Denver Urban Spectrum - May 2023

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Carla Ladd’s calling speaks to the spirit of entrepreneurs...4

Legislature shines light on Black maternal health...7

Local therapist pens book on the grieving process...20


Brittany N. Winkfield




Angelia D. McGowan














What You Do Next

In this month’s cover story, first-time contributor Christen Aldridge talks to Carla Ladd about her work to help build generational wealth in the Black community through entrepreneurship, financial literacy and her not-so-secret little black book.

May is Mental Health Month. In this issue we have two pieces addressing mental health. In her article, contributor Mariam Sylla explores the story behind a new book by mental health counselor Janelle Johnson called, “When Grief Becomes US: Death Loss.” Longtime contributor LisaMarie Martinez connects with two psychologists for a better understanding of how parents and teachers can help students find some type of social normalcy after experiencing yet another traumatizing school shooting.

In line with the health theme for this issue, Aldridge also shines the light on Black maternal health in her article on the importance of doulas and advocacy for Black women, who are often dismissed or ignored in hospitals and other health care settings throughout their pregnancy leading to life-threatening complications. To round out our coverage of health issues, we also have a piece from our COLab partner about the importance of colon cancer screenings in the Black community.

Another long-time contributor, Thomas Holt Russell, shares his personal experience as a tall Black man in America with a “loud” voice in his op-ed on the controversy surrounding Tennessee lawmakers’ vote to expel two of its Black lawmakers for “disorderly behavior” when they voiced their concerns about gun violence.

As we near the end of the school year for many and the season of graduation, DUS extends a special congratulation to six college-bound students who excelled in civic engagement and academic achievement — all exceeding 4.1 GPA — during their high school years at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College. Please take the time to review our article highlighting their accomplishments to date.

To the students, entrepreneurs, advocates and lawmakers we look forward to seeing what you do next.

And last but certainly not least, DUS has completed its’ next. Denver Urban Spectrum’s Expanding The Narrative podcast network is live! Check it out at and let us know what you think. Enjoy!

Fear of a (Loud!) Black Voice

Op-ed by T. Holt Russell


The Denver Urban Spectrum is a monthly publication dedicated to spreading the news about people of color. Contents of the Denver Urban Spectrum are copyright 2023 by Bizzy Bee Enterprise. No portion may be reproduced without written permission of the publisher.

The Denver Urban Spectrum circulates 25,000 copies throughout Colorado. The Denver Urban Spectrum welcomes all letters, but reserves the right to edit for space, libelous material, grammar, and length. All letters must include name, address, and phone number. We will withhold author’s name on request. Unsolicited articles are accepted without guarantee of publication or payment.

Write to the Denver Urban Spectrum at P.O. Box 31001, Aurora, CO 80041.

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On April 3, 2023, Tennessee lawmakers voted to expel two of its Black lawmakers because they raised their voices on the house floor while protesting for tighter gun control after another tragic school shooting that took the life of children. The official reason was “disorderly behavior.” And “bringing disorder and dishonor to the House.” A third lawmaker, Gloria Johnson, a white female who participated in the protest, was not suspended. She attributed this curious decision to the color of her skin. A Republican representative (Rep. Lowell Russell) said the reason Rep. Gloria Johnson was not suspended

because she “did not participate to the extent Justin Jones and Justin Pearson did.” What does that mean? Jones and Pearson were Black men talking loudly. That is something that angers white people.

I know the dangers of talking too loudly around white people. I’m 6’4, black, bearded, and bald. I look like thousands of other black men. I fit the template of being feared. When I raise my voice, white people get upset. They are upset enough to use guns to contain me if they perceive me stepping out of

line. I am subject to being killed by doing the most mundane things, such as jogging, walking home from the store, or even accidentally knocking on the wrong door.

I have to look after myself. Many of these white people say they fear me. They carry guns, and I don’t. I can get killed if I even look at them the wrong way. Some may think this is hyperbole. I am not speaking about what I read but about my experience.

Continued on page 29

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 3 Volume 37 Number 2 May 2023
PUBLISHER Rosalind J. Harris A. James Ishikawa Overton Aldridge Martinez Holt Russell Mariam Sylla Tanya Ishikawa Bee Harris Lens of Ansar Jody Gilbert - Kolor Graphix MEDIA / DIGITAL MARKETING Melovy Melvin DISTRIBUTION Lawrence A. James - Manager The Justins: Justin Jones and Justin Pearson

Entrepreneurship runs through her blood.

“My grandmother was an entrepreneur, her mother was an entrepreneur and my father was an entrepreneur,” says Carla Ladd, a natural-born leader with a passion and heart for working to support Blackowned businesses and entrepreneurs. “I was born to be an entrepreneur.”

Though her father started several different businesses throughout Carla’s life, her mother worked as a registered nurse with the Veterans Administration. “My mom believed in clocking in and clocking out of a job and staying at that job until you retire,” says Ladd, who at 18 years old told her mother that she wanted to work for herself.

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Ladd worked at Hughes Aircraft as a test engineer after graduating from California State University in Los Angeles with a degree in electrical engineering. She relocated to Colorado in 1996 when she accepted a job as a system engineer for Lockheed Martin.

Businesswoman Carla Ladd Supporting Black Businesses and Building Generational Wealth

While settling into her new position and a new city she was still drawn to the idea of a life where she was working for herself. “Something wasn’t feeling right,” she says about her time as an engineer. Her heart was elsewhere; it didn’t belong to corporate America anymore.

In 2002, her entrepreneurial spirit was ignited when she created an online directory of Black businesses through her company, Innovative Internet Marketing Solutions (IIMS).

“My first business, DenverBlackPages, is dedicated to the development and growth of Denver’s Black community. assists business owners to market their goods, services and events to Denver metro’s Black residents and visitors.”

Business owners can apply on the DBP website to be listed in the directory. Ladd’s side hustle that turned into a true business has also served the community by offering strategic workshops to help people build their businesses, their products

and what their audience may want.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, DBP offered 90-minute pitch workshops for established business owners to share with the DBP team what their businesses are about and how the committee can support them while exchanging some strategic advice. Recently DBP has done business takeovers at Black-owned restaurants in Colorado. In April, Ladd served as a guest bartender at Agave Shore. “Twenty-five of us supported Jessie’s Smokin’ Nola restaurant by making everyone from our group purchase something from the menu. We plan to continue events like this in the future,” she explains.

DBP’s success was an indication to Ladd that she should consider pursuing a life of entrepreneurship. Her mother—one of her main supporters— reminded her of the words she spoke when she was 18 years old. Around the age of

40 she took the leap and left her job to focus on her business and has never looked back.

The DBP advisory board noticed the success of the strategic workshops, and felt like they could expand their efforts to promote Black entrepreneurship with networking. In 2005, Mountain Region Black Economic Summit (MRBES) was born. For 13 years, the summit served the community by promoting Black generational wealth and financial literacy. Speakers from all over the country and vendors would attend this annual event, making the summit the largest gathering of Black professionals, influencers and business owners in the region.

Re-engineering the Summit

The MRBES was last held in 2018. After that, Ladd took some time away from the organization to re-engineer the focus and goal of MRBES. Then COVID-19 hit the world in 2020 and further postponed the return of the MRBES, but it also

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 4

gave her and her team more time to cultivate and craft a better organization to support Black generational wealth. This summer will be the return of the summit but with a new name: BIPOC Economic Success Trust (B.E.S.T. dba Black Economic Summit.)

She emphasizes that “Our guiding principles remain the same: community development and economic self-sufficiency for historically disadvantaged communities of color.” The B.E.S.T website states the goal of the organization is “to minimize the traumatic effects of racism in BIPOC communities by strategically leveraging partnerships in an effort to dismantle systemic barriers that impede building wealth.” The organization’s economic development focus areas are small business, leadership and workforce development, homeownership, financial literacy, youth economic empowerment, and addressing the barriers to achieving economic success.

She is looking forward to the B.E.S.T Summit returning this summer. The two-day event will start June 9 at the Sheraton Hotel Downtown with all-day events like the Success Summit Legacy Luncheon where Emmy awardwinning 9News anchor Alexandra Lewis will host a “fireside chat” about rules for success with Denver native Big Jon Platt, who serves as chairman and CEO of Sony Music Publishing. The job expo, free and open to the public, will be held at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium on Saturday, June 10.

Ladd is excited about the 2028 Project that will be presented at this year’s summit. “The 2028 project is a collaboration of government entities, resource providers and community stakeholders to align priorities and enable accountability around Black economic empowerment,” she explains.

B.E.S.T will work with stakeholders to help develop a strate-

gic plan to focus on four important key areas: small business, workforce, leadership development, and youth economic empowerment starting with Colorado’s Black community.

“Black people are left out in the dark when it comes to financial resources and wealth building. We want to start with our community to ensure we expose the community to these resources before branching out to other communities,” she adds.

One exciting element of the Black Economic Summit Trust is the Empowering Youth Economics (EYE) Program’s –EYE on the Future Project. The mentorship and leadership development program that will guide Black youth from 8th grade to high school graduation in 2028. B.E.S.T is now accepting 50 Black students entering the 8th grade in the fall of 2023. The program will cover financial literacy training, college

and career planning, college scholarships, internships, apprenticeships, and mentorships. This is a free event but requires a firm commitment from students and families.

The program will kick off at the B.E.S.T. summit on June 9. EYE is the summit’s response to combat the increasing youth poverty in Denver. Ladd believes starting with kids is the best way to gain generational

Continued on page 6

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 5



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Carla Ladd

Continued from page 5 wealth. “Students will learn how to avoid getting in debt, how to properly spend, and all the resources you need to know about living a financially successful life. Parents can learn about homeownership through the 2028 project,” she says.

Legacy Planning

Ladd wants B.E.S.T. to be her legacy. She recently turned B.E.S.T into a 501(c)3 nonprofit so the legacy can continue without her. “I want to pass the torch. I want this program to continue when I am no longer with the organization,” she says.

Legacy is something she is also hoping to share through the EYE on the Future Program through the 2028 Project where youth will create legacies that can be passed down from generation to generation. “That is how we can sustain the generational wealth in our community,” she shares.

She also believes the older generation of business owners should impart wisdom to the younger generation about the trials and tribulations of starting a business. “You only know what you know. If no one is teaching you or guiding you, you are going to be lost,” says Ladd, who notes that mentorship helped her along the way as an entrepreneur.

