On Thursday February 18th, Aaron Abeyta and Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding joined Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) for a presentation and discussion on recovering from racism. We began with a poetry reading by Aaron Abeyta, mayor of Antonito and poetry director at Western Colorado University. He read his poem  Ancestor Of Fire, and discussed how we must get grounded in our past to be invested in our future. Then we dove into conversation with Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding about how the past has an impact shaping present-day and future communities. 

A theme we focused on in this talk is the realization that many of us are not comfortable talking about diversity and inclusion, and how that hinders the creation of a fully inclusive society. If we are not comfortable or know where to go to get resources to be more inclusive we are not going to enter a space of full inclusion.

We continued by talking about the stories about race in Colorado, and the audience and speakers share narratives of what they have experienced or learned about race in the state.

  • Colorado is very white

  • Be quiet and lay low to not draw attention to your race

  • University of Colorado Colorado Springs has a hard time keeping diverse staff 

  • Narratives will not attract more diverse folks to the state

The stereotypes that exist about our communities are an incomplete picture of who we are

  • People don’t want to be honest about the existence of stereotypes

  • It’s a challenge to break these stereotyping thought patterns 

  • Stereotypes affect who wants to invest in and live in your community

We need to create different policies to ensure diversity in communities

  • The differences and diversities in our communities bring us value

  • We must honor these differences in a valuable way and not look away from the issues we face

  • Equity and inclusion are inseparable from diversity in communities

  • We need to avoid tokenism and push through the pain and discomfort in order to create a more inclusive world

  • It is essential to create opportunities that people will invest themselves in so that they feel included 

When people feel they are part of the story they feel better about coming to the table 

Questions + Answers

Question: What are your thoughts around getting comfortable with starting conversations about race?

Aaron: People fear saying the wrong thing and do not have the resources to get more comfortable with these conversations. In the United States, we feel we always have to be correct because we are so uncomfortable with being wrong. It’s okay to be ignorant and ask people questions. People like to educate others on their identity and ethnicity. 

Stephany: Some people don’t have the knowledge base to feel comfortable in that practice, so it is important to invest yourself into having these conversations and doing the research.

Question: What are some of the communities on this call doing to expand equity conversations and practices?

La Junta: Encouraging people to get educated on these topics.

Northglenn: Created a board/committee of residents, businesses and city council members. Created a book club to spread knowledge and feel more comfortable talking about equity and race. 

Downtown Denver Partnership: Educational programs and talks with speaker Tamika L. Butler.


Aaron Abeyta

Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native, MFA Poetry Director at Western Colorado University, Professor of English and the Mayor of Antonito, Colorado, his hometown. He is the author of four collections of poetry and one novel. For his book, colcha, Abeyta received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. In addition, his novel, Rise, Do Not be Afraid, was a finalist for the 2007 Colorado Book Award and El Premio Aztlan. Abeyta was awarded a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for poetry, and he is the former Poet Laureate of Colorado’s Western Slope, as named by the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival. Abeyta is also a recipient of a Governor’s Creative Leadership Award for 2017. Abeyta was a finalist for Colorado Poet Laureate, 2019. Aaron has over 100 publications including 'An Introduction to Poetry, 10th ed.,' Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, & Drama, 8th ed.' ‘Conversations in American Literature: Language, Rhetoric, & Culture’ ‘The Leopold Outlook’ ‘Colorado Central Magazine’ ‘The High Country News’ and numerous other journals.

Aaron Abeyta's Website

Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding

Public speaker, social and political commentator, equity and inclusion consultant, professor and pastor, Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding is a force of nature. With a Ph. D. in American Studies, she is a thought leader on race and gender in American culture and society. Her keynotes and trainings help people reach higher heights and deeper depths on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and social transformation. Additionally, as a woman in several leadership positions, she mentors and coaches others to unlock the power within to build healthy, empowered and holistic lives for themselves and the beloved community. She is a former candidate for U.S. Senate (CO, 2019) and Founder of the Truth and Conciliation Commission.

Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding's Website

Helpful Resources

Reading List to Get Started

  • White Fragility - Dr. Robin DiAngelo 

  • How to Be an Antiracist - Ibram X. Kendi

  • The Sum of Us - Heather McGhee

  • The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander 

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