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Beyond The Protests: Sajari Simmons On The Long-Term Work Required To Fight Racism

Jun 12, 2020

Sajari Simmons is encouraging people to think about how they might address racism beyond protesting. "This is not just it. This is just one component,” she said. "There's a lot more that we can do to help impact and educate and support."
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

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Protests against racism and police brutality swelled to hundreds of people in Aspen last weekend. More demonstrations are planned for Saturday and Sunday morning at Wagner Park. 

Roaring Fork Valley residents Jenelle Figgins and Sajari Simmons co-founded the new advocacy group Roaring Fork Show Up and have organized the protests. 

Simmons says now it’s time to think about what other steps can be taken to address systemic racism beyond taking part in demonstrations. 

“I wish that people were already having more of a wide discussion about the tangible way in which we can try to heal what has happened to black Americans for hundreds of years,” she said.

"Oppression is no secret. Let's just do the work instead of pretending that things are something that they're not."

Simmons said for too long, the oppression of black Americans has been the elephant in the room.

“I think it's time to just take ownership in understanding and acknowledging that oppression is no secret. Let’s just do the work instead of pretending that things are something that they're not.”

What do you think we need to recognize here in the Roaring Fork Valley, which such a privileged place in many ways?

I see opportunity for challenge in healthy ways. The Roaring Fork Valley has been able to pat itself on the back for not being so racist, or not having issues with the police, but ultimately there aren't enough black people here to even test that out.

And thinking about that, how did that come to be? Well, it's systemic oppression mixed with white privilege and white fragility. Being able to welcome black Americans into the Roaring Fork Valley in a way that makes them feel at home and makes them feel like they want to stay would say a lot to taking a next step and to being integrative and actually being able to have other voices in influential positions because they will be available. It's not okay to say, Oh, well, they aren't around. We have to look at, why is that? 

What long-term steps need to be taken beyond the protests themselves?

Since this is so very uncomfortable for everyone, maybe we need to, instead of avoiding that, lean into the ways in which we can be uncomfortable. That actually helps us thrive. And I think that just having us exercise new ways to create dialogue with one another, but having like a tangible goal at the end, can be a way to exercise through those uncomfortable moments. 

"Maybe we need to lean into the ways in which we can be uncomfortable."

What have the last few weeks have been like for you as you've led this movement here in the Valley?

I mean, it's pretty intense. I think that if we can help curate a way to level the playing field, it doesn't feel so much like it's just us because we know that, in order for that to even happen, it takes the collective.

So while it felt like [Jenelle and I] had to be the ones to wake people up, it definitely doesn't feel like we have to be the only ones to see it through.