Two people, in particular, were in her corner. The late businessmen, Lu Vason (Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo founder) and entrepreneur David Thompson, helped her become the businesswoman she is today. “They both helped me a lot and I’m grateful for their mentorship. They helped me see blind spots in my business and told me if something would work or not work.”

Ladd says Thompson and Vason “helped me establish a relationship with the Black business owners of Denver.” She now pays it forward to the newer generation by serving as a board member for some non-

profits and creating bonds with young entrepreneurs.

Since building both of her businesses, she has received numerous awards including the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce’s Clara Brown Award, the Colorado Black Women for Political Action’s Community Service Award, the Gospel Music Workshop of America Business Award, the National Council of Negro Women’s Business Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Business Award.

Importance of Mentorship

Growing two businesses has not been easy. She has learned about the inevitable business blunders an entrepreneur would encounter. “The first year I hosted the summit I did not know how much money an event could lose by not raising enough money,” she says. “I had to cover the loss with the main income from my job.”

She explains that at the time of organizing the summit, she didn’t raise enough money to cover the amount of loss her summit would make from not selling enough tickets. “I undervalued my worth,” she says, which is a common thing Black business owners and entrepreneurs will do to themselves.

Becoming an entrepreneur can feel like you are charting uncharted waters and there are many pitfalls, doubts and negative energy from people. Ladd’s advice is to “ignore the negativity and keep pressing. Not everyone is going to understand or support your dreams, and that’s okay. It’s your dream, not theirs. Not everyone is part of your tribe.”

From her desire to combat youth poverty, advance Black people’s economics and help businesses, she has written herself into Colorado’s history.. Editor’s note: Parents can submit applications for the 2028 Youth Economics Project with B.E.S.T at h.html

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 6 MemberFDIC [1] ThePATHGrantprogramprovidesdownpaymentassistanceofupto

Black Maternal Health Week

A Call to Action to End Racial Disparities in Black Maternal Mortality

Black Maternal Health

Week was recognized last month, April 11-17. The annually-recognized week brings awareness and action to the racial disparities that play into Black mothers’ high mortality rate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die while they are pregnant or in the first year after pregnancy. A National Public Radio article entitled “Maternal deaths in the U.S. spiked in 2021, CDC reports” cites the maternal death rate among Black Americans as much higher than other racial groups; in 2021 it was 69.9 per 100,000, which is 2.6 times higher than the rate for white women.

In 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the first-ever proclamation marking Black

Maternal Health Week. Every year the president shares a proclamation of Black Maternal Health with the American public. This year in his proclamation he described how his American Rescue Plan gave states the option to provide a full year of postpartum coverage to Medicaid beneficiaries — up from just 60 days of coverage. Colorado is one of 30 states, along with Washington, D.C., to provide women with Medicaid coverage with a full year of postpartum coverage.

During the awareness week in Colorado, the Black Caucus and Soul 2 Soul Sisters were among the organizations that held events to bring awareness of the Black maternal health crisis to the Colorado community. On April 14, which is recognized as Black Maternal Health

Day, the Black Caucus hosted a mix and mingle for mothers, birth workers and Capitol staff members to spread awareness of this crisis.

Sen. Rhonda Fields presented a bill for Medicaid to cover the use of doulas for families who are interested in using doulas during pregnancy and postpartum. “If this bill is passed it is going to provide Medicaid benefit coverage for doulas. This means anyone, who is eligible for Medicaid or private or state level insurance, will be reimbursed,” says Fields. “Doulas, right now, are paid for by the families who request the

doula’s service. With the passing of this bill, doulas will be reimbursed for Medicaid dollars. We are budgeting for families to receive up to $1,500.00 of reimbursement for doula services. That can be prenatal or postpartum.”

Also in attendance at the mix and mingle was Birdie Evan Johnson, birth worker and owner of Mama Bird Maternity Wellness Spa, and Bianka Emerson, president of Colorado Black Women for Political Action. Last year, CBWPA hosted a talk with Charles Hatchett, son of Judge Glenda Hatchett, the reality court show star. Charles’ wife, Kyria Johnson, died after undergoing a C-section for their second child. He is suing Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles

Continued on page 8

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Sandra Schmeling with husband and children

Black Maternal Health

Continued from page 7 for medical negligence because the doctors and nurses ignored the family’s concerns when Johnson was complaining about abdominal pain while recovering from her C-section. She wasn’t taken back to surgery for another 10 hours after her heart pressure plummeted.

Insights of a Black Doula

“Pregnancy is a time to be taken care of and to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to rest. Live in your soft era during pregnancy,” says Jahala Rose Walker says, referring to the social media trend of women abandoning the idea that life has to be hard to get what you want.

Walker is a mom, a doula and a doula instructor, and is on her way to getting certified

as a licensed lactation specialist. A doula is a person who provides emotional and physical support to others during a significant health-related experience, such as pregnancy and childbirth, as well as non-reproductive circumstances, such as dying.

Doulas are not considered health care professionals and can’t deliver babies, but doulas can provide tools to help patients be attuned to their bodies and empower the person to advocate for themselves. Doulas provide encouragement and support during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. An article published by the African American Museum of History and Culture, titled “The Historical Significance of Doulas and Midwives,” reported on a study by the CDC that showed doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a low-birthweight baby, two times less likely to experience a birth complication

involving themselves or their baby, and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding.

Walker, who has been a doula for four years and has assisted with many births for Black women in Colorado, is working on a four-hour workshop addressing obstetric racism as a reason for the high mortality rate of Black mothers during birth and postpartum.

“For the most part Black women don’t have the privilege of seeing someone who looks like them performing their births,” says Walker, who stressed that because Black people are dehumanized, it takes a longer time for doctors to consider Black patients as human or capable of experiencing pain.

A study by a psychologist at Dartmouth University used an interactive module that takes a picture of an animated face and morphs the face until it looks like a live human being. A white animated face had to morph on average 67 percent before people thought it looked like a real human being. But, a Black animated face had to morph to a greater degree before a person could discern it as a human face with an average morph of 80 percent complete.

This implicit bias harms Black patients. Walker points out that Black women’s health care isn’t seen as important during the postpartum period either. In an analysis led by Marian MacDorman of the Maryland Population Research Center (MPRC) at the University of Maryland, postpartum cardiomyopathy (a form of heart failure) and the blood pressure disorders preeclampsia and eclampsia were leading causes of maternal death for Black women, with mortality rates five times those of white women. Biden’s proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week 2023 emphasizes that tackling the crisis of Black maternal health begins with

understanding how institutional racism drives high maternal mortality rates. “Studies show that Black women are often dismissed or ignored in hospitals and other health care settings, even as they suffer from severe injuries and pregnancy complications and ask for help.”

Advocating for Proper Care

Sandra Schmeling is on maternity leave with her second child, Malachi. She is adjusting to a mother-of-two life, bonding with her youngest before she returns to work. Schmeling is a certified International Board of Lactation Consultant at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She is one of only two Black consultants in Colorado. Before working as a lactation specialist, she was an antepartum nurse. During that time, she saw implicit biases that some nurses would have toward Black mother patients.

“A lot of nurses and doctors don’t see Black women’s care as important. Black moms’ pain and concerns aren’t heard like they are for white mothers,” Schmeling says. She too experienced some negligence with her care from her first OB-GYN. Preeclampsia runs in her family. Her mother had it and so did her sister. Both had premature babies due to preeclampsia. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation’s study on race disparities, the rate of preeclampsia is 60 percent higher in Black women than in white women and Black women have a higher chance of developing severe preeclampsia.

When Schmeling became pregnant with her first child, Eliot, she informed her OBGYN that she had a family history of preeclampsia. She says her doctor “brushed off this fact about my family medical history.” The doctor didn’t prescribe her the necessary medicine to prevent her from having preeclampsia, and she became preeclamptic in her third tri-

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 8
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mester. As a result, she had to be induced at 37 weeks to avoid any dangerous issues for her and her baby. During her induction, she says she began to have complications. “My son’s heart rate was dropping. The induction wasn’t working and I was telling my delivery team to do something else.”

Even as a nurse at the hospital in which she was giving birth, she was being ignored. She quickly realized that she could be a statistic if she didn’t advocate for herself. “Thankfully, the nurses that worked with me also advocated for me to stop the induction,” she recalls. She had an emergency C-section and gave birth to her son. After her experience with her first pregnancy, she decided to switch to an OBGYN who was going to see her care as a priority. “Second pregnancy, I found a different doctor and he took care of me. He saw my family history of preeclampsia and put me on aspirin immediately,” she says.

Because her new doctor was proactive, she gave birth to another boy at 38 weeks without complications. She believes that the lack of education and exposure to working with women of color is a factor for problems in Black maternal health. Just like Walker mentioned, Black women’s pain isn’t seen during postpartum. “We have seen examples of Black mothers dying during postpartum because they weren’t taken care of very well. For example, a Black mother of five, who comes into the hospital with cramps and abdominal pain after giving birth, is told to use a heating pack or take Tylenol. This doesn’t make sense because we know, as healthcare providers, that the more kids you give birth to the more pain you will experience during your healing process. But for a white woman, in the same scenario, is treated properly to prevent any more pain and death,” Schmeling explains.

According to the CDC, 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.

Schmeling feels like her representation when she was a nurse and now as a lactation specialist is very important. “I’m here to stand in the corner for my patients of color. They have someone who is here for them,” she says.

Sacred Seeds Black Birthworker Collective of Colorado is all about connecting Black families to birth workers, sharing tools to increase breastfeeding in the community, and spreading awareness to end health disparities in Black maternal and infant mortality.

Soul 2 Soul Sisters is a grassroots, love-based, racial justice nonprofit organization based in Denver that focuses on the wellness and well-being of Black people. The organization held informative events during Black Maternal Health Week, kicking the week off with a virtual event, “Black Maternal Crisis and Hope” sponsored by Cobalt and the NAACP CO-MT-WY State Conference. They closed the week with another virtual event, “What now?

Reproductive Justice in a PostRoe Nation.” Soul 2 Soul partnered with the Iliff School of Theology to determine how faith leaders can get involved in reproductive justice.

