Community members gather for first Solidarity Talk to start an open dialogue around diversity in Summit County
Editor’s note: A quote by state Rep. Julie McCluskie has been updated below to clarify that she was echoing the words of Deepan Dutta, one of the co-hosts of the event.
SILVERTHORNE — The first of a series of Solidarity Talks on Wednesday brought up topics of inclusivity, mental health and education as people shared personal stories of racial injustice.
Organizer Alexandria Carns, founder of the Solidarity Nation Facebook group, explained that the objective of the Solidarity Talk is to foster conversations surrounding diversity in Summit County.
“I hope to just open up the dialogue and make people a little more comfortable with having the conversations that we have been avoiding for a long time,” Carns said in an interview. “And I don’t know what’s happening in 2020, but now we’re willing to have those conversations. Maybe it is the social distancing, just wanting to connect, but we’re at that point where we want to have those convos.”
The idea for the Solidarity Talk was born out of the Walk of Solidarity and Black Lives Matter protests in Breckenridge and Frisco, according to Carns. She said there has been a “beautiful energy” following the protest that she doesn’t want to “taper out” and hopes the Solidarity Talk will keep up the momentum.
Carns and fellow event organizer Evin Harris said they plan to host a Solidarity Talk once a month. While the first talk took place on the lawn at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, with people coming to speak on stage and attendees sprawled across the lawn, Carns said she hopes that as the event grows, they could transition to hosting it at Dillon Amphitheater.
She said the setup would continue in a similar fashion, with co-hosts sharing their stories and thoughts and then a bullhorn being passed around — sanitized between uses — for anyone who would like to speak or ask questions. Carns described it as a big brainstorming event for the community.
The first Solidarity Talk also featured local attorney and Mountain Dreamers board member Carime Lee, Red Buffalo Coffee & Tea owner Erin Young, and local attorney and former Summit Daily News reporter Deepan Dutta as co-hosts. Young pointed out that June 12 was the anniversary of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it illegal to ban interracial marriage. In addition to herself, she said several of her co-hosts are in interracial marriages.
Young discussed a question she is often asked, which is, “What ethnicity are you?” and made the comparison to her white husband, who never gets asked this question. She encouraged people to stand up for themselves when they are asked questions that might make them feel uncomfortable.
Young also talked about how her child was bullied for being Chinese during the onset of COVID-19, and Carns shared a similar story about her kids coming home saying they wished they looked more like their white father.
Harris said in an interview that when she and her partner, Tom Nielson, came up with the idea to organize the first protest, they talked about the silence in Summit County, particularly since the incident at Dillon City Market where a man wore a Klan mask into the store. The Facebook group Summit Together was put together by Harris and Nielson after the first protest, which Harris said is meant to keep conversation, resources and education going.
“I know conversations are happening but it hasn’t happened on this level in Summit County, I don’t (think) ever,” Harris said. “The whole goal of all of this is visibility of all marginalized communities.”
Colorado State Patrol trooper Dan Weisel was in attendance and spoke about law enforcement operations. Weisel said he learned a lot from what had been said at the event and that stories that were shared opened his eyes to how minorities deal with interactions with law enforcement.
Weisel shared a story from when he was a “rookie cop” of an interaction he witnessed between a police officer and an intoxicated man who had just been in a fight. Weisel said the officers contacted the man, and the man was screaming at the officers. Then an experienced Frisco officer got out of his car and said, “Man, why are you yelling at me? I’m not yelling at you.”
Weisel said this method of deescalation was eye-opening to him and is how he tries to interact with people as an officer. Weisel and Carns went on to talk about mental health in the county, including the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, which is trained to respond to mental health calls.
Local and state government representatives also took the stage to talk about varying courses of action that have been taken or are in the works at the government level. Summit County’s state Rep. Julie McCluskie discussed the police accountability bill, which Gov. Jared Polis has said he will sign. In a later interview, McCluskie talked about the struggles immigrant communities face, that the Black Lives Matter movement has been very powerful and that everyone is learning.
“As Deepan was saying, we all need to be illuminated and learn and not run away from these conversations,” McCluskie said. “Our community has really said, ‘If you live here, you’re part of our community. We want to take care of you.’ I want our state to have that same approach to our immigrant communities.”
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