Jessica • Educator, Beekeeper, Educational Equity Advocate

Before relocating anywhere, Jessica always researches how many Black and brown people make up the city’s population. So before she and her partner considered a move to Denver, they did just that. Despite the disappointing statistics, they decided to visit for two weeks. They ended up surprisingly enjoying their stay, and ultimately decided to make the move.

The same excitement they experienced during their two-week exploration, however, would be challenged once they were living here. For the first year, every time Jessica saw someone who shared her racial identity she’d sweat with joy and wonder, “Should I approach them?” Jessica hadn’t realized how the lack of Black and brown faces in the crowd would impact her. It took her some time and intentional community building, but she eventually found many different communities, from the LGBTQ+ community to expecting moms, and now calls Denver home.

Despite the lack of diversity in Denver, Jessica found an opportunity to redefine her Blackness and shared that this is a place where she felt a need to be a little bit more elaborate and flamboyant.

During our conversation, we talked about the beautiful spectrum here, which she attributes to her sense of freedom. She told me she doesn’t fill the need to fit in one box. She feels that she can be her authentic self.

To Jessica, there’s also another side to Denver. She shared that there’s a racial tension that she can’t quite put her finger on. Keep reading to find out what it means to be her, here.

Who are you?

I am so complex. Sometimes I’m like, “Girl, you need to iron this shit out…” I’m a very sensitive person. I’m an empath as well, so I soak up a lot of different energies, which if not taken care of or if I ignore it I won’t be as clear-headed, and so knowing that about myself, I do a lot of grounding activities. I’m not Christian, but I am a spiritual person.

What does it mean to be you?

To be me means to be an abstract painting because sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, but it always works out.

What does it mean to you to be Black in Denver?

I was always one facet of myself in the different places I lived before Denver. So I believe being Black in Denver has allowed me to be all of me. So yeah, being myself here in Denver, being a Black queer woman in Denver, married to a cisgender white man is to be all of those different facets in this one place without picking or choosing. I can be all of that. I can be multi-faceted and not worry if this is gonna work or if it makes sense to other people. I reached a point here in Denver where I just felt like I had no idea who I was in the sense of: Am I supposed to just pick this? Should I just stifle my sexuality and just be a straight woman? How Black am I supposed to be? And so I just said, fuck it. I’m going to be all of these things and I’m going to embrace them and let them guide me.

What do you love most about living in Denver?

I love the access to all of the national and state parks. I love to be outside. Nature is very healing, and so going on hikes, going camping, that’s my biggest reason why we decided to stay here because it’s so beautiful. I can go to Utah and be there in six hours. I can go to Yellowstone and be there in 10 hours. I can go to Phoenix. So just having access to the beauty of this area of the United States is really remarkable. I also love the Black community here in Denver because of the spectrum of our Blackness and how we represent it.

Do you think that’s unique to Denver?

Unique? I haven’t been everywhere, but of all the places that I have been where there’s a smaller community of Black folk than white, a predominant race, I would say Denver is unique. It has very unique characteristics. I keep going back to this word of survival, I think it’s also a motive as to how are we gonna survive assimilation. I feel like that’s a facet of the uniqueness here: we don’t want to assimilate, we want to be our true authentic selves while also existing in this very white space.

How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?

Back in 2016, we were walking in Littleton, Joseph and I. It was around noon. I was on a lunch break from taking a yoga teacher training class. We were walking from lunch, and we could hear this car, stopping and going, making a screeching sound. Then finally, as we were waiting at the light, a group of teenage-looking kids, they were all white, yelled, “nigger lover” in broad daylight. I looked around – Littleton is very white – and I already knew they were talking about us, but they were saying that to my now-husband. It was very strange because everyone stopped to look over at us, but no one said anything. We didn’t even react, because it was too much, and I wasn’t expecting it. We were just mostly shocked. There was some embarrassment because I wasn’t expecting that in Colorado. This was less than one year of living here.

I remember going back to my teacher training and sharing this with my colleagues, I said, “I’m very troubled right now and I can’t really focus on what we’re doing because this happened and I’m mad about it.” They straight up said, “Oh, damn. I can’t believe that happened,” and that was pretty much it. Then I felt unprotected in that space. I ended up leaving that yoga teacher training because I just felt like, if this is how you respond to someone being called a “nigger lover” at noon, I don’t want to be here. I don’t feel safe here.

Being here in Denver, with that experience and being one of the few Black teachers, I feel like racially I’ve also felt a lot more anger living in Denver around race relations. It’s something I studied in college at a predominantly white school where I had my other experiences. I was for some reason expecting the white people in Denver, in Colorado, to have more characteristics of an ally – because they like to talk about how liberal and progressive they are. It’s very hard for me to see that here, especially when I was first living here, it was just very difficult for me to see that in other white people. So it has taught me that I shouldn’t expect it, one and that I should mostly lean in and on community.