“Reproductive rights also include the right to fair and adequate maternal care,” says Briana Simmons, reproductive justice coordinator at Soul 2 Soul Sisters. “Black women deserve to see fair and equal medical treatment. Black women created the blueprint for many reproductive rights we see today; it’s a disservice to exclude us in fair medical treatment.”.

FEB 24 - MAY 21 A moving and heartfelt play about the universal experiences of everyday life. | 720.898.7200 Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 9

Women’s Health Fair

Testing & Screenings

Educational Resources

Expert Advice


May 31, 2023 3pm - 7pm

Location: CAA Health 3350 Hudson St., Denver, CO 80207

May 6, 2023 8am - 12pm Senior Health

Location: CAA Health 3350 Hudson St., Denver, CO 80207

Testing & Screenings

Educational Resources

Expert Advice


& Fitness Day

Extraordinary Colorado Women Seek National Crowns in Vegas this August

Mrs. Dani Holliday, Mrs. Natalie Oliver-Atherton, and Miss Sharisma Thomas, pageant title holders from Colorado, are set to compete in three separate pageants in Las Vegas, NV, from August 24-26.

Each woman has a unique story and purpose, making them ideal candidates to represent their state at the national pageants which honor women for their beauty and their contributions to society.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts recently hosted combined pageants for Mrs. Colorado and Miss Colorado for America Strong. 46 women competed and two African American women took home titles.

Mrs. Natalie Oliver-Atherton, first runner-up and “sister” queen in the Mrs. Colorado Pageant, was

crowned Mrs. Colorado American. She sees her participation in the pageant as an opportunity for personal growth that extends to her work as a guest artist at the Denver School of the Arts. In addition, she is launching a non-profit this summer, The Namaste Works Arts Alliance, to provide growth opportunities for young adult performing artists. Natalie is proud to represent women of color in this arena and believes in empower-

ing young people to pursue their dreams. In 1990, the first African American winner of the Mrs. Colorado Pageant was crowned, followed by the second in 2022. Mrs. Natalie Oliver-Atherton is the latest addition to the winning roster.

Miss Sharisma Thomas, crowned Miss Colorado for America Strong, is a Registered Dental Hygienist who wants to raise awareness on the importance of the Mouth to Body Connection and Oral Health

Care. She is using her nonprofit, It All Leads to Your Mouth, to provide support to the under-served. Sharisma is proud to represent women of color with this platform and is determined to make a difference in her community.

Mrs. Dani Holliday, winner of the Mrs. Colorado Pageant 2023, will be using her voice to advocate for the infertility community. After a 3-year infertility journey, she became a mother and is now partnering with Resolve, the National Infertility Association, and Colorado Fertility Advocates to push for infertility coverage for all. Her triumph over multiple challenges has led her to a fulfilling life centered on marriage, motherhood, career, and community activism..

Editor’s note: For more information on The Mrs. Colorado and the Miss Colorado for America Strong Pageants visit:

— – May 2023 11
Urban Spectrum Miss Sharisma Thomas crowned by Alyssa Torres Photos by Megan Schumacher Anderson Graphique Photography Mrs. Natalie Oliver-Atherton crowned by Nikki Goss Mrs. Dani Holliday crowned by Sylvia Waller Pageant winners: Sharisma Thomas, Dani Holliday and Natalie Oliver-Atherton

Culling Colorectal Cancer, Silent Killer of Black Americans

For years, Black Americans have been about 20% more likely to get colon cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it than most other ethnic and racial groups. The disease has tragically taken the lives of Black celebrities, including actor Chadwick Boseman, soccer legend Pelé, and singer Eartha Kitt.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reported that this year, about 153,020 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer and 52,550 will die from it, including 19,550 cases and 3,750 deaths in individuals younger than 55. In New York City, colorectal cancer is the secondleading cause of cancer death.

Black hospital leadership, elected, and church groups are launching innovative new ways to screen for colon cancer, as well as promoting local and national awareness about the risks. Often, colon and colorectal cancer does not show signs or symptoms of growth until it spreads. More importantly, when colon cancer is detected early, it has an almost 90% survival rate.

“The risks of not getting [screening] done are death and dying from a terrible disease,” said NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H)/Harlem Chief of Gastroenterology Dr. Joan Culpepper-Morgan. “I hope that this demystifies and takes away some of the fear that people have, especially that Black men may have. We are here as a resource.”

“The best way we can help end glaring disparities in colorectal cancer occurrences and mortality is public education. As with most cancers, early detection is key,” said Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse, who chairs the council’s Committee on Hospitals. “Of course, as with all healthcare disparities, the fight must be centered on bringing equity to our healthcare delivery system. This starts with appropriately funding H+H facilities and safety-net hospitals. As chair of the council’s Committee on Hospitals, this remains a top priority.”

Most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, cover colon cancer screenings starting at age 45.

There are two common ways to test and screen regularly for colon cancer: a colonoscopy or an at-home fecal immunochemical (FIT) test, which is less invasive and samples can be sent in by mail. A colonoscopy is a simple procedure where a doctor checks a patient’s rectum with a finger-sized camera for signs of cancer.

NYC H+H/Harlem CEO Georges Leconte, 62, shared his personal experience to try to destigmatize the process for other men and women his age. Leconte said his first colonoscopy was at age 50 after his primary doctor and friend encouraged him to get it done. They didn’t find any growths or polyps—pre-cancerous growths the size of a microscopic mushroom—to worry about. Most people need to return every 10 years to get checked.

This time, Leconte allowed cameras to follow him as he prepped and underwent the routine colonoscopy. He began the night before with a regimen of laxatives and cleansing solutions. The next day, he was put to sleep with anesthesia during the 30-minute procedure.

“Especially in the African American community, we don’t look at going to the doctor as prevention, and if you catch things early, you can make a difference,” said Leconte. “Chadwick Boseman was probably one of the most gifted actors, and to lose him at such a young age to colon cancer was something that should wake us all up. It’s so preventable.”

Generally speaking, symptoms of colon cancer can include blood in the stool or rectum, nausea and vomiting, sudden weight loss, and diarrhea or constipation that doesn’t go away. CulpepperMorgan, who performed Leconte’s colonoscopy, stressed that these are often late presentations of the cancer and may indicate a serious progression.

“The bowel is large and it can stretch—it takes a lot to cause a blockage. By the time there is a blockage, it has spread already beyond the walls of the bowel to other organs,” she said. “We definitely don’t want anyone to get to that point.”

Sometimes the presumed sexual connotation of a colonoscopy prevents people from wanting to get it done, according to Culpepper-Morgan. “I think the thought of it is much worse than the reality,” she said.

The journey to lowering the risk of getting colon cancer starts with a conversation about awareness with a trusted doctor, which is understandably difficult for many in Black and brown communities that have been subject to the whims of a systemically racist healthcare system, said CulpepperMorgan.

She added that Black and brown people are prone to environmental factors, like food deserts and redlining, that contribute to poor diets and poor health outcomes. Processed meats, such as hot dogs and

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 12
Editor’s note: This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. Making transmissions well since 1983. Actor Chadwick Boseman Singer Eartha Kitt

deli meats, fast foods, and sugary foods overly available in food deserts can lead to unhealthy weight gain and potentially to colorectal cancer, according to research.

“High-fructose corn syrup has, of course, been linked to diabetes, obesity—a tremendous uptick—but now we’re coming into a generation that has been weaned, if you will, on high-fructose corn syrup their entire life,” said CulpepperMorgan. “We’ve seen in animal models that this substance increases the rate of growth of colorectal cells.”

Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, chair of the Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC), concurred that it’s often not easy for people to trust doctors. In communities of color, “trusted voices” tend to be a pastor or church when it comes to health matters, which was evident during the COVID19 pandemic. He said that the culture of health neglect and fear, sexual connotations about getting a colonoscopy, and mental health must be addressed in the church and in the community.

The CNBC represents more than 25 million people and 31,000 Black ecclesiastical congregations. The network has been dedicated to improving access to health and beating back comorbidities, and launched a series of efforts this March for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, since many congregants missed doctors’ appointments and skipped

screenings and follow-up during the pandemic.

“There’s a stigma attached to any kind of health challenge in the African American community, [including] prostate cancer among men,” said Richardson. “Men have a tendency to avoid the health experience, and it’s the lack of trust in the health experience. It doesn’t matter what illness is going on, the Black community has hesitancy and it’s borne out of a history of neglect and barriers to healthcare.”

Pastors were immediately confronted with the realities of health disparities when members were dying and unable to bury loved ones because of the high number of COVID deaths, he said. Richardson worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on vaccination efforts and soon agreed to expand the operation.

“Every statistic regarding health, Black people are at the bottom of,” said Richardson.

CNBC is also partnering with Lab Corp to distribute test kits at congregations across the country.

People are also more likely to have a higher risk of developing colon cancer if they are older, have a history of polyps or cancer in their family, have inflammatory bowel disease, exercise irregularly, are obese, drink alcohol, or smoke.

To consult with a NYC Health + Hospitals healthcare provider about colon cancer risk and with your insurer about your coverage for a screening test, visit NYC Care. For more information, call 1-646-NYCCARE (1-646-692-2273).


Editor’s note: Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a taxdeductible gift of any amount today by visiting


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A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One portrays Black motherhood amid gentrification, racism, poverty

way it felt like we were being pushed out of the city altogether, and what was at stake—not only in terms of families and what they had fought for over generations, just to get stability, just being knocked down again, but also losing neighborhoods like Harlem, which means not only something to New Yorkers but also Black heritage and Black identity in general.

I also wanted to speak on Black womanhood. … I can’t talk about being a Black woman growing up in an inner city without talking about all of these layers by which we have to experience life.

BNV: Teyana, how did you prepare for your role as Inez?

ends. What can you say about the ending, without giving away too much information?

Rockwell: It’s a complicated ending. Our story [as Black people] remains complicated. Every generation, every cycle of trauma, every circumstance that is thrown at us—sometimes we can get blinded by that. But the truth is despite what happens to us or what gets thrown our way, we still are overcoming them, and we still are making progress.

BNV: What do you say to mothers who might see this movie but who can’t relate to the struggles that Inez has?

Black motherhood in underprivileged urban America gets a brutally honest but loving tribute in the drama A Thousand and One, the feature-film debut by writer/director A.V. Rockwell, who has already become one of the most celebrated Black female filmmakers to emerge in the early 2020s.

