Recent in-depth coverage from the Denver Post highlighted Colorado’s own tragic legacy of segregation, redlining, violence, and government-backed systematic racism. Countless so-called “sundown” towns dotted the state where Black Americans faced everything from being turned away at restaurants and hotels to the threat of violence.

MiDian Holmes, founder of the Epitome of Black Excellence and social justice, racial reconciliation and equity advocate, identifies the way racism was built into our state’s very foundations and how racial justice studies can further our own understanding of our history.

It’s true that Colorado wasn’t a slave state – although slavery wasn’t abolished from the state constitution until 2018 – but it’s also true that our state adopted and emulated many of the racist policies and practices that we typically associate with the American South.

As Coloradans, it is important that we know our history for two simple reasons: so that we can understand the ways in which it continues to impact us, and so that we can do something about it We know disparities exist for Black Coloradans in everything from health care to housing to criminal justice to educational outcomes and economic mobility.

  • In 2020, 73% of White Coloradans owned their own home, compared with 42% of Black Coloradans, a disparity that has grown every decade since the 1970s.
  • In 2021, almost twice as many Black Coloradans reported skipping health care due to fear of unfair treatment compared to White Coloradans, and Black mothers were three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women.
  • Only 25% of adult Black Coloradans have attained a higher education degree, certificate, or credentials.
  • Black citizens are five times more likely to report being unjustly stopped by law enforcement than White people.
  • All of this has led to a reality where 50% of Black families in Colorado qualify as low income and just 37% are considered middle class.

These statistics provide a snapshot of challenges faced by the Black community in Colorado today. However, without comprehensive historical documentation of anti-Black laws and practices in our state, we still do not fully understand how we arrived at these realities or how to progress out of them. Racial justice studies are practical tools that allow our citizens and lawmakers to more comprehensively understand systematic racism, quantify racism’s impacts on impacted communities and us all, and make smarter policy decisions that lead to greater equity. Recent racial justice studies include Evanston Illinois, St. Petersburg, Florida, and History Colorado’s recent report on Federal Indian Boarding Schools.

Only when we fully understand and acknowledge the wrongs of the past can we meaningfully, equitably and authentically move forward. Racial justice studies are our first step.

Read the full opinion piece here.