MLK Awards Preview

The Annual MLK Business Awards are coming up on Friday, January 18th, MC’d by Tamara Banks. What some may not know is that Tamara’s company is also producing the video featuring honorees that will debut at the event.

Every year Downtown Denver Partnership and the Colorado MLK Holiday Commission recognize individuals, corporations and non-profits for their exceptional community service that honors the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The 2019 honorees are:

Slavica Park, Comal Heritage Food Incubator

Terry Nelson, Blair-Caldwell Library

Anna Jo Haynes, Haynes Early Learning Center

Gary Yamashita, Sakura Foundation

Margaret Abrams, Rose Andom Center

Debra Pollock, GLBT Community Center

Monica Roers, Senior Resource Center

Enjoy clicking through these images of the video shoot and we’ll look forward to seeing you at the luncheon. For reservations and more information please visit: http://www.mlkbusinessawards.org.



The Negro Motorist Green Book

Today, two of my favorite Hollywood stars, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson, star in a film called “Green Book.” It’s rated PG 13 which means it’s tame enough for the whole family to go see.

But I hope Hollywood doesn’t sugar-coat the story, the meaning and usage, of what is officially called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” It was a travel guide for African American motorists traveling across the U.S., specifically the deep South, outlining safe places to stay overnight, dine, as well as places to get your hair cut and shop for groceries.

And when I say “safe places” I mean not only places where Black folk wouldn’t be turned away but places where they wouldn’t get killed.

“The Negro Motorist  Green Book” was developed and published by a mailman in New York City, Victor Hugo Green, from 1936 to 1966 during the Jim Crow era. (Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced the practice of separate but equal.) 

The first edition of the Green book only covered hotels and restaurants in the NYC area, but Green eventually expanded the coverage by gathering information from other postal workers and readers who provided insightful information.

The 1945 version encouraged motorists driving through Denver to get a bite at the Dew Drop Inn. And if you were looking for a bar in Atlanta the Yeah Man was the place to check out.

The Green Book was a necessity in the mid-20th century. And with the great strides our country has made in race relations like the Civil Rights Movement there is no need for such a handbook today, right?

Sadly, that’s not the case. The FBI released a report indicating that hate crimes in America rose 17 percent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased, according to newly released FBI data that showed an even larger increase in anti-Semitic attacks.

Example: Today, law abiding black and brown drivers are often frightened and humiliated after being stopped by police who typically see them as criminals. Black and brown motorists are pulled over by police at rates exceeding those of whites. The message: You don’t belong here.

So, as you head to the theater next week to see two of my favorite actors star in “Green Book” I suggest do your homework to understand what my father, aunts, uncles and so many African Americans had to endure just to drive across the country and secondly, know that driving while black and brown… can still be dangerous today, in the 21st century.

Voter Suppression: A National Epidemic

I’ll never forget my father’s excitement to go to the polls in November of 2008 to cast his vote for presidential candidate, Barack Obama. That excitement was only surpassed by the election of Obama, becoming the first African American president of the United States.

 My dad didn’t talk much about his growing up in rural Louisiana. Plaquemine Parish is a small community just outside of Baton Rouge. But I know it wasn’t easy, to say the least. He has told me stories of being stopped by police not just in the south but in Denver and Aurora, Colorado.

His offense? Driving while Black. Being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

And voting for Black folks living in the rural south was not an easy task back in the day ~ late 50’s, 60’s, 70‘s. Keeping Black people from voting by threatening them was just the way it was. Today, we call that voter suppression, and it’s mostly accomplished by “rules.”

 “What is voter suppression?”, someone asked me recently. Let me be clear. Voter suppression is a means to keep a certain group of people from exercising their legal and constitutional right to vote - to silence their voices and minimize their influence.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, says voter rights are under attack across the country. States are passing laws that lead to a significant burden for eligible voters to “exercise their fundamental constitutional right.” Who are the eligible voters being targeted? Black, Brown people, the elderly, students and people with disabilities.

On May 11, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the “President Commission on Election Integrity.”  This New York Times article spells out the details of this commission:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/opinion/trumps-voter-suppression-efforts.html?smid=tw-nytopinion&smtyp=cur&_r=0

On January 3, 2018, the so called “Voter Fraud Commission” was disbanded by Trump – having come under fire by voting rights advocates and many States for creating, rather than eliminating, barriers for citizens to exercise their rights.