A Thousand and One had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the festival’s top prize: the grand jury award in the U.S. Dramatic competition. A Thousand and One was released in theaters on March 31. This emotionally powerful movie, which takes place in New York City from 1993 to 2005, is about a hair stylist named Inez de la Paz (played by Teyana Taylor), who tries to get her life back on track in 1994, after being released from prison for theft.

Inez’s 6-year-old son Terry (played by Aaron Kingsley Adetola) has been in the foster care system, but 22year-old Inez doesn’t want him to go back to foster care. And so, Inez takes unlawful custody of Terry, secretly relocates them from Brooklyn to Harlem, and she illegally changes his identity. Aven Courtney

portrays Terry at 13 years old, while Josiah Cross has the role of Terry at 17 years old.Will Catlett depicts Inez’s love partner Lucky, who is in and out of her life.

A Thousand and One (which gets its title from the apartment number where Inez and Terry live for most of the story) covers issues such as racism, poverty, gentrification, and the failings of the child welfare system. Rockwell has said in interviews that it took her about two years to write the movie, and the process included a lot of research. Rockwell and Taylor recently did a roundtable interview with Black News & Views and other media outlets, where this talented filmmaker and star opened up about making “A Thousand and One” and their experiences as Black women.

BNV: A.V., how did you begin to put together this beautifully nuanced script that takes us on this journey?

Rockwell: I always wanted to tell some version of a coming-ofage story in New York City. Once I settled on that idea that I was going to do that as my first feature, I was like, “What is it about the city I want to address? What is it about that time?”

Obviously, with gentrification, I wanted to speak on that and the

Taylor: I felt like, honestly, it was something that was meant to be. Timing is a hell of a thing. I had so much in common with Inez. … I had prayed for so long to have an opportunity so that people could really see my range and what I can do.

It was a way to finally turn off my strength for once and be weak and cry out loud. Any private battles that I was battling—dealing with postpartum depression, dealing with a lot of loss. I was really grieving. And so, to really tap into Inez was a special thing and really therapeutic for me, because I’ve been strong all my life—and a lot of the time, not by choice. Being in survival mode is a skill, something that we have as Black women.

BNV: What are your thoughts on the father-son connection that Lucky and Terry have with each other?

Rockwell: This movie is [not only] about the power of family but also the power of fatherhood, the power of when you do show up and commit to the role. And the beauty in that and the impact that it can have. I wanted to give men who feel like Lucky, who are drenched in their masculinity, the permission to be vulnerable and to be loving in a way that is open and fully expressed.

BNV: A lot of viewers won’t be prepared for how the movie

Rockwell: If this is your experience, I want you to feel seen. If this is not your experience, I want you to have a better understanding and feel more connected to the experience of another human being, especially for a woman like Inez, who walks through the world. A lot of what society does is instead of trying to understand her and be supportive to her, what they’ll try to do is try to pacify her: “Maybe if you were a little quieter, maybe if you talked a certain way, maybe if you moved through the world in a different way, then maybe things wouldn’t be so difficult for you.” I think that’s the way we are treated as Black women, let alone as Black mamas.

I hope that if you are not Inez [that you] have more compassion for her and celebrate all the ways in which she’s heroic. … Even within our community, there’s classism, there’s colorism. There are so many layers this woman has to suppress and overcome in order to show up with the full capacity to love her child. I want people to really feel more connected and supportive of her in the way that she needs.

BNV: What surprised you the most from making this movie? And what did you learn from that surprise?

Rockwell: It was very challenging making this movie. No matter how much I could have prepared for it, I was definitely surprised at all of

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 14
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the obstacles I had to overcome as a filmmaker and as a human being in order to make this movie. In some ways, I was surprised by myself and how I was able to rise to all of the occasions, because it definitely challenged me in ways I hadn’t experienced before as a filmmaker. I’m very proud of that.

Despite everything that I went through and all of the things I wanted for the movie … it’s still ultimately a movie that resonates in all the ways that I wanted and how it’s been received so far. I’m surprised that, despite all the odds, it happened, but I’m very grateful and very proud of myself for the ways I was able to grow as a filmmaker in this process.

Taylor:  I was very surprised that it was therapeutic. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even have the whole script yet [when I signed on for “A Thousand and One”]. I had done [acting] projects before, but to do something like this, where one day you’re 22, the

next day you’re 32, one day you have a 6-year-old son, the next day, you have a 17-year-old son talking back.

With the different layers of Inez, it was shocking to see myself [in the movie], from start to finish, because we shot [the movie] out of order—like all the different facial expressions, how detailed it was. … There are a lot of shock factors in this film, but [they are] beautiful, shocking things that I never thought I could put on a screen. It was amazing.

BNV: There’s a lot of emotional heaviness in this movie. How did you deal with it?

Taylor: Everything was heavy, even the good times.

Rockwell: That’s what this movie is about—people being able to live and to love each other without somebody trying to push them out or knock them down. [The movie] was always going to have a certain level of heaviness. I cared so much about honoring the

people that this story was about. I took that very seriously.

I’m a New Yorker, but I’m not from Harlem, specifically. I wanted to make sure that I did right by this neighborhood that I think every Black American should appreciate and want to protect. Caring so deeply about this movie, that was my North Star, that is what kept me going and anchored.

BNV: What are your thoughts on whether or not things are improving for female filmmakers in the industry?

Rockwell: It’s a mixed perspective for me. Optically, you are seeing changes in very beautiful ways. In the last year alone, there were so many major releases that were made by Black women and put us at the center. And put [a variety of] women at the center, if you look at those that were recognized as among the best pictures of the year.

I think being embraced by audiences and by the industry on both critical levels and box

office [levels] is really beautiful. Younger generations of women can see that and say, “Oh, I can do this too.” That’s really important and really outstanding.

However, these are just optics. These are what we’re seeing, and what’s being pushed front and center, or marketed in certain ways, in addition to us finally getting a seat at the table. But statistically, I think that’s what’s more important. It’s a wide-spanning industry. Black women represent only 2% of working directors. Even if there are more of us that you are seeing, how many of us are actually working?

For a lot of people, what we’re doing, what we’re passionate about is a hobby until somebody gives them their space and opportunity, creating a lane for them to be working in TV, working in film, in a way that is consistent to get stories out and represent us in better ways. I really want to see those numbers jump dramatically before I really feel confident that we’re in a new era..


Psychosocial Safety and Mental Health Management After Gun Violence in Schools

Sitting in a lounge chair and sipping on a hot cup of chai, after a relaxed dinner, a teacher begins to review lessons planned for the next morning’s class. In another time zone it’s the end of a school day, and as students walk through the school halls they’re thinking about how much homework teachers assigned and worrying about being late for band practice. Somewhere in between these time zones, a parent is coming home from work and feeling too tired to cook so thinking about grabbing something from Burger King to bring home for the family.

Those are typical and expected thoughts of different people connected to schools through work, youth and children. However, gun violence in school systems has shifted the mental focus of teachers, students and parents. On a daily basis, their minds ponder the disturbing reality of questions: What can I do to avoid being shot and protect my students at the same time? Where can I take my child that’s safe so they can learn and grow? How do I manage what’s happening to me after the shooting in my school? Who can I trust? When will the gun violence end?

Gun Violence Disrupts Psychosocial Safety

According to Dr. Anat Geva, a licensed clinical psychologist, psychosocial safety is successfully having the safety, predictability, knowledge, and confi-

dence to do what is expected of us and what we expect from our day, with minimal interference, and having the ability to successfully manage our daily challenges, both internally and externally.

Geva emphasizes that the trauma resulting from gun violence in the school system disrupts the psychosocial safety of students, teachers and parents to the point of them being unable to recoup, go back to a state of autopilot, and confidently go through their lives.

“For a student, they expect to come in, get their academics, socialize and engage in activities. When their life is at stake coming to school then it completely violates their ability to operate in the capacity of being a student and being a person. For teachers, the same thing. They might ask themselves if they could have seen it coming, if there was more that they could have done, should have done; so, a lot of guilt. For parents, who are the most removed, it feels like a complete loss of control,” she says.

Gun violence in schools can lead to students no longer trusting in, and maybe even feeling betrayed, by the system, according to Geva who formerly worked in a public school system.

“Children and adolescents are very highly dependent on their caregiver’s authority to create a structure for them, to create the container within they can operate, they can bounce

around, they can experiment, they can explore and a lot of times push boundaries,” she explains. “When they see that their container, that the framework, be it parents or administration or the school, has not been able to protect them, to contain them, on the very basic level of just keeping them alive, keeping them physically safe, it makes it very scary, for a lot of them, and it creates a breach of trust.”

She believes that repairing psychosocial safety after gun violence requires working on the physical safety of the school, community and environment, and that the repairs be relayed very clearly to all parties involved. She identifies the importance of establishing long-term goals of inclusivity and unity as another way to try and reestablish the psychosocial safety of students.

“We also need to, longer term, think of inclusivity and furthering the notion of unity within a school so that everyone in the school feels part of it, as opposed to opposing it,” she says. “If there is a way of including those students that feel particularly marginalized, that would be a long-term goal to enhance that inclusivity and hopefully also provide a buffer going forward, so that there won’t be as much pain and potential hopelessness for students in the school to later want to come back and retaliate, as well as enough connections, that should some students feel alienated they will have some connection that the school and or other people will be informed of that.”

Geva, who works with clients on crisis, trauma, grief and loss at Family Care Center in Lone Tree, says the topic of gun violence in the school system moved her to emphasize the importance of honoring one’s trauma, as opposed to being defined by it.

“We live in a world where crisis and traumatic events are

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prevalent, but traumatic events do not need to define us,” she stresses. “The difference between experiencing traumatic events and being damaged by them is our ability to honor them, hold them sacred, and take the necessary action to repair.”

Mental Health and Mental Wellness after Gun Violence

Dr. Anthony Young, a mental health professional with a doctorate in clinical psychology, defines mental health as, “The successful performance of mental functions resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with others, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity.”

The state of one’s mental health, whether an adult or a child, is dependent upon where they are in terms of their mental wellness. He says that mental health and wellness exist on a continuum. He believes that most people exist somewhere in the middle, depending on what is happening in their lives. If something traumatic happens, individuals move toward the opposite end of the continuum “toward being in psychological distress.”

