CU student group hosts women of color panel

Elisabeth Epps‘ mother once climbed up a fraternity house while attending Wake Forest University in North Carolina to remove a Confederate flag perched atop it.

Her mother then burnt the flag and was arrested. And then she wrote a letter to the editor identifying herself as the woman who committed these acts.

“I aspire to that level of liberation,” Epps said, liberation that led her mother to do those things and then, in case someone didn‘t know it was her, write about the experience.

Epps was one of three women at the women of color panel sponsored by University of Colorado student group UMAS y MEXA (United Mexican American Students y Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) during its Semana de la Muxer, or Week of the Women.

Lisa Calderón, a Denver mayoral candidate; Candi CdeBaca, a candidate for the District 9 seat on Denver City Council; and Epps, an abolitionist who works for the Colorado Freedom Fund, spoke about their struggles and what they‘ve learned as women of color breaking down barriers.

“Resistance, for me, is part of the way I live my life,” said Calderón.

Calderón recalled going to her first protest at 4 years old with her mother. They were boycotting grapes, and though she wanted to eat them, her mother said they couldn‘t “because there was blood on them” due to the mistreatment of migrant farmworkers.

She learned that “even if you have a little, there‘s always someone else who has less.”

Calderón went on to earn a master‘s degree, law degree and doctorate, and has worked as a nonprofit executive and justice reform advocate.

Even with two degrees under her belt, Calderón faced discrimination in the higher education system. A white male professor once said to her, “I don‘t know if you‘re graduate school material.”

“That‘s not an uncommon experience,” she said.

CdeBaca faced similar experiences as the youngest person to complete a dual-degree program in her field at the University of Denver.

All three women also spoke about their experience with sexual assault and abusive relationships. Epps said she was assaulted while a freshman in college.

“It did not even occur to me to go to the police,” she said, adding that she had seen how her community treated victims, and it was not supportive.

Calderón, who worked with survivors for more than a decade, said that she is surprised when she meets a woman who has not been assaulted. But after facing “my own death more than once,” she feels less fear in her activism.

“When political opponents, for example, want to say mean things about me, I‘m like, ‘Take your best shot, because I‘m not even supposed to be here,‘” she said.

All three women saw people in their communities suffering and being silenced, which inspired them to step up. CdeBaca saw her alma mater Manual High School targeted and closed, so she organized her community to sue Denver Public Schools.

She then co-founded Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education), which trains young people in underrepresented communities how to organize and address social justice issues.

“There are solutions to every problem in the country, and they‘re sitting on a shelf with dust somewhere,” CdeBaca said, saying there are not enough politicians who are motivated to solve the problems.

When asked how communities, such as college campuses, can support women of color, CdeBaca said she never felt welcome at college. She started a four-year program that provides support to students of color or first generation students who need more support.

“When there‘s a void, when there‘s a gap, we just need to step in and fill it,” she said.

Calderón was a single mother throughout her education, and said she wouldn‘t have made it if it weren‘t for mentors who told her she could do it. ‘

Calderón also spoke about traditional fundraising in politics, and how that doesn‘t work for candidates like her. She chose to run on a grassroots campaign.

“Our races will not be won on money, it will be won in the streets” with campaigning, she said. “That also means that the people have to do their part in supporting us.”

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