By Paul Albani-Burgio firstname.lastname@example.org
When demonstrations began springing up in cities around the nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, Zenat Shariff Belkin was troubled to find no such protests in her home city of Lakewood. “Frankly, I did not feel that anything was happening in Lakewood,” said Shariff Belkin. “And so I thought it would be a really great opportunity to actually bring awareness to what was happening with Black Lives Matter.”
So Shariff Belkin began organizing her own sign-waving peaceful protests on Tuesdays on different corners in Lakewood, which ranged in size from 50 to as many as 150 attendees. “It’s really organic and we have no formal structure,” she said. “We just pushed it out on our Facebook page.”
Shariff Balkin, it turned out, was not alone in wanting to organize a demonstration in suburban Jeffco. Just a few miles away in Wheat Ridge, similar gatherings were happening in front of Right Coast Pizza at 38th Avenue and High Court after Morgan Richards decided to start going out there with her family.
“We decided we were going to let the community know this matters,” said Richards. “Even in Wheat Ridge.”
But in the months since, what began as group of individuals taking to the streets in protest of recent police killings has evolved into actual organizations seeking to draw attention to and combat racism at the community level.
What that looks like had differed by city. In Wheat Ridge, a newly formed group has been sending members to speak before the Wheat Ridge City Council to ask the city to implement required and continuous equity training for all city employees and establish a task force to examine city policies with an eye toward diversity and equity. In Lakewood, there is an ongoing effort to get the city council to put back up signs proclaiming that “Lakewood is building an inclusive community.”
In Golden, the new Golden Anti-Racism Collective group lists three main avenues to make the change the group wants to see in the community. Those avenues include outreach through “curating educational events, and providing resources and information in support of being an anti-racist community,” promoting change in policy and policing by encouraging the city to review its current policies and enact new ones to address systematic racism and injustice within the community and promoting anti-racist curriculum, policies and student-discussion within schools.
While the work ahead is daunting, GAC member Ty Scrable said he feels the small size of a community like Golden is an asset to its anti-racism work.
“The whole city of Golden can fit inside the Pepsi Center,” he said. “And I think that really matters for making change in a community.”
What next? While much of the work of each group is focused on addressing city-specific issues, the groups — including similar organizations in Arvada and Evergreen — are also hoping to bring about change countywide by working with the county commissioners and other county groups. For many of the groups, making change also means engaging with Jeffco’s history of racism, which include a history of KKK activity in and around Golden as well as discriminatory housing policies.
Richards said she has heard from several Wheat Ridge residents who say the original deed of their property includes language stating that blacks cannot own or, in one case, even be within 25 feet of the home.
“I want to normalize us talking about that and acknowledging that because here in Wheat Ridge we are 50 years old, and so it might be easy to say that wasn’t us because we were unincorporated,” said Richards. “And yet at the time that incorporation happened one of the variables for the people that did that is that they very much did not want black kids bussed into Wheat Ridge.”
As time goes on, one common element between all these groups seems to be that their members are increasingly thinking about how best to be a force for both short- and long-term change.
“What we’ve actually done is we stopped protesting in the streets and asked for folks to focus their energy on the ballot box,” said Shariff Belkin. “And then after the election we will regroup and figure out what is next.
But while the game they are playing is ultimately a long one, their organizers say they are ready for that fight and won’t be going anywhere, even as the protests are no longer front and center and the news moves on to other issues.
“We are not here to check the box and we are done,” said Richards. “I said to someone recently ‘oh, did you think we were going away?’ Because no, we are going to be here holding some accountability at the level we want to see it.”