What Does The Push For Equity And Justice Look Like In Colorado Springs Right Now? We Asked The New Head Of The Citizens Project

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In November, Drew Houston became the new executive director of Citizens Project, a long-time advocacy group in Colorado Springs that focuses on issues of equity and inclusion, justice and civic engagement.

Houston is a native of Colorado Springs and got her first taste of community activism when she fought to change her school's mascot.

Now, several months into the job, Houston spoke with KRCC's Mike Procell about her new role, what led her to it and what she hopes for the organization moving forward.

KRCC's Mike Procell: In the ensuing years after high school, you held a number of social justice-oriented roles as both a volunteer and a professional. What were some of those experiences like?

Drew Houston: Most recent history, I worked as a community organizer for a health equity foundation. Equity is one of those broad terms that encompasses so very much. Social justice is certainly well served by seeking equity for all. 

I also did some work with CONO (Council of Neighbors and Organizations) as a volunteer as they worked on one of their programs for the Southeast side of Colorado Springs.

KRCC: Anything in particular stand out from those programs?

Houston: One of the major standouts was the community leadership program that is offered through the Center for Creative Leadership. That program just delved so deeply, not only into how to lead others, but first how to lead yourself. I walked away from that program feeling fundamentally changed for the better.

Jen Heavener courtesy Citizens Project
Drew Houston, executive director of the Citizens Project in Colorado Springs.

KRCC: And you're sort of drawn to the verbs, literally, in the mission statement of Citizens Project, which would be engaging, empowering, and challenging the community. Any concrete plans yet how you've begun to implement going forward?

Houston: A lot of our work has been surrounding continuing the efforts that have already been in place. And now we also have an opportunity to look forward and examine how we take action surrounding our newly identified value system. 

Citizens Project has been known for championing diversity, equality and separation of church and state. And while we will continue to do that, those will fall under the umbrella of our new values of equity, inclusion, and justice. We are really having some intentional conversations and some strategic planning about the actions that we will take that champion those values.

KRCC: On that note, one of the more recent developments in the city of Colorado Springs is the Law Enforcement, Transparency and Accountability Commission or LETAC. Do you see that as enough?

Houston: One of my volunteer opportunities was my involvement with the Colorado Springs Illumination Project. That was a joint effort to increase trust, to increase transparency and communication between CSPD and the Colorado Springs community. Those conversations started at a time when a lot of people were saying, “Why are you stirring the pot?” 

Since then, things have happened in Colorado Springs that have caused the community to sit up and take notice and to recognize that there is work to be done in this area. So for myself, I am very excited. And I definitely think that LETAC is a step in the right direction, and a necessary step to take.

KRCC: With so many pressing issues, does one in particular stand out, or are they all equally vying for your attention?

Houston: I would say they're all equally vying. What I will say is that the biggest addition or change in my opinion is the addition of justice. So from my perspective, I definitely have an eye toward racial justice. I think that this new justice umbrella really gives us an opportunity to put our stamp on issues that perhaps we wouldn't have before.

KRCC: Are there any past accomplishments of the organization that sort of resonate with you personally or in particular?

Houston: I think it says quite a lot for an organization such as Citizens Project to have so much trust within the Colorado Springs community. We are trusted to be a source of nonpartisan information.

KRCC: Trust is a huge thing in the type of work you're doing.

Houston: My goal is absolutely to continue to lead in such a way that we maintain that level of trust and accountability to our community.

KRCC: Anything else you’d like to add or let the Colorado Springs community know about you and or Citizens Project?

Houston: What I would really like folks to know is we are really interested in collaboration. We are open to ideas. We are open to dialogue with individuals and with other organizations in the community. And if there are supporters out there who are concerned or don’t understand our official values statement changing, I would love to have those conversations.

 You can always reach out to Citizens Project via social media or the website, by phone (719-520-9899) or by email (either [email protected] or [email protected]).