achievement between black and white Coloradans.

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