Salida City Councilperson, Dominique Naccarato spoke up recently about witnessing the racial comments uttered by Colorado Parks and Recreation Director, Dan Prenzlow during a mountain recreation conference.
“The fact that that comment was made at a conference about fostering diversity in our parks made it all the more infuriating. And something finally clicked in me.”
Naccarato has called for Salida’s city council members to act as leaders to explore the town’s cultural biases and work toward becoming a more welcoming town for all. Additionally she has requested adding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) expertise in the recent job posting for the new Assistant City Administrator position. “DEI experience is a skill that one can acquire through earning certificates or degrees,” she adds.
Jimmy Sellars, co-founder of Salida’s chapter of the Partnership for Community Action (PfCA) supports this request, offering further clarification, “Social justice refers to a political and philosophical theory that focuses on the concept of fairness in relations between individuals in society and equal access to wealth, opportunities, and social privileges. Adding these skills to that position would support our City Council, City Administrator, and our HR department in a way that is currently lacking.”
A native of Salida, Naccarato is approaching this subject methodically. “We can easily start the process of becoming more inclusively aware by hanging banners and posters in town to celebrate events such as Juneteenth or Black History Month, but we can’t stop there,” she says.
Still formulating a plan, she suggested “calling-in rather than calling-out” people for conversations when racist comments and misunderstandings come up, creating Affinity Spaces where people from all backgrounds can converse safely and, more importantly, learn. “I, myself, don’t always know or say the right thing, but I am learning and actively seeking out people to guide me,” she offers, “It will no-doubt be a slow, but I am hoping, productive process for Salida.”
Stephen Hall, (justice specialist and Ark Valley Voice investigative reporter), urges the community to begin to be more active. “This subject puts our democracy under question and the only way to resolve it is to stop shoving it under the rug. We can’t be vague or halfway about racism anymore,” he asserts, “You might not be a person who blatantly behaves racist, but an apathetic attitude towards Black Lives Matter (BLM) and other diversity issues can be seen as racist in itself; a lack of action alluding to an acceptance of the way things are.”
In 2020, local Howl Mercantile owner Kimi Uno put a Black Lives Matter poster in her shop window. She arrived one morning to find what she perceived as racist and anti-minority messaging taped to her shop door. Uno, an Asian-American was concerned.
“I thought it was going to be worse,” said Uno, whose Japanese-American family has experienced this kind of racism before. The note did not just reference the now universally misidentified Antifa; the still-unidentified author personally attacked Uno.
The note ends with a stark statement that “All Lives Matter is a TRUTH[.] Your Poster is Racist.”
Well yes, all lives matter. But …
According to Uno, this note and its suggested personal attack plainly showed that Salida is not immune to the systemic racism being protested throughout the nation. Uno says she hopes it becomes a rallying cry for locals to start having difficult discussions about race.
Uno, who has an education in multiculturalism and is an experienced anti-racism educator, told Hall in 2020 that this shows a lack of understanding of BLM and the overall systemic problems facing American institutions. She says without acknowledging the problem, well-intentioned white Americans only promulgate its systemic nature.
Two years ago, Uno, who became part of the Ark Valley Equality Network (AVEN) said she had been surprised by the lack of attention or even acknowledgment concerning systemic racism by local leaders. The Black Lives Matter poster remains in her shop window.
When asked how to initiate a change, Naccarato says that we should embrace whoever wants to get the hard conversations started. “Well-intentioned people can enter a space and either indirectly, ignorantly, or purposefully cause harm. Sometimes people don’t realize when words or actions are taken as racist. We need to get to a place where everyone can be okay with making mistakes in order to learn. The more people who are open to talking, the more they can go into our community to spread a more positive message.”
Efforts are already in existence through organizations and projects such as the We Are Chaffee, offering events where local individuals and groups can share their stories about housing and health equity. The Central Colorado Showing Up For Racial Justice (CCSURJ) acknowledges the history of systematic racism and exclusion and calls for individuals to make it a part of their daily process to help liberate those who have been oppressed. They offer education and events fostering DEI.
PfCA fosters education through community-building events and workshops, including classroom support addressing the bullying of LGBTQ+ students. “DEI and cultural fluency training are much needed tools to begin the work of bridging past harm and giving us a foundation from which to start over together,” adds Sellars.
As the Salida City Council develops an in-depth plan, individuals who are ready to get started on learning more may consult the above mentioned resources.
Featured image: “Black Lives Matter-II” @clairedeve on F Street in Salida, June 29, 2020. Merrell Bergin photo