Papa Dia at the CPR studios.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

When Senegal native Papa Dia came to Colorado 20 years ago, he thought his main contribution would be to land a job and send money back home. And he did that, with paychecks earned from stocking books at The Tattered Cover, where he learned English through audiotapes and reading.

But Dia tells Colorado Matters he didn't stop there. He became a banker and a mentor to thousands of other African immigrants through his organization the African Leadership Group. After over a decade of his work, Dia has now received grants from the Walton Family Foundation and others that have allowed him to run the organization full time. 

This month, the state honored Dia with the Courageous Citizen Award for his work with the African immigrant community. Other honorees include Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was killed for being gay, for her civil rights work; and Dr. Joseph Johnson for his primary care for undocumented immigrants in Aurora.