The New Turks

The turks of Wellington Webb's generation were bound by common threads: Almost all were lawyers, they were close in age, and they worked together in the Sam Cary Bar Association and the Colorado Black Caucus. In the more free-spirited '90s, things have changed.

Here are six men poised to take Denver's black community into the 21st century. Politicians, would-be politicians, academics and businessmen, they occupy different places on the socio-political map. Some have proved themselves already; others have the potential to become leaders in the years ahead.

To the mind of 49-year-old John Bailey, the next generation of black leaders begins--and just about ends--with him, the self-labeled "last student in the old school and the first student in the new school." He came to Denver in 1976 as an aide to Webb, who was busy running the Carter/Mondale campaign in Colorado. Since then Bailey has remained active as a campaign consultant and a community activist.

In recent years he headed up 100 Black Men of Denver, a nonprofit group that encourages black men to become more involved in their community. The organization has sponsored summer basketball tournaments and mentoring programs. Bailey recently stepped down as the group's executive director to run for an at-large seat on Denver's city council. His goal is to capture the "minds and behinds of young people" by creating more programs for youth as well as programs for families and seniors. He also wants to encourage economic development throughout Denver.

Of his fellow "new turks," Bailey is characteristically modest: "None of them will have a more significant impact than I will."

Though he has not indicated that he has political ambitions, 32-year-old Jeff X is able to bring people together with the skill of a veteran politico. "What we've lost is a sense of urgency, a sense of community," he says.

It was from outside his Black Market storefront that 300 men departed to attend the Million Man March in 1995. In 1996 he opened up Brother Jeff's Cultural Center and Cafe. The store on Welton Street is not much to look at, but it serves triple duty as a restaurant, black arts store and cultural center. X's place is gaining a reputation as one of the best places in Denver for black people of all ages and backgrounds to meet. The center also hosts symposiums and film series and has brought in lecturers such as poet Sonia Sanchez.

X's efforts have probably done more than light rail and city loans to bring people into Five Points. "It's amazing," he says, that "black folks in '99 say they don't go to Five Points."

Politics runs in the blood of Peter Groff, son of former state senator Regis Groff. The 35-year-old heads up the Center for African-American Policy at the University of Denver. No doubt his father's credentials helped him early on: He once worked in Mayor Webb's education liaison office, and he was even offered a job as a deputy district attorney under DA Norm Early.

But the DU post is all his doing. The center is an innovative academic think tank that is involved in research about the origins and direction of black leadership and policymaking. The center also conducts workshops, puts out a journal and does community-service projects.

Tate, too, is no stranger to politics. His lawyer father was the first black city councilman and the first black mayor of Boulder.

An attorney himself, Tate was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1996. He's had a tough go of it: He took over an unused storage room for his office, only to have Republicans kick him out of it to make way for the legislature's rotating stable of doctors.

He's also failed to get hate-crime legislation passed. More recently, he saw a bill aimed at addressing disparities in the number of minorities in state personnel management killed by the Senate after it passed the House. Peter Groff still counts it as a victory of sorts for Tate: "To watch him work within the system--he knew how to get what really should have been a hostile bill through."

Most observers agree that Tate, 42, is one of the smartest young legislators in the Capitol, and he's only getting smarter. Most recently, he managed to get another bill through the House, this one proposing a state income-tax credit for long-term health-care insurance.

Hancock is the brand-new president and CEO of the Denver Urban League. Hancock was raised in northeast Denver. He graduated from Manual High School in 1987 and later earned an M.A. in public administration management from the University of Colorado-Denver. He worked for the National Civic League and the Denver Housing Authority. He joined the Urban League in 1995 and two weeks ago assumed its presidency after Annelle Lewis left to take a post with the National Urban League.

Hancock is not yet thirty, but he's considered one of the bright stars of the next generation. He sees economic development in the black community as a pivotal issue, as well as combating the AIDS crisis and the proliferation of crack cocaine in the inner city. He's preparing to move the organization into a large new headquarters in northeast Denver to tackle these issues.

Republican Joe Rogers has emerged from the ashes of political defeat to assume the second-highest office in the state of Colorado. It's still true that lieutenant governors wield little power, and whether Rogers's appeal extends beyond the GOP is unknown.

But in 1996 he led a highly publicized campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, running against Diana DeGette, a white Democrat. The campaign indicated that race was still a live issue. Though black ministers in town eventually backed him, other black leaders--particularly Regis Groff--made it clear that they did not. Even Illinois representative Jesse Jackson Jr. stumped for DeGette, who went on to win by a wide margin.

Rogers captured 50 percent of the black vote in that district, and two years later, the 34-year-old rebounded smoothly to become Governor Bill Owens's second-in-command. Suddenly Rogers has become, after Webb, the most recognizable black politician in the state.


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T.R. Witcher

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