“Students are less capable of having the psychological tools to cope with violence, many teachers might be afraid to even work in schools because of the threat of gun violence, and parents may feel a sense of helplessness, being unable to protect their children while they are at school,” he says.

Promoting safety from gun violence at schools, according to Young, could begin from within by teaching social, emotional and life skills such as alternatives to violence, anger management, and critical thinking skills, so that children can develop the resilience to cope with conditions that they can-

not control rather than acting out in violence with a gun. He feels that a safe environment should be created to allow students, teachers and parents to not only engage in appropriate help-seeking behaviors, but to have the resources available for them because they “may not feel that they have permission to seek help, because of the stigma that’s attached to anyone who may have a mental health challenge.”

Mental illness is a term that refers collectively to all mental disorders and health conditions involving alterations in thinking, mood, behavior, or a combination of them. It is associated with distress and impaired functioning.

Because of the stigma associated with the term, Young prefers to refer to it as mental wellness. “I would rather refer to ‘mental illness’ in terms of

‘mental wellness’ or having mental challenges, because all human beings have mental challenges, irrespective of wealth, age, ethnicity, or cultural group. It is part of the human condition we all experience to some extent or another all throughout our lives. Mental illness has a strong stigma attached to it and no one wants to be considered to be ill.”

Continued on page 18

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Psychosocial Safety and Mental Health Management...

Continued from page 17

Addressing Mental Distress with Mindfulness

The stress of gun violence in schools affects learning and leads to distress, being on edge and anger.

“When students are feeling any type of mental distress it may be very hard to learn, so their grades may suffer, or some students might even avoid going to school because of the fear and all of the negative emotions associated with gun violence that they may have witnessed at school,” says Young. “Educators may experience a fair amount of distress in terms of depression, anger and heightened sense of awareness or alertness. They may overreact to situations that they normally would not overreact to. Parents may experience anger for the school system’s inability to create a safe setting for their children, or they may have other challenges such as an increase or the initiation of substance use. The same could apply to educators and students as well.”

He adds, “Parents could also become overprotective to the point of smothering their children out of fear that something might happen to them, and in the extreme scenario, students might feel that they have to carry weapons themselves to defend themselves against the

gun violence in the school.”

He points out that it is not natural to walk around in a heightened state of watchfulness or alertness because it increases the physiological indicators of stress, causing the person to walk around tense all the time. When this happens, he says, they should get mental help for it.

For students of color, he stresses that they have particular challenges because they may be in social environments in and out of school that may not be protective for them, and the feeling of being unprotected creates physiological changes, which increase stress hormones.

“It’s very important that educators and parents are very mindful that our students are under a lot of stress (from gun violence in schools), and we have to implement proactive ways to help them cope rather than ignoring it,” says Young, who serves as president of the Denver-Rocky Mountain Association of Black Psychologists.

Some mindfulness techniques he shares involve parents listening to their children, paying attention to what is going on with them, and spending more quality time with them so that they feel more comfortable sharing what their stressors are.

He recognizes, “There may not be a lot of therapists of color, but there are therapists available, and we need to use

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whatever resources are there. We can’t wait for there to be a critical mass of therapists of color because that may not happen in our lifetime, but we have to make sure that those therapists that are working with our children are able to use culturally congruent methods of helping our children cope with their distress. Gun violence is a horrible thing for a child to deal with.”

Overcoming Barriers with Nonjudgmental Attention and Resources

Barriers to students receiving mental health services after experiencing gun violence in schools, according to Young, involve their inability to have the words to describe what they are feeling emotionally and fear of judgement.

“Anger may come out as depression or because children oftentimes do not have the emotional literacy to properly label emotions, they may mislabel emotions. They may say

they’re mad when what they are feeling is sad and depressed,” he says. “Parents and teachers can listen very closely to students and encourage them to speak about whatever distress they’re experiencing, without judgement and to have readily available resources that they can tap into within the school (which would make student engagement in getting the help that they need more likely).”

He adds, “Adults can be quite judgmental, particularly toward people in distress, particularly toward children. Children may shut down, they may not want to share because they may be labeled by their parents and educators as being weak or being dumb or something negative.”

Mental health resources that Young references include: the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), Denver Center for Mental Health, Aurora Mental Health Center,

and Jefferson County Mental Health Center. There are also behavioral health professionals that exist as private practitioners such as licensed professional counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists, and certified addiction counselors, as well as non-profit organizations that provide mental health counseling, he notes.

“The topic of gun violence in schools hits home because I grew up in Chicago where there was a lot of gun violence in the community but not in the schools because the school culture was nurturing from the teachers, and from each other, which created a safe environment, which is different from today’s school culture in Chicago and Colorado,” he laments. “I fear for my grandchildren in school because of the constant barrage of gun violence within the school and within the community. As long as we are not addressing gun violence within the community,

it is going to be in the school. We have to somehow figure out how to address gun violence in a proactive way; we need to provide the psychosocial educational tools within the schools so that students will seek out nonviolent ways of resolving their difficulties and managing their anger.”.

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Mental Health Counselor Authors Book on Death Loss

Colorado native Janelle Johnson is known as a licensed professional counselor, mental health speaker, mental health television correspondent, national certified counselor, and businesswoman. She recently added the title of author with her new book, “When Grief Becomes US: Death Loss.”

“It’s needed now, and I think, always because we’re not guaranteed much in life but we hope that we are living and we are going to die at some point,”

says Johnson, the founder of Life Balance Counseling, a mental health private practice she formed in 2011 to work specifically with adult clients in areas such as relationship conflict, emotional regulation, anxiety, and grief and loss. “We’re going to experience death loss; it’s going to be our own death or the death of someone we know.”

Part of the inspiration for her book came as she was prepar-

ing to complete her master’s degree at Regis University and an internship at Judi’s House in Denver. The nonprofit was cofounded in 2002 by former Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese, in memory of his mother who passed away when he was 12 years old. The cofounder is his wife, Dr. Brook Griese, a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma and loss. The now Aurora-based organization provides grieving children and families a safe space to come together to find connection and healing.

Johnson attributes a huge part of where she is today to the experience she gained there, so much so that the organization received an honorable mention in the book.

She was simultaneously dealing with the fact that her grandmother had six months to live, and ironically, she was working with groups of all ages on bereavement. Specifically, she had the opportunity to work with children as young as 3 years old to adults over the age of 80 years old. When her grandmother passed away right before Johnson’s graduation ceremony, she found herself trying to hold a space to deal with this loss as well as focus on her health in the midst of all of the big changes happening in her life.

“This subject is personal. I think it’s personal to everybody, but it’s definitely personal to me,” stresses Johnson, who is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy in the counselor education and supervision program at Grand Canyon University.

Working with people experiencing death loss and grief is what she calls her “life calling.” She believes that it all began because the director of Judi’s House welcomed her into the program to complete her internship and practicum. She was able to obtain the experience, then naturally she was able to

find that this was what she was called to do.

Released in February, “When Death Becomes US: Death Loss” is a book that Johnson hopes will provide foresight on grief, coping skills and more to the bereaved. She emphasizes the impact that death loss can have on a bereaved person’s vulnerabilities, attachments and emotional state as they navigate through grief and death loss.

When thinking about the main inspiration that solidified her decision to begin writing this publication, she recounts a situation she calls “a sign.” While at the drive-through window at a Starbucks, she was surprised to learn that the good Samaritan ahead of her had already paid for her order and left a card. The card had information in memory of a significant death loss of a loved one that they were honoring by paying it forward. Johnson noticed that the date of birth of the person they were honoring was the same as the person Johnson was deciding whether or not to commemorate in the book.

“When I got that card, to me it said ‘keep going,’” says Johnson, who then began her new journey of writing this book in commemoration of her high school sweetheart and first significant death loss, Tyrone.

Johnson points out that she didn’t find the writing part of this journey to be the biggest challenge, but rather the changes and sacrifices she had to make to complete the book. A couple of those challenges being time management and having to sit and revisit the death losses in her life. She came to realize she not only had to sacrifice her time, sleep and work but also come to terms with never really having the chance to “sit with” the significant death experiences from her past.

This came to the forefront while she was writing about the impact of animal death loss, and she noticed that she was

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avoiding the trauma caused by a significant animal death in her life, her dog. Then she began to think about how she never created a space for herself to deal with other experiences such as the death of Tyrone.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I hadn’t really sat with this.’ I just kept working, I kept going, and I didn’t want to [deal with it]. I don’t feel like avoidance is healthy and helpful long term,” says Johnson, who owns Elle Naj wellness, products and publishing. “Through writing, not only was it challenging but I gained how traumatic it was.”

Similar to how she treats her client work, she found that her biggest challenge of all was constantly considering what the feelings and takeaways of the reader would be, along with how she could encourage through writing that they should want to keep reading. She wanted to make sure that the reader was left with something no matter where they were in the book.

“For those that aren’t going to read things through, I thought ‘what if they’re left with this?’” Johnson explains. “So I was challenged with the way of remembering to advise people to take care of themselves throughout the reading because this isn’t a necessarily easy thing depending on how long ago the loss was, how close they were to their significant person who died, where they are in health, and their own wherewithal.”

With “When Grief Becomes US: Death Loss,” Johnson wants her readers to gain the understanding that given the inevitability of experiencing loss, everyone must have these tools, no matter the age, in order to navigate through it healthily. The book makes it clear that grieving is not a linear process, and there is no order of emotions. The main encouragement

is for the reader to move through their feelings and understand their grief orientation, their attachments to the deceased, and how to “keep loving on you despite loss.”

She adds, “What I want for them to get the most is that their life is important and that they have to attend to their life and living, even post having significant death loss. Death does forever change you but with hope and action, the intensity of loss will not be as intense as it is today.”

While her mission is to promote the welfare of mankind in the field of mental health by combatting stigmas and misconceptions about counseling, she en-courages people to still seek support in other ways such as through community or spirituality.

Fully embracing her new title as an author, Johnson’s second book, “Open Wounds. Aloe Vera, Nopal Cactus: Relationship Loss,” will be released in September 2023. And, she’ll add a new title in May 2024, becoming Doctor Janelle Johnson. .

