Rev. Dawn Riley Duval: An Agent of Defiance

“I have to be with the people, grieving, hurting, loving, planning, knowing, and soon winning...” says Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, an ordained itinerant elder in the AME Church. Photo: Daniel Sauvé. Her life experiences – track star, newspaper reporter, minister, mom, student and community organizer – have prepared her to be a barrier-breaking crisis response activist in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“I love being alive in such a time as this,” says Rev. Dawn Riley Duval. “Being a revolutionary during this Black liberation moment is a frightening, transforming and worshipful experience.”  

Dispelling the notion that Black men clergy are the only ones who do frontlines social justice work, comrades in activists’ circles respect her leadership in the streets and some even refer to her as: “Warrior,” “Pastor to the People,” “Revolutionary,” and “Badass.” She may answer to them all, but she will introduce herself as Rev. Dawn.

Aspiring Olympian
Rev. Dawn’s first memory of intersecting faith and activism was on the running track. “I was eight when I joined the Colorado Flyers track team,” she says, “I was clear that the track was my sanctuary. It was open, earthy, holy ground. It was a space where I – a Black girl – was free, free to be unapologetically strong, free to run, free to be fast, free to win.”  

While experiencing freedom, the Denver native also recalls enduring scrutiny. “Soon, I noted the looks of disapproval I received whether I made a technical mistake during the race and lost, or I celebrated after a win, or I spoke about my hopes of being in the Olympics someday. I overheard hurtful statements about my gangly arms and legs, homely face, and coily hair.

Rev. Dawn is often referred to as a “Warrior,” “Pastor to the People,” “Revolutionary” and “Badass.” Photo: William Parson. She adds, “It was as if me simply being myself was an act of defiance. So rather than diminish my shine, I embraced the divine call on my life to hold my truth and to be an agent of defiance.”

Academically disciplined in her defiance, Rev. Dawn is a graduate of Denver East High School, the University of Illinois at Champaign, and University of Colorado at Boulder where she earned a Master’s Degree in print journalism. As a newspaper reporter early in her career, she analyzed the ills of society through the stories she was assigned while working the metro beat at the Rocky Mountain News. Soon she realized that she needed to do more than write. She says, “In interviewing the people on various topics, I’d listen to the powerful stories, some were filled with painful experiences. Then I’d write the story, and I was done. Often I asked myself, ‘Is this all that I’m supposed to do with the people’s precious narratives?  As a person of faith, how should I respond to what I am hearing?’”  

Wrestling with such questions led her to Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee where she earned a Master’s of Divinity degree, was awarded the Umphrey Lee Dean’s Award – the highest prize presented at graduation to the student who most exemplifies the vision and commitments of the divinity school. “Studying at Vanderbilt was a remarkable time in my life,” she says. “Such brilliant, compassionate and righteous people, all hungering for God within and among us, ready to minister to and sacrifice for and with the most marginalized of God’s people. The entire experience emboldened my social justice heart and encouraged me to trust the knowing in my belly.”

Magical Sundays
Her passion for social justice emerged early in her life at Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church in Denver. “When I was a little one, Shorter A.M.E. Church was a magical space. We were a smaller church so we were like family. The choir sang loud and mellifluous, it was clear to me they were free indeed,” Rev. Dawn recalls. “The mothers of the church – like Rev. Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, Mrs. Jeweldine Blair, Mrs. Marie Greenwood, Mrs. Patricia Raybon, Rev. Sheila Johnson – spoke into my life loving words of life, power and encouragement. And our pastor, Rev. Jesse Langston Boyd Jr., preached and lived social justice. His sermons were full of love for God, Black love, Black pride, radical hope, and unspeakable joy. Our work in the community was spirit-led, relevant, and appreciated by people in the community. I looked forward to going to church on Sundays.”

Now an ordained itinerant elder in the AME Church, Rev. Dawn spends most of her time ministering in the streets. “In Denver, the names Marvin Booker, Alonzo Ashley, Jennifer Lobato, Ryan Ronquillo, Jessie Hernandez, Naeschylus Carter, Paul Castaway, Michael Marshall, Dion Avila are some of the names that form the canon of the wrongfully dead,” she says. “I have to be with the people, grieving, hurting, loving, planning, knowing, and soon winning, because the people at the bottom are rising up.”

Rev. Dawn Riley Duval at Denver's annual Marade - a march and parade to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo: Armand Genyro. In the midst of the people rising up and speaking out, Rev. Dawn’s children are her foremost concern.  “My Black daughter and my Black son are my gifts from God. They will live and not die. Everything I do is to help create a better world for them and their children and their children’s children. So I love that they’re watching their mama, praying and marching with me, learning from and teaching me. They’re deep in this work with me and will tell our beloveds about the generational Black love, audacity, and courage that courses through our veins.”