Since the 2016 election, nine (9) states with Republican legislatures have passed laws making it harder to vote.

As the midterm elections quickly approach, voter suppression allegations are taking center stage. In Georgia’s hotly contested gubernatorial race, one new restriction is that registered voters’ names must match exactly their driver’s license or social security card. What if you have a nickname on one document and your full name on another? That’s right - in Georgia you’d be out of luck. No voting for you.

As an aside, funny how the IRS can always find me … no matter what name I have on any document. (Not that I’m trying to hide from the IRS – ssshhhh!)

As many of you know, I report quite a bit from Africa. As I recently described the stories I’m currently working on in Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan and South Sudan to someone he said, “I haven’t been to Africa since college and it’s just so sad how little it’s changed from then. The leadership has moved from one corrupt monarchy to the next.”

Hmmm. What this country is experiencing now with voter suppression in, let’s pick a state, Georgia, where the guy running for the highest office in the state is also running the election, is some serious craziness happenin! Right?! Let’s get off our first-world high horse and clean up our own mess before we start looking sideways at developing countries!

Tamara's father_Dr Stewart.jpg


Dr. Stewart, my dad, (image above) passed away a few years ago. Barack Obama was in his second term at the time. So, my dad got to vote for him twice. Fortunately, he did not have to witness or become a victim of voter suppression today. But millions of other eligible Americans are at risk of having one of their most basic rights taken away.

Are you being kept from voting? If you feel you are being targeted don’t wait until the last minute on Election Day. Contact your state or national legislator now. It’s your right. It’s your duty.

Think your vote doesn’t matter? Then ask yourself, why are so many “officials” trying to stop you from exercising that right? No excuses now, VOTE!



Time Warp: Slavery is Legal in Colorado

Many of you know I spend a lot of my time in South Sudan and Sudan covering crimes-against-humanity issues and genocide. Specifically, slavery. When I report on these stories, Americans are surprised but not shocked. After all, “that sort of thing happens in developing countries and in Africa,” is the response I get.

But let’s not get on the self-righteous bandwagon so quickly...

As of this posting, in August 2018, the Colorado constitution states: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude EXCEPT as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

This language is an exact copy of Amendment 13 of the United States Constitution, adopted at the end of the Civil War.

The language excepting persons convicted of a crime was placed in the Constitution as an accommodation to the former slave-holding states. Former slaves were often charged and quickly convicted of minor “crimes” like loitering. Once convicted, local law enforcement would contract-out the prisoners to former slave-holders to work on their plantations.

On August 28, 1963 more than 250,000 people packed on to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Civil Rights movement had reached an apex. Demonstrators from all walks of life ~ black and white ~ listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. give his most moving speech. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’’

On August 28, 2018 a movement to abolish slavery in Colorado kicked off at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Denver City Park. More than 100 people gathered at the foot of the King statue to renounce the language in the Colorado Constitution. “Abolish Slavery in Colorado” has gathered enough support to put Amendment A on the ballot for the November 6th election.  

(Missed the rally? Log in to Facebook and watch here: https://www.facebook.com/tamarabanks.yourtazmedia/videos/10155814576921527/)

Lee McNeil, chair of the Social Justice Ministry at Shorter Community AME Church said, “the Colorado Constitution, today, includes, ancient, painful, and immoral language that allows for slavery and involuntary servitude.”

State law makers said in 2016 the measure to abolish slavery and eradicate the language in the constitution narrowly lost largely due to the confusing language on the ballot.

They promise this year the language and intention are clear: Abolish slavery in Colorado.

I say, Amen to the promise and VOTE YES TO “AMENDMENT A” THIS NOVEMBER 6!

Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed.

Rossonian Revival

The Rossonian Hotel is the crown jewel of Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood.

Rossonian Hotel_Palisades Partners Image.jpg

Jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, Denver’s own Charles Burrell and many more rocked the house in to the wee hours of the morning back in the day.

The world renown artists would perform at hot spots around the Mile-High City but were only allowed to stay overnight in the Black neighborhood, Five Points. Segregation restricted where these incredibly talented people could check in to a hotel room and stay overnight. On stage they were judged by their talents. But as soon as the spotlight turned off they were judged by the color of their skin. Just ordinary negroes - from the 1920s up to the 1970’s.

