When I first moved to Denver nearly a year ago, one of the first neighborhoods I visited was Westwood. Colorful murals, street art, and speaking to neighborhood leaders in Spanish reminded me of Miami, where I had just moved from.
Today, Westwood is a case study of the pandemic’s harmful and disproportionate impacts. Its residents — 78% of whom are Latino — face higher rates of transmission and worse health outcomes from the virus. The economic and social consequences of the shutdown are harsher, too.
I recently reconnected with Westwood leaders over Zoom, the first stop of my virtual “bike tour” of Metro Denver. They told me neighbors are worried about displacement and anti-immigrant sentiment. Domestic violence and violent crime are on the rise. The weekend before we spoke, there were three fatal shootings in the area. This at a time when trust between police and communities of color is under a great deal of strain.
Yet this community, with deep roots in organizing and activism, is determined to not just to survive but to thrive. As Norma Brambila put it to me: "Though it sometimes feels like we go two steps forward, one step back, life can be more than darkness.”
A community coordinator with Westwood Unidos — an organization that The Denver Foundation has been proud to support since its founding in 2012 — Norma has trained dozens of residents to help their neighbors get through this tough time. They haven’t waited for coherent leadership from the federal government. Rather, they’ve walked the streets and worked the phones, explaining how to wear a mask and where to get tested as well as how to fight back against gentrification and threats of eviction.
Like Westwood Unidos, nonprofits large and small are doing essential work all across our city. They’re on the ground, up close and connected, working with purpose and urgency. These organizations animate The Denver Foundation’s core belief that communities know best how to respond to their own needs.
I’m looking forward to meeting with more leaders like Norma in the coming weeks. Reimagining the future of our communities will be a collaborative effort, forged through connections among residents, nonprofits, philanthropists, government, and the private sector.
Whatever your part in the work ahead, thank you. This moment requires much of all of us. By tapping into the resilience that defines this place, I am confident that, as the folks in Westwood reminded me, we will thrive once again.