Editor’s note: Johnson’s next book signing will be at the Life Balance Counseling office at 3190 South Vaughn Way in Aurora on June 23 between 3 and 5 p.m. Visit her website at

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 21 Eye Sore Scrap Removal Do you have a site for sore eyes that need to be removed? Eye Sore Scrap Removal is here to help. Ready to remove those unwanted appliances? For a quote or to schedule a pickup: Call Lawrence at 303-359-4412 Washers • Dryers • Stoves • Refrigerators • AC Units • Water Heaters • and more

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potential buyers. Consider making upgrades to your kitchen such as replacing old appliances, installing new countertops, and adding a fresh coat of paint to cabinets.

Bathroom Upgrades: Bathrooms are another important room to potential buyers, and they can significantly impact the value of your home. Upgrades such as replacing old fixtures, adding new lighting, and replacing outdated tile can go a long way in making your bathroom more attractive to potential buyers.


elling a home can be a stressful and overwhelming process, but with proper preparation, it can be a smooth and successful experience. Whether you are ready for a quick sale or would like to wait for top dollar, understanding how to leverage all of your options can help you get the most profit with minimal stress. In this blog post we’ll discuss some key tips that will allow you to maximize the value of your property when selling. With these strategies, keep in mind that market conditions may also play an important role

in determining the amount of money you can realistically make during a real estate transaction.

Tip #1: Focus on Key Upgrades

Making upgrades to your home can significantly increase its value and make it more appealing to potential buyers. However, it’s important to focus on upgrades that will give you the best return on investment. Here are three key upgrades to consider:

Kitchen Upgrades: The kitchen is often considered the heart of the home, and it’s one of the most important rooms to

Curb Appeal Upgrades: First impressions are everything, and the exterior of your home is the first thing potential buyers will see. Consider making upgrades such as adding new landscaping, painting the front door, and replacing old hardware to make your home more inviting from the outside.

Tip #2: Declutter and Stage Your Home

Once you’ve made necessary upgrades to your home, it’s important to declutter and stage your home to show off its full potential. Here are some tips on how to declutter and stage your home:

Remove Clutter: Clutter can make your home feel smaller and less appealing to potential buyers. Remove any unnecessary items and furniture to make your home feel more spacious and inviting.

Depersonalize: Potential buyers want to be able to envision themselves living in your home, so it’s important to remove any personal items such as family photos or personal collections.

Stage Your Home: Staging your home can help potential buyers envision themselves living in the space. Consider hiring a professional stager to help you arrange furniture and decor in a way that highlights the best features of your home.

Tip #3: Hire a Real Estate Agent with Great Marketing Skills

Finally, it’s important to hire a real estate agent who will present your home in the best possible light and get it the exposure it deserves. Here are some tips on how to find a real estate agent who can help you sell your home:

Look for Experience: Look for a real estate agent who has experience selling homes in your area and who has a track record of success.

Check Reviews: Check online reviews and ask for references from past clients to get an idea of their reputation and quality of service.

Look for Marketing Skills: Look for a real estate agent who has strong marketing skills and who will be able to create highquality photos and videos to showcase your home.

All in all, selling your home successfully requires time, strategy, and expertise. Pay attention to the key details of upgrading, staging, and marketing, and you are sure to make a splash on the real estate market. Sellers should take every opportunity to showcase their home’s best amenities while steering clear of any aspects that would detract from the sale ability of their property. A real estate agent with extensive experience in the market can be a great asset toward helping you maximize potential profit on the sale. Don’t settle for anything less than top-notch excellence when it comes to making this important move –because when you shoot for the stars, you may just get them! With hard work, dedication, selling your home will be an enjoyable experience before you know it! .

Editor’s note: Barry Overton is a licensed Real Estate eXp Realty, LLC. He has been an agent since 2001, and started investing in real estate in 1996. For more information, email: barrysellsdenver or call 303-668-5433.

Maximize Your Chances of Maximize Your Chances of Selling Your Home Quickly and Selling Your Home Quickly and for a Great Price f or a Great Price
Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 22

Denver Preschool Program Increases

Tuition Credit Scale for 2023-2024 School Year

More funds make it possible for Denver 4-year-olds of all socioeconomic backgrounds to receive high-quality early education

As part of its ongoing mission to improve preschool access and affordability, the Denver Preschool Program (DPP) will increase DPP’s Tuition Credit Scale for the 2023-2024 school year by nearly 15 percent. The additional funding will provide more tuition support to Denver families, further expanding the opportunity for all Denver 4-year-olds to enroll in a quality-rated preschool program of their family’s choice.

“Tuition support is a valuable benefit for all families,” said Elsa Holguín, president and chief executive officer of DPP. “Thanks to the ongoing support of Denver taxpayers, this further increases the likelihood of a family taking advantage of early childhood education opportunities, which gives their child a chance to learn, grow, become ready for kindergarten and ultimately have a brighter future.”

About DPP’s Preschool Tuition Support

As with prior years, the majority of DPP funds are allocated to the tuition credit scale to help all Denver families with a 4-year-old, regardless of income, pay for preschool at one of DPP’s 260 affiliated programs. Funds are provided by a dedicated 0.15 percent sales tax first approved by Denver voters

in 2006 and reauthorized in 2014 to extend to 2026.

The Denver Preschool Program’s tuition credit scale is designed so families with the greatest financial need who have a child attending a preschool of the highest quality will receive the most tuition support. For example, a family of four that earns less than $40,500 per year with a child enrolled full-time at a quality level four provider will receive $967 per month ($11,604/program year) compared to a family of four at the same provider that earns more than $120,000 per year that will receive $193 per month ($2,316/program year). The tuition support is distributed directly to the child’s school on the family’s behalf.

In addition to supporting 4year-olds, DPP plans to continue its pilot program Preschool for 3s to provide tuition credits for a limited number of Denver 3-year-olds. Details about the program will be shared later this spring.

DPP Tuition Support Applications Accepted Year-Round

Tuition credits are available to all families that reside within the City and County of Denver and have a 4-year-old enrolled in a participating preschool in the year before kindergarten. The amount of support a family

receives is based on the family’s income, the quality rating of the chosen preschool and the length of day a child attends.

Preschools are rated for quality by Colorado Shines on a scale from one to five, with level five representing the highest quality. Family income is represented in five tiers and is determined by household size and annual earnings.

The Denver Preschool Program accepts tuition support applications year-round; however, families are encouraged to explore their preschool options now for the upcoming school year using DPP’s Find a Preschool Tool at

Families can apply online at:

The 2023-2024 Tuition Credit Calculator can be found at:

DPP Complements

Universal Preschool (UPK) Colorado

With the launch of UPK Colorado, families living in Denver are in a unique position in that they can apply for both UPK Colorado and DPP to maximize preschool tuition support, as these two funding sources can be layered.

“DPP’s tuition credits help to off-set the cost of care year-

round including extended day and summer programming for all Denver 4-year-olds,”

Holguín commented. “Our tuition credit model complements UPK Colorado which funds up to 15 hours per week from August 2023 through May 2024 for all Colorado 4-yearolds.” She continued, “For Denver families with the greatest need, the layering of these two funding sources may mean that the entire qualifying cost of preschool is covered.”

About Denver Preschool Program

Denver Preschool Program is a nonprofit organization committed to improving the early childhood education system by championing, funding, and increasing access to quality education for all of Denver’s young learners. DPP makes quality preschool possible for all Denver families with 4-year-old children through a dedicated sales tax first approved by voters in 2006 and renewed in 2014. DPP has provided more than $168 million in tuition support to help nearly 70,000 Denver children attend the preschool of their family’s choice, establishing each child’s foundation for lifelong learning and success. In addition, DPP was recently named Denver’s Local Coordinating Organization (LCO) for the Colorado Universal Preschool Program, scheduled to launch in the 20232024 school year.

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 23

After 30 Years, The Color Purple Still Stirs Audiences

One of the most quoted sentences from Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

Walker grew up in Eatonton, Georgia in the 1940s, the youngest of eight children in a sharecropping family. It is in those cotton fields that Walker likely saw purple asters, the wildflowers that grow anywhere there’s soil in the state of Georgia. The radiance of those flowers contrasted the society that kept the family in poverty. Nature and the books her father brought home provided a sense of respite. Walker’s mother once told her that when Walker was a little girl, she found her scribbling letters with a twig in the dirt.

Years later, Walker returned to the color purple, this time as a metaphor for a woman named Celie who learns to find God in herself. At the beginning

of The Color Purple, Celie is a 14-year-old girl in rural Georgia whose mother has died and whose father is progressively more abusive to her and her sister, Nettie. In the first half of the book, Celie’s letters to God recount her fears and trials being married to Mister, the widower to whom she was sold by her father. At one point she writes to Nettie, “The God I been prayin’ and writin’ to is a man and act like just like all the other mens I know: trifling, forgetful and low-down.”

The second half of the book is written as letters between Celie and Nettie. Through these letters, Walker shows how Celie grows into herself and inspires the women around her—Sofia, Shug and Squeak — to do the same.

In 1983, Alice Walker became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for The Color Purple. She also won the National Book Award for the book, which is her sixth novel. In 1985, it was adapted

into a film directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey.

Twenty years later, The Color Purple became a Broadway musical with book by Marsha Norman and music by Brenda Russell, Stephen Bray and Allee Willis. (It’s no coincidence that Norman also won the Pulitzer for her play ’Night Mother in 1983.) Then, the musical was revived and revised in a Tony Award-winning production in 2015.

The musical adaption of The Color Purple will be onstage at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, March 31-May 7, 2023. This will be director Timothy Douglas’ third time at the helm of this piece, which he previously directed at Portland Center Stage and Signature Theatre in Washington, D.C. Douglas says that every time he encounters the work, he has a life-changing experience.

Douglas first read The Color Purple as an undergraduate student at Yale University in

the 1980s. He says he cried three pages into the book and read it in one sitting. Douglas shared that he was abused as a child, and the novel and subsequently the musical, have helped him understand his experiences more clearly.

“It articulated the pain I was feeling; I can count on one hand how many books have done that to me,” Douglas says. “It also helped me with insight into the pain my mother was going through that would get her to a place to be abusive. I recognized the behavior of the men and what underlies that. I don’t spend time defending the men, but the level of psychological turmoil that causes that abuse.”

