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Another Side of Colorado

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Joanna French

At an early age, my parents began teaching my brother and me to backpack, hike, and rock-climb, instilling in us an appreciation for the rugged beauty characterizing Colorado. While I am privileged to experience my state’s well-known natural landscape I am drawn to serving Colorado’s communities because of their often-overlooked complexity. After working with numerous unseen, subjugated populations in my home state, I am dedicated to the mission of serving, understanding and further advocating for these diverse groups.

I interned at the African Community Center’s (ACC) Refugee Resettlement Center in Denver after graduating from college and my desire to understand varied communities grew. This experience revealed the precarious nature of life in poverty and the cultural variation that exists in areas I originally considered to be homogenous. I was suddenly exposed to tenements filled with populations from Eritrea, Burma, Bhutan and many other countries. In defiance of the negative stereotypes that often accompany immigrants and refugees, these populations were actively seeking to engage in the wider community, become financially independent, and contribute to the state that had embraced them so wholly.

Working at ACC gave me insight into the positive impact of providing opportunities for empowerment to underprivileged populations. While leading a hiking trip for a group of ACC youth, I met a 17-year-old Congolese girl named Agnes. Her bright eyes lit up as she told me of her plans to start college in the fall and study either international relations or social work. This story seems unremarkable if you fail to note that Agnes fled her home country only a few years previously to escape the violence that killed most of her family. If not for the dedication of countless individuals within organizations like ACC, Agnes wouldn’t have the chance to contribute to Colorado’s future. Though we may be conditioned to think individuals in poverty are helpless, pitiable, and perhaps even willfully dependent on aid, in my experience this is a false assumption. I have witnessed the initiative, innovation, and determination that can emerge from a community when it possesses the chance to succeed.

Many people are drawn to Colorado for its natural beauty, yet this is a small portion of what makes my home state unique. I love and am drawn to serving Colorado because of its communities; they may be less well known but are no less vibrant than the landscape.