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360: What can Colorado communities do to be more inclusive?

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Posted at 10:49 AM, Jul 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 12:49:37-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.

DENVER — For weeks now, the country has witnessed a question about policing morph into a bigger question of belonging, and whose life matters.

Colorado is venturing into an uncharted territory of change. While some communities want to be on the forefront of those changes, many aren’t sure where to start.

Denver7 went 360 to present multiple perspectives on how communities can be more inclusive and make sure everyone’s voices are heard.

Diversity and Inclusion involves everyone, regardless of race.

This is a wonderful opportunity for us to disrupt the myth. The myth is: diversity is just about people of color. Even if you’re a white person you really are in the definition of diversity,” said Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, the Chief Catalyst for the Equity Project, an organization that helps communities work toward fairness and inclusion.

Mosby Tyler told Denver7 the first step in diversity, inclusion, and equity work is knowing what the words truly mean.

Diversity in and of itself is really about honoring the richness and the beauty of the differences of all of us. Inclusion is really about what you do with your diversity, it’s the action,” Mosby Tyler said. “Equity really is about creating systems where everyone can thrive, and everybody gets exactly what they need. But if you’re not doing diversity work and inclusion work, it’s harder to get to equity. “

According to Mosby Tyler, striving for equity includes paying attention to who is currently represented in an organization, or community.

When you look around decision making tables, who’s there and who might be missing?” Mosby Tyler said.

Representation Matters

Misgana Tesfaye and Barry Overton are co-chairs for the City of Denver’s African American Commission. Part of their job includes making sure their community has a seat at the decision-making table when it comes to city policies.

I felt like the commission was the best way to speak truth to power and bring our communities voice to city hall,” Tesfaye said.

Tesfaye told Denver7, the commission was formed in 1948 to address systemic racism and issues surrounding underrepresented communities in Denver.

“The reason I wanted to get involved is because I wanted to give back to my community. I’ve been a member of this community since I was very young. I moved to Denver from Ethiopia when I was 6,” Tesfaye said.

For him, communities can be more inclusive by amplifying the voices that were once silenced.

Overton, who was a Denver police officer for 26 years, told Denver7 his work toward inclusion means being a bridge between communities.

“I’m a part of a lot of African-American groups on Facebook and I’m a part of a lot of police groups on my Facebook page. When you’re in those groups and you feel like you’re talking to like-minded people it's easier to really speak your truth. The problem is your speaking from one perspective,” Overton said. “I see two islands that are throwing projectiles at one another, but I think the key is, we need more people to be the bridge between those two islands.”

Both Overton and Tesfaye said building that bridge requires tough conversations.

Open and honest communication

Regina Jackson, the Co-Founder of Race2Dinner, an organization that facilitates unconventional conversations surrounding racism and bigotry told Denver7, to be inclusive a community must communicate with honesty.

“We tell people if you’re going to be in this work you need to lose, there’s no wins. You’re going to lose friends, you’re going to lose family members,” said Jackson. "If you are being silent in the face of oppression then you have chosen your side and you have given the oppressor your approval to do whatever they’re doing."

Race2Dinner conversations start with a white woman who wants to do that hard work, hosting a dinner for women of color where the women have painful conversations about the present and the dark history of the country.

Learning about history

Colorado was born because the Union prevailed in the Civil War. But the Union also meant conquest over Native-Americans,” said Susan Schulten, a professor of history at the University of Denver.

Schulten told Denver7 the oppressive past gives insight into the rush for inclusion and equity.

Part of the urgency around bringing down markers or renaming is understandable. In other words it has to do with the broadening of our population, the diversification of our population,” Schulten said. “I have some misgivings about the degree to which some of these monuments are coming down in the dead of night. To me the most productive thing would be to bring sunlight to this…and have open productive conversations around change."

Stepping outside the comfort zone

According to Mosby Tyler, communities biggest opportunity for inclusion is embracing diversity.

“Really explore your proximity to people that are different than you,” Mosby Tyler said. “If you’re surrounded by people exactly like yourself…step out of that box.”

Because when we’re willing to do the things that make us uncomfortable, Mosby Tyler said we can begin to be the change we want to see.