This is similar to the journey Celie takes through the musical. At the beginning, she is downtrodden and looking for affirmation outside of herself. However, there is no relationship closer than the one with self, and Douglas tries to make every production feel intimate.

“The thing I try to do in every production, though it’s

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impossible, is to get back to the intimacy of the book where it’s just Celie and God,” Douglas says. “When I talk to my company on the first day of rehearsal, I tell them that.”

Maiesha McQueen, who plays Celie, recalls reading The Color Purple for the first time in high school, but she says she wasn’t fully able to receive it because she hadn’t found her own liberation yet. In the book, Celie and Shug find liberation through friendships and intimacy after being emotionally, physically and sexually abused by various men. McQueen believes a lot of women can relate to the way society suppresses women’s sexuality.

“I grew up like many women — in a very repressed space,” McQueen says. “I don’t think my parents knew it, and I wasn’t really churched, but there were these limited definitions of what a girl was supposed to do and be like. Things like attraction, desire, masturbation, fulfillment versus non-fulfillment, we didn’t talk about it.”

She previously played the role of Sofia in the musical at Portland Center and Maine State Music Theatre. McQueen also completed a Broadway run in Waitress: The Musical last year; and this is her fourth show with Douglas. As a fullfigured woman, McQueen says that bodies tell stories and she believes that inhabiting the role

of Celie will make audiences reconsider the story.

“There were certain casting choices made for the movie, so those images of the women and their bodies have been fixated in our minds,” McQueen says.

“I was excited and interested in being able to be frail on the inside. When we think about women who are oppressed, abused and made to feel small, that does not discriminate based on what your body happens to look like.”

Having encountered the book, movie, and musical many times as an adult, McQueen is able to recognize the revolutionary nature of Walker’s hallmark work. Celie is the color purple — the divine creation that God deems worthy of celebration. Since chattel slavery, Black women’s bodies have been used, experimented on and criticized for capitalistic and patriarchal gains. In The Color Purple, Black women are regarded not for their usefulness, but for simply existing.

“The book brought home this idea of the divine feminine and the power of the Black woman to take her own happiness, sexual liberation and freedom,” McQueen says. “At the end of the show, Celie is still living in a racist and sexist society, but her understanding of her own divinity is her liberation.”

Douglas could not agree more. “Whether people acknowledge or not, Celie is never a victim of her circumstances,” he says. “She is always who she is, but through the story the women are like beacons that pull who she is at core to the surface. She doesn’t change; she becomes more realized and it’s the women around her who change. I think people see their self-resilience in her journey.”.

Editor’s note: The Color Purple plays at the wolf Theater until May 7. For tickets and more information, visit /tickets-events/the-color-purple/.

4 Golden Globe Nominations.

3 Tony Awards. NATIONAL

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 25 THE COLOR PURPLE is presented through special arrangement with and all authorized performance materials are supplied by Theatrical Rights Worldwide 1180 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 640, New York, NY 10036. ADDITIONAL SUPPORT SEASON SPONSOR SPOTLIGHT SPONSORS Sustainer Society Singleton Family Foundation PREMIERE SPONSOR The Flagg Family SUPPORTING SPONSORS MAR 31 – MAY 7 WOLF THEATRE DENVERCENTER.ORG OFFICIAL TICKETS: 303.893.4100 The Color Purple Based Upon the Novel Written by Alice Walker and The Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture Book by Marsha Norman Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis & Stephen Bray Directed by Timothy Douglas Choreography by Dane Figueroa Edidi
1 Pulitzer Prize.
Academy Award
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Six Students Reach AllStar Levels of Achievement

Six extraordinary students from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College (DMLK) have achieved significant success during their high school careers. These exceptional students have been recognized for their academic achievement and civic engagement. They have earned scholarships and admission to schools such as: Howard University, North Carolina Central, South Carolina Central, North Carolina A&T and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as The University of ColoradoBoulder and Colorado State University-Pueblo. Several of these students spearheaded civic engagement projects, launched groundbreaking podcasts, were national-qualifiers in Debate, participated in prestigious internships, and one earned her Associate Degree before graduating high school and another received a full athletic scholarship offer. Several of these students helped to found our Black Student Alliance. After taking a trip to Washington DC to learn more about African American history and tour HBCUs, this experience ignited a passion to pursue the passing of the Know Justice, Know Peace Resolution in Denver Public Schools. This resolution brought attention to, and advocated for the teaching of and access to Black, Brown and Indigenous history in all subjects across all grade levels.

Angel Amankwaah, Dahni Austin, Arenn Banks, Atala Lee, Ceirra Noel and Kaliah Yizar have created big shoes to fill for years to come. These DMLK students have all maintained GPAs exceeding 4.1, earned in excess of 40 college credits and look to pursue

prominent degrees in Law, Medicine, International Business, Business Administration, Computer Science, and Environmental Studies. They continue to give back to their community and school while participating in accelerated programming, mentorships and college classes. They have led and launched leadership groups and have spoken on behalf of their community and school on local, national and international platforms.

While their achievements and accomplishments overflow their academic resumes, they remain humble and passionate about being change makers in their chosen fields of study and continue to break glass ceilings. These students do not shy away from advocacy work and being a voice for others. We look forward to seeing what paths they will pave at the collegiate level and beyond. .

Editor’s note: For more information about these students, email Mindi Onwuegbu at mindi_onwuegbu@

•Completed Associates degree through Community College of Aurora 1st semester of 2022

•Daniels Fund, Greenhouse, Jackie Robinson, Jack Kent Cooke, NCCU Cheatham-White Scholarship Finalist and Howard University Founders Scholar

•YAASPA Intern (Young Aspiring American for Social and Political Activism)

•MC2 Children’s Hospital Intern,

•Minds Matter Mentoring Program Mentee

•AAYLS Student Ambassador (African American Young Ladies Summit)

•Accomplished debater, including having participated in National Debate tournament representing our school and DPS

•Steps to Success- Youth Co-Chair

•DMLK Volunteer Club

•Alpha Kappa Alpha Youth Program member

•University of Syracuse Summer Program participant

•NBC Universal Summer Internship

•Howard University Achievers Scholar and Greenhouse Scholarship Finalist

•Founding Member of Nationally and Internationally renowned “Know Justice, Know Peace” Podcast Founding Member of BSA that successfully petitioned for a requirement that Denver Public Schools include more Black and BIPOC history in all subject areas across all grade levels

•Minds Matter Mentoring Program Mentee

•University of Colorado PreCollegiate Development Program participant

•Harvard University Summer Program participant

•Varsity Volleyball

•City of Denver Youth Violence Prevention Youth Member

•Sought after student speaker for student advocacy, student voice and social justice related issues.

•NCCU Cheatham-White Scholarship Finalist and Howard University Achievers Scholar

•MC2 Children’s Hospital Intern

•Northeast Denver Leadership Week participant

Angel Amankwaah Dahni Austin Atalia Lee
Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 26

•Accomplished debater, including having participated in National Debate tournament representing our school and DPS

•Varsity Track

Varsity Cheer

•DMLK Volunteer Club

•Alpha Kappa Alpha Youth Program member

Nationally and Internationally renowned “Know Justice, Know Peace” Podcast

•Founding Member of BSA that successfully petitioned for a requirement that Denver Public Schools include more Black and BIPOC history in all subject areas across all grade levels

•Sought after student speaker for student advocacy, student voice and social justice related issues.

Ceirra Noel

•Greenhouse Scholarship

Finalist and Howard University Achievers Scholars

•DMLK Volunteer Club Founding member

•YAASPA Intern (Young Aspiring American for Social and Political Activism)

Minds Matter Mentoring Program Mentee

AAYLS Student Ambassador (African American Young Ladies Summit)

•Steps to Success- Youth CoChair

•Alpha Kappa Alpha Youth Program member

•Prestigious Bank of America Summer Intern

•NBC Universal Summer Intern

•Varsity Cheer

Arenn Banks

•Howard University Achiever Scholar, Full-ride Athletic and Academic Scholarship to Colorado State UniversityPueblo

•Colorado State University Black Issues Forum Participant

•City of Denver Youth Violence Prevention Youth Member

•Mindcraft Summer Intern

•Varsity Football

•Varsity Track

Kaliah Yizar

•Howard University Achievers Scholar

•Founding Member of

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 27 TICKETS @ DAZZLEDENVER.COM MAY JUNE + 5/5 |
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The Kevin Powell Reader: Essential Writings and Conversations

A hopeful and insightful collection by one of the great voices of our time

“The Kevin Powell Reader is an electric and deeply inspiring selection from Powell’s lifework, spanning the Reagan-Bush years of AIDS and crack epidemics to our current era framed by the COVID19 pandemic; the tragic killing of George Floyd; the #MeToo movement; and much more.”


The Kevin Powell Reader by Kevin Powell, Hardcover: 400 pages, Published: April 4, 2023;

ISBN: 9781636141015 e-ISBN: 9781636141039

Kevin Powell is one of the most prolific and acclaimed American writers, thinkers, activists, and public speakers of the past three decades. His writings are important contributions to our national conversations on race, gender, class, politics, pop culture, celebrity, hip-hop, and the past, present, and future of the United States.

The Kevin Powell Reader is an electric and deeply inspiring selection from Powell’s life-

work, spanning the ReaganBush years of AIDS and crack epidemics to our current era framed by the COVID-19 pandemic; the tragic killing of George Floyd; the #MeToo movement; and much more. In a journey that has produced fifteen books, countless cover stories, hundreds of published pieces, and definitive writings on iconic figures like Stacey Abrams, Dave Chappelle, Kerry Washington, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, Kobe Bryant, Tupac Shakur, Aretha Franklin, and Kendrick Lamar, Powell is a voice for our times, and a voice that is timeless.

This collection also tracks Powell’s personal struggles and his unwavering honesty about himself and the world around him. The Kevin Powell Reader captures twenty-first-century America with hope, insight, and the urgent need to preserve freedom and justice for all people.

Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, essayist/blogger, public speaker, civil and human rights activist, filmmaker, and the author of fifteen previous books, including a new poetry collection, Grocery Shopping with My Mother. His next book will be a biography of Tupac Shakur. A native of Jersey City, New Jersey, Powell lives and thrives in New York City, in the borough of Brooklyn. His latest work is The Kevin Powell Reader

Editor’s note: Available on Amazon, Bookshop and Barnes & Noble

The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due

In her first new book in seven years, Tananarive Due further cements her status as a leading innovator in Black horror and Afrofuturism

“I make no secret of the fact that I am both a lover of short fiction as well as a huge Tananarive Due fan. Her writing never fails to remind me that some of the most deliciously twisted imaginations in literature are possessed by some of the sweetest humans on the planet.”

