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New commission will study racial equity in Colorado

Courtesy of the Colorado Channel.
Rep. Leslie Herod (D) and Rep. Naquetta Ricks (D) speaking on the Colorado House floor on May 2, 2024 in support of the Racial Equity Study Bill.

A new bill signed into law last month will establish a commission for specific historical research on racial equity in Colorado.

Jackie Sedley spoke with Colorado Sun equity reporter, Tatiana Flowers, about her reporting on the study and how supporters are fundraising to pay for it.

Tatiana Flowers: Senate Bill 53 was co-sponsored by all Black Democrats and this is a law that aims to study the economic impact of slavery, racism, and discrimination on Black Coloradans in the state's economy. And so essentially what will happen is there will be a commission or a task force that will be convened later this fall—I think it's by September 1st—and they will study trends like housing, incarceration, education, health care, and many other trends to help qualify and quantify, as the lawmakers say, the harms of slavery and racism on Black Coloradans.

When all the research is done in three years, the group will make recommendations for corrective measures, and the commission is going to include 14 members. History Colorado, which is our state historical society, is already hiring staff to begin the work outlined in this law.

Some of the other kinds of researchers on the team will include people who have studied Black history, slavery, and racism, a person who can quantify the economic impact of those harms on Black people here, and then some others with legal expertise in constitutional law and racial justice.

And one thing that the lawmakers wanted to make clear is that this is not a reparations law, but rather a racial equity study that tries to recognize the harms done to Black Coloradans and make recommendations to improve their lives going forward.

Jackie Sedley: So, in your reporting, you said that proponents of Senate Bill 53 didn't believe the bill would pass if it had state funding. Can you explain why that is?

Flowers: So the lawmakers and some of the others, like Chic Denver, which is an organization that actually came up with the idea for this bill and is also leading the fundraising, they decided that it would be better to try to fundraise for the first year.

Last week they finished fundraising $800,000, which is going to fund the first year of work for this study. But this is a three-year study, and so they're going to have to fundraise the rest of that. And it doesn't look like they're going to be asking for state funding in those next two years either. But to answer your question, they said that they felt that this law would not pass if they asked for state funding, and then that says a lot about our political environment. And part of the reason that they wanted to fundraise was to show there's community support for a study like this and its results.

I don't know if readers or listeners know, but there is another study that studies the Native American boarding schools and the history of that. And History Colorado is leading that effort too, and that got state funding. And I think that what these lawmakers were trying to explain is that whether it's true or not, this says a lot about our political system and where we are in terms of achieving racial equity.

So basically, lawmakers, corporations, foundations, nonprofits, etc. they raised almost $800,000 for the first year of this study, and they said that they would be willing to continue this work to make sure that the rest of the study is funded. And part of the reason that they wanted to fundraise was to show there's community support for a study like this and its results.

Sedley: How do you think supporters raised that remaining $30,000 so quickly?

Flowers: What I can say is that I know that there is a link on Chic Denver's website, and that's where people have been making a lot of donations. And I know that there was a meeting where some affluent Black community leaders and individuals attended to try to figure out how to raise the remaining funds. Some of the donors who attended were giving a thousand here and there and then some bigger donations from corporations and foundations.

Sedley: In your reporting, you also mentioned Juneteenth. Can you tell us a bit about the effect that you think that might have had on that fundraising?

Flowers: So I know that the lawmakers believe that this annual event that marks when people who were enslaved were freed in Galveston, Texas in 1865, were trying to say that if it hadn't been for this annual date, they probably would have had a harder time raising these funds.

And so, I mean, there's no way to know for sure, but they're attributing Juneteenth to being able to raise the rest of the funds that they needed to get this first year of work done.

Sedley: What are some of the potential ways that the findings of this study could be useful to lawmakersand Black Coloradans?

Flowers: So the goal is to use the findings from the study. If there is a number that kind of outlines the economic impact on the state and the economy in Black Coloradans, that will hopefully be used to inform future policy because lawmakers are saying that we don't have this kind of empirical data. But that it’s important to inform future laws and policies. Some of the donors I talked to were hoping that the findings of the study and the recommendations will be used in classrooms and such and that it will help people to understand why Black people are sometimes mad, why they sometimes riot, and why they sometimes do things that aren't so obvious to other people. Aside from the policy stuff and the educational implications, I think some of it is just to have people understand us a bit more.

Copyright 2024 KGNU.

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Jackie Sedley is KGNU's Report for America Corps Member where she covers all things environment and climate. Before moving to Mountain Time, she lived in sunny California working as the Internal News Director for KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara. Sedley's journalism career thus far has also included freelancing for the New York Times, producing and reporting for KCRW, and working as Editor-in-Chief for her community college newspaper. Sedley was introduced to journalism during her sophomore year of high school, when she joined her high school newspaper as a novice staff writer. After working her way up to News Editor and eventually Editor-in-Chief, she realized her thirst for reporting was truly unquenchable. Over the past 10 years Sedley has covered raging fires, housing crises, local elections, protests and more. Journalism is both the reason Jackie Sedley wakes up in the morning, and the reason she does not sleep enough at night.