Who are the Black leaders that inspire you?

Who are the Black leaders that inspire you?

As we come to the last week of Black History Month, this is the question we posed to members of the One Colorado Board of Directors: Who are the Black leaders that inspire you? From national figures to personal acquaintances, there are so many Black leaders to honor. Here are a few:

Michelle Alexander

“In 2014, I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. It was this moment in my academic journey that changed my understanding of the dynamics in the institution of prison and the criminal justice system and the black community. Alexander’s writing was not only powerful, but it changed my life. This book helped me relate to the struggle of the black community and the ever-changing policies in this country that continue to keep people of color from advancing in society. It was this book that solidified my commitment to focus on being more educated and open to the lessons black people can teach us if we just take the time to listen. I have been focused on my own struggles as a gay Chicano man, with little focus on what my black brother and sisters have been going through. Michelle Alexander has changed this for me and I am forever grateful. Michelle Alexander is a personal hero that I can never thank enough.”

“Black success stories lend credence to the notion that anyone, no matter how poor or how black you may be, can make it to the top, if only you try hard enough. These stories ‘prove’ that race is no longer relevant. Whereas black success stories undermined the logic of Jim Crow, they actually reinforce the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom actually chose their fate.” 
― Michelle Alexander

– Submitted by Jason Salazar


 Lindsay Saunders-Velez

“Despite her young age, Lindsay Saunders-Velez stood up to an embedded State bureaucratic system and demanded that she and her sisters be treated with dignity and respect. Despite decades of systemic discrimination against transgender women in the Colorado Department of Corrections, Lindsay fought against the odds to shed light to these problems — even when it risked her own personal safety to do so. She is the embodiment of a civil rights hero — putting her belief that all people should be treated equally and fairly above all else in the advancement of civil rights in our State and our Country. Not many people would have had the courage and strength to do what this 20 year old woman did — to stand up to the voices of power and demand equality. Her personal sacrifice has already resulted in systemic changes for other women in custody, and have laid the groundwork for major reforms across the country.  She will always be my hero.”

– Submitted by Paula Greisen

Audre Lorde

“I first heard of Audre Lorde as an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire. In my senior year, I noticed someone reading her feminist poems. As a “new lesbian”, I didn’t even realize there was a thriving culture of lesbians, feminists, black, white, Caribbean, and other intersectional identities. Later in my 30s, I was just getting to know Nicole, who is now my wife, and she introduced me to more of Lorde’s poetry and books. I wasn’t a big reader, but her prose and stories captured me. Piercing and truthful, and so different from my identity and experience. My eyes were opened to the intersection of racism and sexism, the idea that identities can evolve, and that I as a white lesbian, budding feminist, was part of a much larger community. I learned that I had a responsibility to all of our differences within our similarities.”

– Submitted by Ellen Winiarczyk

Representative Leslie Herod

“When I first ran into Representative Herod, we were parking our cars before an Urban Peak Board Meeting. It was my first meeting on the Board and I didn’t yet know her. She flashed a genuine, caring smile, and that was my first impression. That smile is just the beginning. Rep. Herod had been on the Board for years, diligently serving on the finance committee and always on the lookout for ways to serve the youth experiencing homelessness. 

One of her first acts as a Representative was to introduce a bill to create a new tax check-off that would designate funds for housing and support services for youth experiencing homelessness, creating a fund that appears on the state individual tax return forms. Then she introduced a bill to create the Caring For Denver Foundation, to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action. Rep. Herod’s commitment to our community — ALL of our community — inspires me.” 

– Submitted by Grant Muller