unnamed.jpg

Gabrielle BryantGabrielle BryantFebruary 7, 20185min1497

State Rep. Leslie Herod is my legislative spirit animal. Unapologetic about her work, yet fully committed to making things happen and willing to cross party lines to get the job done.

She’s is a champion of the people. Crafting legislation that focuses on the folks who are often forgotten or mislabeled. Like many other Americans, she was raised by a single mother who was dedicated to her career as an OB/GYN and inevitably pushed a young Rep. Herod into becoming a caretaker. She grew up with a half-sister who bounced in and out of incarceration. Despite all of this, she’s shaping up to be a Colorado politics rising star and ended up with a brother who’s now a doctor.

Through osmosis, Rep. Herod was anointed to be a chingona.

Instead of allowing the weight of her rocky foundation to immobilize or keep her from running in the first place, she used them it motivate her and drive the policy she creates.

“Your story is not only a part of who you are, but it’s a valuable asset when making public policy. You don’t need to be a perfect cookie cutter person to serve in these walls and in fact, you shouldn’t be.”

This became evident when she and State Representative Faith Winter passed a “tampon tax amendment” aimed at menstrual equity in Colorado jails. The two worked to amend the 2016 budget to direct $40,000 toward providing free pads and tampons for women. Prior to, inmates would have to prove medical need for pads or cough up $7 for tampons from the commissary. A blind man, or woman, could see that this needed to be addressed but the cause needed the perfect savior.

The fight began after Rep. Herod visited an institution and merely asked inmates what they needed. To the surprise of some, it wasn’t access to Wi-Fi or even softer beds, but it was as simple as must-have feminine hygiene products. Menstruation is already a hush-hush topic and gets worse once you enter a jail or prison, especially if you don’t have the funds to pay for these necessities. The question is, “What if her sister had never been incarcerated and she failed to use this as fuel to help other women?

The same goes for legislation she and State Representative Brittany Pettersen are championing that would provide safe spaces and proper medical attention for addicts to use in a supervised setting. Both lawmakers were closely impacted by their mother’s drug use and is using that to catapult policy this legislative session.

Rep. Herod understands the value of not only being a vociferous advocate for the people she was born to represent in her work at the Capitol, but also elevating voices in the community that typically feel left out of the political framework.

At the start of February, she held an Open Mic Town Hall at community hub, Coffee at The Point in the heart of the historic cultural district. The standing room only event was filled with lawmakers, artists, community activists and neighbors alike. One-by-one, some of Denver’s most well-known and radical spoken word artists took the mic to express their frustrations, opposition and rebellion against “the system.” All while, Rep. Herod mix and mingled with the crowd and shared anecdotal accounts of what motivates the work she does.

The room was much like my Facebook feed. Vibrant, millennial and full of inspirational messages. Definitely not your grandparent’s town hall.

Whether she’s making an appearance at a community event or a house finance committee meeting, you’re getting the same Leslie. Fearless, focused and forward-thinking.


Screen-Shot-2018-01-20-at-8.39.59-PM.png

Gabrielle BryantGabrielle BryantJanuary 21, 20184min1232

From social media to the way we shop and everything in between, technology undoubtedly permeates our daily lives. Some children get an iPhone before they’re old enough to get a job and toddlers understand how to locate and operate apps before they can recite the alphabet.

Growing up a millennial, I was raised on Mavis Beacon typing tutorials and learning how to search the internet from Ask Jeeves. I’m now the parent of a 12 and 8-year-old who have grown up in a world where selfies and SnapChat are a way of life and the ability to make eye contact is likely to become an awkward thing of the past.

Two things that remain constant throughout both my children’s upbringing and mine are the
1 cent King Soopers horse rides and our antiquated education system. Schools continue to place an emphasis on standardized testing, behavior and attending college. Meanwhile, the jobs of tomorrow require critical thinking, innovation and entrepreneurialism.

“Not everybody is going to go to college or wants to go to college, and we need to ensure that we’re preparing them as well,” says Colorado House Education Committee chair Brittany Pettersen.

During Gov. Hickenlooper’s final State of the State address, he seemed to share this sentiment.

“We need to transition from degree-based to skill-based training. We will not just need engineers, but huge numbers of technicians and analysts with new sets of skills.”

Hickenlooper went on to suggest that schools offer coding as an alternative foreign language, similar to Spanish or French.

Physicist and nuclear engineer Toi Massey calls it a “social injustice” when we don’t prepare our students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Massey is the founder and CEO of the JEKL Foundation for STEAM Education, which aims to empower girls and kids of color to learn about and be confident in age of technology and also focuses on the arts.

JEKL offers coding courses and other classes designed to kill the myths about one’s ability to thrive in STEM -based learning and career paths.

Like many of the people I’ve spoken with on this matter, college is no longer the end all be all to life after high school graduation. Outside practicing law and medicine a college degree isn’t always the preferred or needed next step for career preparedness.

Lesley Pace who works in technical solutions support for Google, points to co-workers who manage to earn six figures despite having no college degree or in some cases a high school diploma. “In technology, it’s not about how many degrees you have. It’s about the experience you’ve gained and the tangible skills you have.”

Colorado has more work to do to get our kids ready for tomorrow’s jobs. Unlike Pace who grew up enveloped in the tech industry, many of our rural and urban students may never have access to quality resources or be educated one of the best school districts in the state.

Lawmakers are still working ensuring all residents have equitable access to broadband. Whether it’s government-funded or community-based programming, educators and parents alike must lead the necessary charge to fill the educational gaps and get our students ready for the positions that have yet to be created. Governor Hickenlooper said it best, “Let’s get our kids prepared yesterday.”


20180109233956_IMG_0754.jpg

Gabrielle BryantGabrielle BryantJanuary 11, 20183min1775

As the legislative session started Wednesday you could feel the excitement and anxiety in both chambers. Priorities were laid out for the next 119 days, including working to improve Colorado’s roads, addressing a projected shortfall in state employees’ pension system, expanding rural broadband accessibility, tackling energy, solving the state’s opioid crisis and ensuring men and women who work at the Capitol feel protected and feel heard amid looming allegations of sexual misconduct.

Simultaneously, the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, known as the “Historic Eight,” the largest number of black legislators to serve in Colorado at once, is also working on policy more specifically aimed at the advancement of people of color. The contingent is prioritizing education, small business creation, housing affordability and the criminal justice system.

Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora
Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, discusses issues that disproportionately affect Coloradans of color. (Photo by Gabrielle Bryant/Colorado Politics)

“This legislative session will be pivotal to Colorado’s future as we believe what we do in the general assembly will have impacts on this year’s election,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, the vice chairman of the caucus. “It’s important that the issues plaguing African-Americans across our state are not ignored and that our vote is not taken for granted.”

While they make up 8 percent of the legislature, black Coloradans are a mere 4.5 percent of the population, and voter turnout for this demographic has been consistently low in recent elections.

Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who chairs the BDLC, said the group has hired a staff member to aid them in introducing policy and to “keep an eye out for legislation that might appear to be inequitable to our communities of color.”

Specific legislation details are expected to be rolled out in the in the coming days, as lawmakers formally introduce bills.

The BDLC’s annual legislative preview will take place on Jan. 22 on the third floor of the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.

Besides Melton and Williams. the caucus includes Sens. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Reps. James Coleman of Denver, Leslie Herod of Denver, Tony Exum Sr. of Colorado Springs, Janet Buckner of Aurora and Dominique Jackson of Denver.

(Editor’s note: This story was corrected to reflect that Jovan Melton is from Aurora.)