Community members share ideas to make Breckenridge more inclusive of minority, immigrant and low-income populations
Community members called for truly affordable housing, diversity in town leadership and on the slopes, and for Breckenridge to “do something bold” to make the town more welcoming for people of all races Wednesday, Jan. 27, at a community listening session.
The town organized the meeting to help create a blueprint for the new Social Equity Advisory Commission, which Breckenridge Town Council member Carol Saade said was created because the town is “committed to meaningful, intentional and lasting improvements” to “create more just and fair social policies in town.”
The session was lead by Nita Mosby Tyler, Ph.D., of The Equity Project, a consulting company that specializes in increasing diversity and inclusion. Tyler kicked off the virtual meeting by asking participants to weigh in on a poll that asked how people are coping with the weight of the pandemic combined with the racial justice issues that have been highlighted recently. Answers showed that the majority of participants feel that they are “forever changed” or are in pain.
“It’s been a really rough 12-16 months, and it’s been rough for us in different ways,” Tyler said. “Each of us has had a lived experience that is different than the next, but the thing that ties us together is that we’ve all been impacted in some way … under the weight of what I call at least two pandemics: the pandemic of COVID-19 meets the pandemic of this racial reckoning that we’re in in our country.”
Tyler asked participants to consider the five bases of social power, which include legitimate power, based on title or rank, and referent power, based on reciprocity or mutual respect. Tyler said the power base in the U.S. is a combination of legitimate power and coercive power, based on the ability to punish. She asked participants to consider whether there are other power-based combinations that make more sense for an equitable society.
Tyler also noted that social equity in the context of community is concerned with justice and fairness in social policy and is about creating systems where everyone can thrive.
Posing questions to any participants willing to answer, Tyler first asked people what barriers they see in Breckenridge that need to be tackled in order for people to thrive. Community members pointed to the cost of living, lack of diversity in skiing, amount of attention paid to second-home owners, lack of equal job opportunities and lack of diversity in town leadership positions.
Tyler noted that a general lack of diversity keeps issues of racism out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.
Community members offered their opinions on priorities they want to see addressed to help remove barriers. Alexandria Carns, who is a member of the Social Equity Advisory Commission, said people from all segments of the community need to feel valued and welcome to participate. She said people in the county’s immigrant population often create their own community with people who are similar to them and stay outside of the rest of the community because they do not feel welcome in other areas, such as the government.
“I think that this opportunity that we have to be inclusive of other communities is a complex one. Normally, what we do is we invite these communities to be a part of the bigger community instead of the other way around, and so you’re asking people to enter into communities that they might not feel safe in or that might not be relatable to them,” Tyler said in response. “… Why don’t we do it in reverse? Why don’t we make it a part of our process to be a part of the communities that we’re not familiar with and let it build from that direction?”
Ruth Hendricks addressed Tyler’s comment, stating that trust has to occur for these relationships and interactions to be beneficial, and she cautioned against interactions being performative.
When it comes to tangible priorities, Jason Smith said affordable housing should be at the top of the list. He noted that certain housing developments in the community built with the intention of being affordable have become unaffordable, and he suggested large-scale apartment complexes where rent is controlled and kept at a livable rate.
In addition to identifying problems, session participants chimed in on ways that town leaders and community members could help address the issues. Smith suggested the Town Council address social equity at every meeting and make it a point to ask how the town’s minority and immigrant populations’ needs are being met.
He also said Breckenridge should stand out as an inclusive town.
“I wish that the town of Breckenridge would do something bold,” Smith said. “It would be great if their national advertising, their signage on I-70 and their signage in town (would) say, ‘Breckenridge is inclusive. We encourage minorities to come here. We encourage people of all races and ethnicities and genders to come to Breckenridge.’ How great would it be if we made a step like that?”
Other participants said the town should support events focused on community members rather than bringing in visitors and translate Town Council meetings to Spanish in real time. Isaura Cirillo said she would like to see a community where children are raised to see one another equally and respect one another’s ideas.
In response to Tyler’s question on what it would take for community members to engage themselves in the process of advancing social equity, participants said more education and a general willingness in the community to talk about issues of racism and inequity would help them participate.
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