It’s not easy to live in Durango – but for people of color, it’s frightening.
That was the message shared Thursday by community members who met to discuss racism in Durango with the Community Relations Commission, which hosted the listening session to learn about personal experiences with discrimination in the community.
Some said they feel afraid to go downtown for a drink. Others hesitate to apply for jobs for fear of discrimination from customers and employers. Students drop out of high school to escape racism. Families leave the area for lack of acceptance.
“This was a room full of hurt,” said Lexie Stetson-Lee, a member of the commission.
More than a dozen people attended the listening session, and for an hour, shared stories about how racism in Durango has changed how they identify and act. No city councilors attended Thursday’s meeting, the first of four listening sessions planned this year.
Community members gave personal examples of institutionalized racism in Durango, including the totem man sculpture on Ninth Street just west of Main Avenue, a lack of inclusiveness at the Durango Welcome Center and a shortage of law enforcement who empathize or identify with people of color.
Participants spoke of friends who have left the community because they feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some said they won’t go out in Durango without a group. People of color have trouble renting in Durango, some said, and others have had trouble accessing support services and resources.
Kalina Cross, a sophomore at Fort Lewis College, said she has seen people make an effort to welcome people of color on campus, but she hasn’t seen much work done in the city.
“It seems like they’re not interested and don’t want to have to face these problems,” she said. “People in power need to listen and put this stuff to action.”
Any city attempt at solving the deep-rooted issues of racism in Durango would help, said Lisa Brown, who served as a student liaison to the Community Relations Commission before she graduated from FLC in 2019. A parade to celebrate inclusiveness could help – diversity training for government employees and officials is a good place to start, she said.
“Do we continue with the same mindset or do we decolonize ourselves?” Brown said. “There’s no one to blame, there’s only opportunity to do better and think outside the box.”
The majority of people in Durango need to do more to inform themselves of the challenges people of color in the community face, Stetson-Lee said.
None of the stories shared Thursday are new or unique in Durango, said Tirzah Camacho, another member of the Community Relations Commission, but the experiences often go unaddressed. Starting a conversation and engaging people is a good first step, she said.
“There’s power in numbers and creating a safe space for people affected by discrimination,” Camacho said. “The value (of the listening session) is feeling heard and hopefully gaining power.”