“There were problems from the very beginning.”
That’s what Arvada resident Daniel Mondragon said in comments he made to the Arvada City Council on Sept. 21 about the role racism had played in Colorado’s founding.
It was systematic racism, Mondragon said, that led several southern Colorado counties to be included in the state against residents wishes, and later caused two Spanish-speaking Hispanic legislators from those counties to show up to the first state legislature five days after it began with no accommodations in place for them to understand the deliberations all done in English.
“We know the abuse that can happen because of prejudice and racism,” said Mondragon. “We forget about the neglect that can happen.”
Such comments have become commonplace at council meetings in recent weeks as Mondragon and other members of a new group of community residents called Arvadans for Social Justice have spoken to increase awareness of both racial justice issues in Arvada and their group’s intention to promote conversation and action on those issues locally through education and advocacy.
The group that is now ASJ traces its roots back to the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in May in Minneapolis, when Arvada residents PJ and Amy Travin went out with their kids and two other families to protest with signs in front of Arvada City Hall.
“We honestly got pissed that we didn’t see other people in Arvada on the streets,” recalls PJ, who is now on the group’s steering committee. “We were like `where the heck where is everybody?’”
But that quickly changed as other residents, including Mondragon who joined the protest after passing by on his way to the post office, came out and the ranks grew to as much as 50. The protests ended up continuing every night for the next six weeks and still continue every Monday night.
But what began with those demonstrations has now become an organized group with regular meetings, over 250 members on its Facebook page and a desire to bring about real change in Arvada.
First, however, the group is focusing on getting input about the ideas and goals of the membership in order to chart a path forward that makes sense for ASJ and the city.
“I’ve heard a lot of statements from people who are coming to the group out of feeling like they had to do something because they were just so frustrated and so angry about seeing the killings,” said Mondragon. “They want to talk about this with other people so that ‘I can effectively be a voice for change.’”
PJ said one of the aims of the group is to find a way to mobilize all of the people who want to contribute to making change, regardless of their level of knowledge about and experience in dealing with racial issues.
Another goal of the group is to engage more Arvada residents of color in the group membership, which PJ said is so far largely white just like the city it is based in. However, PJ also acknowledges there are reasons why people of color might not want to be involved in the group and said it will be important for the group to find ways to bring them in without creating additional burdens.
“It’s a weird fine line where we don’t want to be the voice but we also don’t want to force people of color to have to come be the voice,” PJ said. “So we’re trying to navigate that.”
Also on the group’s agenda is to dig into the community’s historical racial dynamics, including a history of KKK involvement in Arvada’s past and the general question of why Arvada became so white, in order to figure out how the city might begin to become more diverse.
Key to that, Amy said, will be undertaking efforts to make white residents recognize systemic racism and their role in it that they are currently ignorant to.
“The problem is when you think ‘we’re not Kenosha’ and you think it’s not a part of your community,” she said. “Because yes we are actually. And that’s why we are doing this.”