Back then the neighborhood was alive! An exciting place to live, shop and play. African-American businesses thrived. Barber shops and salons, clothing stores, law firms, doctor’s offices. Five Points was the bomb!

Sadly, Five Points changed as those with wealth moved to other neighborhoods that were more fashionable and contemporary. By the mid to late 1990’s Five Points was the victim of neglect.

The last chapter has not been written though as some potentially exciting news for historic Five Points was announced recently. The new owner and developer of the Rossonian Hotel, Paul Books, President of Palisade Partners, presented his plans to reopen the crown jewel of the neighborhood. During the announcement at the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library, Books was joined by respected African American men in the community, Haroun Cowan, Ryan Ross, NBA great and Denver native Chauncy Billups, and others.

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Now, I think I’m one of the most positive people I know. But even I have a cautionary sense of “wait and see.”

After decades of blight and neglect, what will the proposed changes coming to the historic building and neighborhood mean? Will it be able to hang onto the culture and character that make it unique?

Across the street from the Rossonian on Welton St., another Palisade property will be housing Busboys and Poets. The first Busboys and Poets was opened in Washington, D.C., and there are now six locations.

What will be interesting to see is if, in the process of renovating, the developers will give African-American contractors, construction workers, hotel managers and staff a shot at the work.  Remember, this was the only neighborhood where Black folks in Denver were allowed to live up to the early part of the 70’s.

Ironically, many African-Americans have been pushed out of the neighborhood because the prices for property have gotten so expensive in the so-called ‘hood! Wouldn’t it be great to create an environment that supported job opportunities for the very people who’ve been pushed out?

Paul Books was unclear when asked how many jobs will be created and whether or not he’s reached out to the Black community.

So here is me SPEAKING TRUTH: if you are a Black contractor, construction worker, hospitality professional, etc. don’t wait to be asked! To participate in the revitalization of the Rossonian and Five Points as a whole, reach out now to:

Developer Paul Books (http://palisadepartners.com/contact/)

The Five Points Business District

Denver City Councilman in District 9, Albus Brooks (albus.brooks@denvergov.org)

Engage in a community that deserves respect, attention and honor.

BE BRILLIANT Stories: Uganda

Our BE BRILLIANT initiative is a hit in Uganda!

Hannington with solar lights.jpeg

Farmers like Hannington (above) and Thomas (below) are beginning to use solar lights - generously donated by YOU - to illuminate the darkness of night. The light which some take for granted is an economic leg up to people who ordinarily would have to stop working past sunset. Now, with increased capacity, these Ugandans are able grow and earn more.

thomas with solar lights.jpg

If you, your business or your community organization would like to support the independent sustainability of genocide survivors and other villagers in Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda, please read more about the Be Brilliant initiative and DONATE! 

Finding Humanity in a War Zone

Finding Humanity in a War Zone

As soon as planes flew in to the World Trade Center, another plane crashed in to the Pentagon, and it was discovered that Arab Muslims were the perpetrators, it seemed everyone with black and brown skin became a suspect. The concept that not every Muslim is a terrorist made sense to me. But so many people were looking to blame someone. I was looking for answers, too.

I knew in my heart that not every person who practices Islam is a killer. There are families, children, schools, parks, restaurants. There are communities.

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Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away

Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away

Confession:  I may have been a wild pony in another life.I love horses. Been riding since I was four years old, Western and English equitation, bareback with no bridle in an open pasture, around the country and many parts of the globe like Petra, Jordan and outside of Zurich, Switzerland. I even started playing polo about 15 years ago, going to Argentina to train.

Horses are strong and independent, yet graceful and social. So, anytime I can find a reason to do a story on horses I’m all over it.

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2017: The Year Hate became Great

2017: The Year Hate became Great

A campaign slogan, inspiring to some, truly disturbing to others...

There are many people of color and their allies who hear “Make America Great Again” and shudder.

Is it intended to refer to economic progress for all? To enhancing our country’s status on the world stage?

Or, as many of us understand, does it mean going backwards in time when white-Christian supremacy was a matter of fact, and the rest of us knew “our place.”

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