The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due, Hardcover: 256 pages, Published: 4/18/23, ISBN: 9781636141053, eISBN: 9781636141077 American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due’s second collection of stories includes offerings of horror, science fiction, and suspense— all genres she wields masterfully. From the mysterious, magical town of Gracetown to the aftermath of a pandemic to the reaches of the far future,

Due’s stories all share a sense of dread and fear balanced with heart and hope.

In some of these stories, the monster is racism itself; others address the monster within, each set against the supernatural or surreal. All are written with Due’s trademark attention to detail and deeply drawn characters.

In addition to previously published work, this collection contains brand-new stories, including “Rumpus Room,” a supernatural horror novelette set in Florida about a woman’s struggle against both outer and inner demons.

Tananarive Due is an awardwinning author who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. Her stories have been featured on LeVar Burton Reads and Realm, and she is an executive producer on Shudder’s documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Due and her husband/collaborator, Steven Barnes, wrote for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone and for Shudder’s anthology film Horror Noire. They also cowrote the Black Horror graphic novel The Keeper, illustrated by Marco Finnegan. Due and Barnes cohost a podcast, Lifewriting: Write for Your Life! Her latest work is The Wishing Pool and Other Stories

Editor’s note: Available on Amazon, Bookshop and Barnes & Noble

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(Loud!) Black Voice

Continued from page 3

As a JV basketball coach for a local high school, I acquired the reputation that I was a man on the edge of a cosmic breakdown. I was loud! I screamed out play calls to my players, and my voice was loud and booming. One parent wrote (anonymously, of course) that Coach Russell “frightens adults and scares children.” And that when I stomp on the floor, “the entire basketball seating stand shakes.” And they also added that they overheard me instruct my players to injure the opposing team’s players. My reputation at Falcon High School was awful. Even some of the coaches asked me to calm down and not to scream so much.

However, at the end of the season banquette, I pointed out to all of the coaches and parents I was the only coach at our school, from freshman to varsity, for boys’ and girls’ teams, to have not had one technical foul called against me the entire two seasons I coached there. Parents and coaches were surprised and had to think about what I had just said. If I was the wild and screaming, out-of-control coach I was made out to be, why did the other couches receive several technical foul calls, and I did not receive one? It all has to do with my physical attributes that this false narrative was hung around my neck.

I’m big, black, bearded, and bald. People are afraid of me, even though I, and those close to me, know that I would not harm a roach. Well, maybe. But the point is, in the Black world, I am just another brother going about my business, and I am not considered intimidating at all. But when I walk into the White world, I know what happens if I raise my voice. After they get to know me a little, many white people become comfortable enough to tell me how I intimidated them when they first met me. I got that

from students, parents, and other teachers. When I ask them why I frightened them, one of the first things they say is my voice, followed by my size, and some even mention my snowwhite beard.

This is not a minor problem. I’ve been stopped and approached by cops, and I can sense their nervousness by golly. I can feel it, and that’s when I know that just a routine stop can turn into a deadly event because of the cop’s fear and, at the same time, their need to let me know that they are in charge, as they sometimes nervously go about their business. During one traffic stop, a cop put his finger an inch from my face and told me not to raise my voice, even though I was using what I considered a normal voice and tone.

White fear is why Trayvon died, and his killer got away because the jury related to being afraid of black boys and men. That trial’s outcome justified a white man approaching and killing a Black teenager that did not commit any crime other than trying to protect himself from an armed white man who stalked and murdered him. But when Zimmerman got off free, this was a not too subtle a symbol that told White America that their fear of Black people was justified, and a jury of their peers will understand and sympathize with that fear. White fear, mixed with hate sometimes and ignorance all the time, has put Black fathers, sons, and brothers in the crosshairs of gun-toting white men as the “Stand Your Ground” laws are spreading throughout the United States, putting us in danger and protecting violent racists at the same time. ***

Many years ago, I watched the movie The Green Mile. My white co-workers recom-

mended this movie. I thought it was a stupid movie. My white friends were shocked that I thought it was a shit movie. But I explained to them that if I had that power, the last place that I would be is in any jail, even if I was guilty, let alone innocent like King’s character. Most white people like Blacks to smile often, especially if they are big, like me. If I don’t smile, I am asked what is wrong. Like Stephen King’s John Coffey character, they want Black men to be smiling, happy, and friendly. They want Black men to be like those television commercials, singing, laughing, and dancing in Popeye Chicken restaurants. At the same time, they are creepingly overjoyed to be frying chicken for a minimum wage.

In my present position, I attended a meeting and raised my voice at a co-worker, a white female, and I was highly criticized because of it. I did not threaten, I did not call anyone out their name, I did not use profanity, I raised my voice, and it stopped a meeting. I’ve attended meetings where voices were sometimes raised, but when I did it, people became upset. White people want to domesticate what they consider the monster, turning something they fear into a friendly, docile being whose only consideration will be to appease white people by being softspoken and non-intimidating. We cannot change the physical attributes that make white people fear us, but a broad smile on our faces will do wonders to make them feel safe.

The reason Charles Barkley gets away with being outspoken (even though he’s rarely correct) is because of the flip side of his outspokenness; Charles Barkley is a Black man in a clown suit, who is so outrageous that his occasional visit to the BLM platform is wholly forgiven by white people who do not consider him a threat or take him seriously. That is the

way Barkley can get away with being “outspoken.” If Charles Barkley’s outspokenness were not followed by a smile or a joke to add levity, he would be considered disorderly and unAmerican.

If those Black representatives had been grinning and joking while protesting on the House floor, they might not have been suspended. According to Republicans, Black men can say that America has to do a better job of controlling gun violence or that a woman has to be the master of her own body. Still, it better be followed by a joke, a smile, or a compliment about a white colleague to prove that they are not entirely into the BLM movement and the violence it represents.

We should not be surprised that young Black men raising their voices upsets many white people, who consider these young and loud men an existential threat to their grip on power. But it is surprising and upsetting that as I write this, laws are going up all over America that will make it easier for racists to kill people like me. Because of their fear, the Stand Your Ground laws are being extended to all public areas as more people are allowed to carry weapons concealed and open. Because of the innate fear of the Black voice, the next time a Black man is in a Walmart, he may need to adjust his decimal level. .

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 29
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Dr. Joseph N. Langley

September 20, 1937 ~ April 17, 2023

Dr. Joseph N. Langley was born in Henderson, Kentucky, the third of six children of John and Catherine Langley. The family moved to Denver, Colorado, when he was 7 years old. He grew up in Denver and attended Denver Public Schools (DPS), graduating from Manual High School in 1955. He attended the University of Colorado for two years prior to entering the U.S. Army, where he served as a Morse code interceptor. He tracked Russian troop movement in Germany, and monitored the first Russian rocket to the moon. After the army, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and became an instructor for postal collectors, while traveling to Boulder daily taking classes at CU.

After receiving a bachelor of science degree, he began a successful career in DPS. He taught math at Cole Junior High School, where he met the love of his life, Alice Powell from Beaumont, Texas, in 1969. They were blessed with two children, Dr. Kimberlyn Jo Langley Brown, a board-certified internist with Ascension Health in Tennessee, and attorney Koby Joe Langley, senior vice president at the American Red Cross.

At DPS, Joseph applied for and received the federal grant for the High School Hold Youth Program, became the program manager, and then supervised teachers in the program’s implementation. One of his greatest accomplishments was earning his doctorate degree from the University of Northern Colorado. He then published his doctoral thesis as a book entitled “Handbook for a High School Hold Youth Program.”

Before retiring from DPS, he held the positions of Place Middle School assistant principal, Montbello High vice principal and athletic director, Columbine Elementary assistant principal, and Gilpin Elementary principal. Then, he returned to CU to study real estate appraising. He became a realtor, received his state certification, and worked as an associate appraiser for the Certified Real Estate Appraisers. He founded JNL Colorado Residential Appraisers, Inc., and as the CEO, employed and supervised six associates.

He received many awards and commendations for his leadership in education and community service. He was a devoted volunteer mentor to Manual High students. He worked with Denver’s African American Health Program. He was the founder and board president of the Langley Family Scholarship Foundation, which has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in college scholarships annually since 2011. He also worked with the Colorado secretary of state as an agent for voter registration, and completed voter registration drive certifications for Denver agencies and county election officials.

Joseph served as a lifetime member of the Urban League, treasurer of the Urban League Guild of Metropolitan Denver, served as a volunteer at national conferences, and received the Sebastian Owens Award for Community Service. He was a lifetime member and served as vice president of the Denver Educational Senior Citizens retirement group. He was also a member of the Colorado Black Chambers of Commerce, Rocky Mountain Minority Suppliers, Voter Registration Agent, Colorado Minority Business, Northeast Denver Optimist Club, American Legion, Masons, 100 Black Men, Phi Delta Kappa, Denver Board of Realtors, National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers, and African American Wealth Program.

Joseph was a devoted man of God, lived his Christian values, and was proud to be a part of the 77-year Langley family legacy of servitude at New Hope Baptist Church, including a decade of assisting with elderly transportation. He was also an avid fisherman, and his sense of humor was well-known, as was his love of Denver sports teams, nature, gardening, cooking, and his fierce devotion to his extended family members.

Joseph leaves to cherish and celebrate his life of 85 years to his beloved wife Alice Powell Langley; daughter Dr. Kimberlyn Jo Brown (Kevin) of Nashville, Tennessee; son Koby Joe Langley (Dr. Adina) of Bowie, Maryland; outstanding grandchildren Brandon Eli Joseph Brown and Kallista Raine Langley; sisters Elaine Anderson and Wanda Lydia (Johnny); brother Jerry Langley of Virginia; sisters-in-law Mary E. Langley and Anna Langley of Denver, Colorado; nephews, nieces, cousins and a host of relatives and many friends. Joseph is reunited with his brothers John and Earl in their heavenly home, along with their parents Catherine and John Ingram Langley.

Denver Urban Spectrum — – May 2023 30


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