Article & photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
In light of one of the most contentious and divisive presidential elections in America history this year’s 25th Annual Civil Rights Awards ceremony in Denver on November 17th took on a somber yet celebratory tone as many in the more than 500 in attendance were decades life-long veterans of the civil rights movement and the struggle for equal rights for all people residing in the United States. This year’s Civil Rights Awards recognized and honored the social justice work of three individuals and two organizations. The program’s theme was “Honoring the Black Lives Matter Movement “. (see awardees below) Latin Life Denver was honored to be a media sponsor for the event.
The Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts was packed with community, education and business leaders as well as former and present political representatives. All in attendance were deeply concerned about the direction the country is headed now that President-elect Donald Trump will be implementing what many fear will be discriminatory policies that will eliminate or turn back many of the gains that have taken minorities and women decades to achieve.
While President Obama has taken a cautious wait and see approach others look at Trump’s appointments and cabinet nominations as sign of what is to come. Trump has made two key appointments that don’t require Senate confirmation. Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee Chairman, will be chief of staff and Steve Bannon will be chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon is viewed by many as anti-Semitic and a bigot based on his time as editor-in-chief at Breitbart. He is said to be one of the most vindictive people in politics who will use his power to destroy people and push his racist agenda.
Trump also made another controversial Cabinet appointment selecting retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to serve as his national security adviser. Flynn, a registered Democrat headed the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014 before he was reportedly forced out by his peers. He has come under scrutiny for some of his business ties to Turkey and his views toward Russia. Flynn tweeted in February that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” including a link to a YouTube video that claims the religion of Islam wants “80% of people enslaved or exterminated.” No minorities or women have thus far been appointed to any position in the Trump administration.
The evening was emceed by Nita Gonzales, daughter of civil rights leader Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales and Brother Jeff Fard. Nita Gonzales told the audience, “It is important that we let our neighbors and communities know that we are going to stand with our Muslim, Black, same sex parent, gay, transgender, Native American and our Mexicano families in solidarity.” Co-Emcee, Brother Jeff Fard said that “while President-elect Trump has promised to build a wall, we will tear that wall down. We will tear it down and build a new wall of love, compassion, understanding and tolerance.”
Cafe Cultura promotes unity and healing among Indigenous peoples through
creative expression while empowering youth to find their voice, reclaim oral and written traditions, and become leaders in their communities. Café Cultura has been providing positive, creative, and engaging community spaces for the Denver metropolitan area for more than eleven years.
The organization emerged during the summer of 2004 with the passing of respected elder and veteran poet Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado. It was then that they realized and accepted the responsibility to continue using oral and written traditions to provide opportunities for creative expression not offered in schools or in the larger community. Café Cultura also drew inspiration from the movement connecting Indigenous people from throughout the Americas. Café Cultura carries the message of the Civil Rights Movement throughout Colorado.
MARK B. SIMON
Simon` was born in Champaign-Urbana Illinois. His exposure to the civil rights movement began with his mother and step-father. In 1963 his step-father founded the Illinois Civil Rights Commission and in 1969 he established a Citizen Review Board that covered all law enforcement in the ChampaignUrbana area. In 1965 his mother founded the first Women’s Safe House in the country and in 69 was arrested for doing abortion counseling. Mark has been a volunteer advocating at the state capital for people with disabilities since 1986. He has written and passed numerous legislative proposals including Disability rights, Health Care, Medicaid and Social Security Reform. Mark has assisted individuals, in addition to individual advocacy for hundreds of people and he has served as an official ADA mediator and local affiliate to the Rocky Mountain Regional Disability Center. He has never taken a dime for his work. Mark has held 10
Gubernatorial, Senate and Presidential appointments and has received numerous commendations and awards. Mark carries the banner of Civil Rights for all those who struggle with disabilities.
Carlos Fresquez is a born Denver native. As a middle school student Fresquez was inspired by the Chicano Movement and the growing activism
of the 1960s. His first protest was here in Denver on September 16th 1969, he was 13 years old. The lessons of “El Movmiento” have continued
to shape his artistic vision. His art focuses on ancient “indigenous imagery” against the foil of “contemporary imagery;” the blending of cultures and languages and dualities that define the Chicano experience.
He calls this series, works from the “Ancient Future”. Carlos received a BA from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a Masters of Fine Art from the University of Colorado Boulder. He has exhibited his drawings, prints, installations and paintings in more than 30 states and in over a dozen different countries. Carlos has lectured about Chicano Art history and his own artwork at many colleges, universities, galleries and art centers including; Las Bellas Artes in Mexico City, The Albuquerque Museum and The National Museum of American Art. As an educator, Carlos has taught at the college and university level for 26 years. He is currently an Associate Professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Dawn was born in Omaha, Nebraska but since the age of 6 months she has been a Denver native. She grew up with two sisters, two brothers, lots of animals and an abundance of love. Her mother was a nurse and home manager and her father was the first African American to graduate from the University of Nebraska Medical School and went on to practice medicine in Northeast Denver.
Dawn has a law degree from the University of Denver and was a Rabb Scholar. She was a founding partner in the law firm of Bookhardt & O’Toole, and has recently become a partner with the law firm of ButlerSnow. Three of Dawn’s noteworthy achievements include representation of Forest City in the development of the former Stapleton Airport site; representation of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray and UBS PaineWeber as underwriters for the Denver Convention Center Hotel; and representation as General Counsel to the Denver Union Station Project Authority for the enormously successful redevelopment project. Dawn is a well-known community philanthropist giving her time and financially to many organizations like the Urban League, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Colorado Women for Political Action and many others. She has received numerous awards and represents many Boards andCommissions. Dawn is extremely devoted to her family and friends. She is beautiful, kind, supportive and generous to community causes and continues
to be an outstanding Civil Rights Leader in Colorado.
BLACK LIVES MATTER 5280
Working with residents and organizations in Denver, Black Lives Matter 5280
strives to builds loving and united Black communities while eliminating antiBlack violence and racism. To expose, address, and eradicate structural
oppression in Denver, BLM 5280 uses a holistic racial justice approach that strengthens health and wellness, community building, educational
programming, economic sustainability, and direct action strategizing.
This approach to racial equity is fortified by a commitment to economic justice
that counters the ongoing effects of slavery and the continuous exploitation of Black labor, while challenging white supremacy. The BLM 5280 chapter is part of a national movement, aligned in Black love, power, and liberation, embodying the declaration that Black Lives Matter–regardless of gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity, immigration status or location, gang affiliation, profession, ability, economic status, and religious beliefs or disbelief. Also keeping with the national movement, BLM 5280 celebrates the lives and leadership of Black women and girls. They believe that communal visions of liberation are the way forward into a beloved society that affirms gender equality, racial equity, and social justice. Their work cultivates communities of abundant joy where all Black people are emboldened and empowered to lead, love, heal, and thrive. Black Lives Matters is the embodiment of the Civil Rights Movement.
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media