Colorado Governor Jared Polis stirred controversy in August when he called for an independent investigation into the death of nineteen-year-old De'Von Bailey, who was shot in the back while running away from police in Colorado Springs. But there are plenty of other local examples of fatal gun violence involving young African-Americans, including the killing of fourteen-year-old Aiden Lawrence, who was slain in the Stapleton neighborhood's Prairie Meadows Park that same month. No one has been charged in Lawrence's death.
Expect Polis to hear about stories like these during his appearance at the Gaining Ground in the Black Community Summit, a four-day event hosted by the Colorado Black Round Table that gets under way this afternoon; the full schedule is below. The annual gathering may not get an enormous amount of attention in the mainstream media, but its power is exemplified by its guest list — not just Polis, whose appearance on Friday, October 18, is scheduled immediately after a discussion of youth and gun violence in the metro area, but also former member of Congress Betsy Markey, ex-Denver City Council member Albus Brooks, and candidates for the U.S. Senate, who will take part in a forum on education and economic opportunity.
According to political consultant and CBRT program director John Bailey (no relation to De'Von Bailey), the summit "is about celebrating and empowering African-American citizens. But we'll also be focusing on what we call the dash between the dates 1619 and 2019" — a reference to a New York Times project marking 400 years since the arrival in the Virginia colony of the first slave ship.
"There's also the reparations debate going on in Congress and a number of issues that are reasserting themselves, reimposing themselves in our land of insensitivity at the current moment," Bailey continues. "So we decided to also deal with hot topics relative to the report we did a few years ago" — "Gaining Ground in Colorado's African American Communities," published in 2013. "We're going to be looking at housing, education and other areas of disparity. And with the recent rash of shootings, we wanted to bring together folks from the Department of Public Safety, the police, the Denver DA's office and other folks who've been active in the community to talk about the issue relative to the impact on the community and families and young people. We want to look at services, programs and resources that might be able to address some of this stuff."
To Bailey, gun violence in the black community is both insidious and indiscriminate. "Just as we have random acts of kindness, we have random acts of violence. Sometimes those random acts are tied into color, drugs, the time of day, the time of month, how people feel at that moment — all these different things that have to do with the stress in the current society we find ourselves in."
He traces much of the tension to the man in the Oval Office. "In the age of Trump, we're questioning each other based on race, based on historical path, based on how much wealth you have. We're going backwards, and he's allowed hidden forms of racism to rear their head and come out into the open. America has become a land of fear rather than a land of opportunity, and in a land of fear, folks get guns, and they use them. That's why we need to bring everyone to the table — not just to look at young people and guns, but also to look at gun violence in the society."
He emphasizes that the conversation with Polis will cover a wide variety of subjects important to the black community — "but public safety is an issue, and at some point, it'll be on the agenda." One of the event's themes, he believes, is that "we're in a time period where all of us have to stay woke. We have to do better, we have to stop pointing fingers, we have to stop trying to figure out who we can blame. And in this case, the African-American community is stepping up and holding ourselves accountable."
The Gaining Ground in the Black Community Summit will take place at New Hope Baptist Church, 3701 Colorado Boulevard, on Thursday, October 17, and Friday, October 18. It will move to Manual High School, 1700 East 28th Avenue, on Saturday, October 19, with events on Sunday, October 20, focusing on conversations about the importance of voting at black churches throughout Colorado. Admission is free. Here's the schedule of events:
Thursday, October 17th
New Hope Baptist Church Family Life Center
3:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
3:00 p.m.: Welcome
3:15 p.m.: Doing Business with and in the Black Community, Part 1
Moderator: Malcolm Evans, President Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce
• Honorable Betsy Markey, Executive Director, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade
• Murugan Palani, Executive Director, Small Business and Outreach, Denver Public Schools
• Marcia McGilley, Executive Director, Aurora-South Metro, SBDC
• Representative from RTD
• Representative from City and County of Denver
• Dennis Casey, Executive Director, Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center
4:15 p.m.: Doing Business with and in the Black Community, Part 2
Moderator: John Bailey, CBRT Program Coordinator & Chair, Black Community Cannabis Equity Initiative
• Honorable Albus Brooks, Vice President for Business Development & Strategy, Milender White Construction Company
• Haroun Cowan, Managing Director, Five Points Development Corporation
• Ashley Kilroy, Executive Director, Excise & License, City and County of Denver
• Kenneth Ho, Principal, Westside Investment Partners
"1619 REMEMBRANCE:" A Black History Community Discussion
• Community Reception & Recognition of Sponsors, Elected Officials, Candidates and Black Women Leaders
Friday, October 18th
New Hope Baptist Church Family Life Center
3:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Disparity & Community Issues Topics 1:
Affordable Housing & Home Ownership, Public Safety
• Youth and Gun Violence in the Metro Area Discussion
• A Black Community Discussion with CO Governor Jared Polis
• CO Congressional Leadership Updates on Impeachment, Reparations and Legislative Issues
• Community Reception & Recognition of Sponsors, Elected Officials, Candidates and Black Men Leaders
Saturday, October 19th
Manual High School
9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Disparity & Community Issues Topics 2: Health/Mental Health, Census, Minimum Wage Increase, Programs for Youth
• 2019 "REMEMBRANCE" Discussion
• Why Black Lives & Black Minds Matter: An Inter-generational Community Discussion
• CO US Senate Candidates Forum on Education & Economic Opportunity
• Community Resource and Information Tables
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* Official Summit Caterer — Two Sistahs Eats
Sunday, October 20th
GOTV (Get Out the Vote) SUNDAY
• Importance of Voting Discussions in Black Churches Throughout The State)
• Return Your Ballot Immediately