Shorter African Methodist Episcopal Church in Denver was a fitting backdrop for a recent forum on race and discrimination, given that it was formed in 1868, when Colorado was just a territory and legal slavery was fresh in everyone's minds.
Church leaders allowed Colorado Matters to listen in as Shorter's pastor, Rev. Timothy Tyler, and his wife, Nita Mosby Tyler, led more than 200 people in conversation. We were there in conjunction with a reporting project about discrimination of all kinds -- race, gender, religion, your ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. Here are some of the voices we heard:
John Coleman, of Park Hill in Denver, on the exhaustion of dealing with racism and discrimination:
"I mean it’s been going on for so long that a lot of people are just like, 'It’s not going to change.' I mean, what happens if we show up? I mean, it even goes back to the vote. I mean a lot of people felt like that their voices weren’t going to be heard, so why even participate? It’s similar to what we’re going through now with each individual issue that we’re dealing with as a community. A lot of people are just done with it. I mean, they’ve got no passion for it anymore for whatever reason."
Jessica Zender of Denver, "a white lady," taking issue with the idea that whites are discriminated against:
"I am not one of those white people who believe that. I know that there are people who perceive discrimination against white people. That is not something that I have experienced or believe is real."
Zender on what she learned from the conversation:
"Every time I’ve been at an event like this, inevitably, someone will stand up and talk about their experience and why it’s very different than kind of what’s been laid out, and I feel like that’s a trap that we just keep falling into, and not moving the conversation forward. I will say what moved me the most was talking about binding together and the idea of being a cathedral builder. I think that idea that – that notion of ego in your activism and in your personal work and your political work can run counter to this idea of a cathedral. If you’re never going to see the cathedral built and you’re too worried about who’s getting the credit for the building, then you’re going to stop doing the work, and for me, that ego and recognizing that the work will likely not be complete in your lifetime was really, really powerful to me.
Gregory Diggs of Stapleton on "the talk" with his son:
"I could tell a lot of stories, but I’m going to tell this. So one of the more contemporary things from me is that I was privileged enough to live in the community that I live in and my son was three years old when we moved to Stapleton, and then he became 10 years old and I had to start having a conversation with him – “The Talk”, we call it – as he’s going to be moving out on his own, riding his bike and playing, and letting him know that 'You’ve got to be aware that people are going to see you differently than you might expect,' and when he was 10 he didn’t really understand it, but I knew that I had to tell him. Two years later, Trayvon Martin happened.
"...And it broke my heart. I’m going to see if I can do this without crying. It broke my heart to watch my son watching this on television, transfixed and understanding that, 'That’s me, that’s me,' and he – my son’s 18 years old now, but then as it moved forward, he started to be aware of how he was perceived and how he was treated. We lived in Stapleton, but he was having an experience that he would report, that people would see him, white people and move across the street. He would go to stores and be followed, and some people would even have the nerve to say stuff to him as if he did not belong there, and he’s like, 'Daddy, what are they talking about? I’m the original resident. These people are in my neighborhood. How are they going to be treating me like I don’t belong here?' That’s – as I grew up, I faced all kinds of different things and that’s just my life, but it’s breaking my – it broke my heart that my children have had to experience that too, and that’s my pain that I live with. It’s not even my personal experience, it’s that I thought we were further along and it turns out that we’re not. "
You can measure your own attitudes about race and bias using Project Implicit's questions here. And text "share" to 720-358-4029, call the same number to leave a message, or tell your own story of discrimination here.
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