Colorado Black Caucus launched this week

The Colorado Statesman

Declaring that the time has come for African-American elected officials to band together to foster common goals, state Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, welcomed a crowd of more than 200 to the official launch of the Colorado Black Caucus on Thursday night at the Colorado Museum of Nature and Science.

Mile High Montessori president Anna Jo Haynes and state Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, celebrate the launch of the Colorado Black Caucus at a reception Jan. 5 at the Colorado Museum of Nature and Science. Haynes’ daughter, Denver Public Schools board member Allegra “Happy” Haynes, is one of the members of the caucus, which is chaired by Williams.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“This is a milestone when considering, a year ago, we worried that African Americans’ influence in Denver city government and the Legislature could be severely diminished,” said Williams, gesturing to indicate the elected African Americans — including Denver’s mayor and two City Council members, along with state, municipal and school board officials — arrayed behind her.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock welcomes celebrants to the launch of the Colorado Black Caucus on Jan. 5 at the Colorado Museum of Nature and Science in Denver. Sporting a new beard he grew over the holidays, Hancock’s western shirt and bolo tie are in keeping with his proclamation that Denver residents should “dress western” that day. Behind Hancock are caucus members state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Denver Councilman Albus Brooks.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Williams organized and will chair the caucus, which she described as a group dedicated to promoting “statewide collaboration among African-American officials.” (Though the caucus is nonpartisan, the inaugural members of the current incarnation are all Democrats.)

Colorado currently has 14 elected officials who are African American, organizers said, a critical mass that led Williams to decide it was time to revive the caucus.

Former state Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, and former state Sen. Gloria Tanner, D-Denver, celebrate the launch of the Colorado Black Caucus at a reception on Jan. 5 at the Colorado Museum of Nature and Science. Tanner was the first African American woman to serve as a Colorado state senator and the second African American woman to hold a leadership position in the state House, where she served as minority caucus chair.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We feel it’s important that we use our collective talents and strengths to forge partnerships in the communities in which we serve, and advocate for the interests of African Americans, communities of color, and the under-served throughout Colorado,” she told the packed crowd. “The objective of the Colorado Black Caucus is to stimulate interest in public affairs among African American leaders, to increase political involvement of African-American leaders, to unite African American elected officials.”

Democratic National Committee member Anthony Graves, state legislative candidate Jovan Melton, and Denver City Councilman Chris Herndon pose for a snapshot at a reception for the Colorado Black Caucus on Jan. 5 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

She said the caucus would make a point of mentoring young black activists and budding politicians with the hope of increasing the ranks of elected officials.

“This is just the beginning of tapping into the promise of a new generation of leaders,” Williams said, calling out a half dozen up-and-comers from the crowd.

State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, catches up with Morris Price, district director for U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, at a reception launching the Colorado Black Caucus on Jan. 5 at the Colorado Museum of Nature and Science in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

While African Americans make up a small share of the population — just 4 percent of Colorado residents, slightly over 10 percent in Denver, according to 2010 Census figures — the state has elected a hefty share of black politicians to office over the years, including two lieutenant governors, a secretary of state, the leaders of both chambers of the State Legislature, and two of the most recent three mayors of Denver.

The latest in that line, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, unfurled a list of dozens of black elected officials from throughout Colorado stretching back to the 1960s. “We have to complete the circle,” he proclaimed.

“This is not just about African Americans,” Hancock continued. “This is an effort about the state of Colorado, and about making sure every constituency has every potential to be as strong and as active of possible, that we reach out and we build coalitions with the brown community in Denver as well, the Anglo community, the Asian community, the American Indian community.”

Hancock concluded: “It’s not really about color in Colorado, it’s about potential — it’s about the ability to talk about the issues that meet our constituents where they are.”

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said his experience as one of the Legislature’s few openly gay lawmakers has helped him understand the importance of forging coalitions and standing with representatives of minority communities.

“It’s so important to our state to have the diversity that’s standing here today to really push for representation and pushing for a voice for those who don’t always have a voice at the Capitol and in government in our state,” Ferrandino said.

In addition to Williams and Hancock, caucus members include state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora; Denver Public School board members Nate Easely and Allegra “Happy” Haynes; Denver City Councilmen Albus Brooks and Chris Herndon; Centennial City Councilman Vorry Moon; Commerce City Councilmen Rene Bullock and Steven J. Douglas; RTD directors Barbara Deadwyler and Jeff Walker; and CU Regent Joe Neguse. Caucus sponsors include AT&T, United Airlines, Xcel Energy and the Hill Foundation.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com