Let My People Vote
While Rev. Dawn continues leading in the Black Lives Matter movement, she and business partner Hasira Soul Ashemu, are preparing for a June launch of Let My People Vote – a nonpartisan, Black-led, voter engagement nonprofit. The mission: To build a liberative and just society by increasing the power of the Black voice, vote and dollar through robust and sustained Black political participation.  

“I am excited about Let My People Vote,” she says. “As LMPV completes final details for podcasts, town halls, grassroots voter registration and voter turnout activities, prepare for bold and honest conversations.” A time such as this, calls for no less. 

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 




Gabrielle Bryant: A Journalist With a Plan

Gabrielle Bryant is president of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists.On April 30, up-and-coming journalist Gabrielle Bryant will participate in an event honoring Colorado’s pioneering women in journalism.

More specifically, she will sit on a panel with veteran KCNC and CNN anchor-reporter Reynelda Muse and Rocky Mountain PBS executive producer Cynthia Hessin. 
“It is a huge deal to sit on a panel with people of that magnitude,” says Bryant, a staff producer at PBS affiliate, Colorado Public Television (CPT12), where she is responsible for producing the station’s flagship public affairs program, “Colorado Inside Out.” 

The long-standing program provides thought-provoking and in-depth weekly analysis of Colorado current affairs by a panel of highly-informed journalists, activists and professional pundits. Bryant, who sometimes serves as on-air talent, is also co-executive producer of “Street Level,” a fairly new series for the station that showcases individual streets throughout Colorado with a narrative that celebrates the communities we all live in at the street level. 

Bryant is very much looking forward to the April 30 event. In a way, it is an event that has been in the cards since she was in the 5th grade.

As a member of the color guard at McGlone Elementary, she was assigned to escort Dan Rather around the school. She doesn’t recall the reason the veteran news anchor from CBS Evening News, who also served as a contributor for CBS's 60 Minutes, was at her school. But she took her assignment seriously and as a result was introduced to the field of journalism. 
“I saw that it (a career in journalism) was tangible,” says the Denver native, who is about six years into her career in journalism and steadily advancing in the industry. 

From earning a degree in speech communications with an emphasis in journalism and sociology in 2010 to networking with the right people, her road has been intentional. Her goal is to host and produce her own national talk show like her hero Oprah. At the end of the day she wants to serve the needs of the community at-large by providing engaging, accurate and timely information. 

So when she connected with Denver-based, Emmy-award winning freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker Tamara Banks through a referral in 2010, she was well on her way. Banks is nationally and internationally known for her expertise in social justice and political issues, South Sudan and Darfur, and other parts of the globe where there is little or no news coverage. 

She had breakfast with Banks, who at the time, was also a co-host of the station’s Studio 12 program. She was invited to the station, whose mission is to cultivate an informed, energized community in Colorado by connecting diverse people through education, shared experiences, and reflective civic discourse. 

The Right Fit
“I literally never left,” says Bryant, the mother of two daughters. Having a front-row seat to Bank’s interviews “was validation that it could be done. She was doing exactly what I wanted to do.” 

Almost immediately, Bryant started as an intern, learning everything from creating chyron graphics for the screen to running the camera to researching possible guests and topics. Whenever the staff at the station asked her to do anything, “As long as I could find a babysitter, I said, ‘yes.’ ”

Earlier this year, she also said ‘yes’ to the station directors when they asked her if she had any ideas for Black History Month programming. She developed “The New Black Experience,” an interview project highlighting go-getters in the music scene, dance, community service and tech to discuss their unique experience as black people in today’s society. The interviews aired in February, and are still in the programming rotation. She is working on new interviews to air this summer. Jamari Hysaw, a marketing executive, was interviewed by Gabrielle Bryant for The New Black Experience earlier this year.

While she is happy with her career growth, she concedes that, as with any industry, she has to earn respect every step of the way. “When you are young, and you are working with people who’ve been in the industry for decades, you have to prove yourself time and time again,” she says. “As a broadcast producer, that means monitoring the environment, being on-point and doing a lot in a short amount of time.”
The former Montbello high school head cheerleader, who used to load up her teammates in an Astrovan, stays poised for the challenge for herself and also for those who look to her for guidance. As the current president of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists and former president of the Black Student Alliance at her alma mater, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Bryant understands the infinite value of her own legacy as she prepares to participate on this panel – part of the 75th anniversary of Colorado Press Women

“A lot of people want to be on camera only. I also want to produce, write and edit content,” says Bryant. “I know a few women in the business who can do all of it. That’s the way the industry is headed, and I know in order to be successful, I need to master as many of these skills as I can.” 

The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame event “Celebrating Colorado Women in Journalism” will be held at the Central branch of the Denver Public Library on April 30 in the 7th floor classroom from 2-4 p.m. The name of the panel is “Breaking Through Barriers in Broadcast Journalism.” 

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 



EspeciallyMe: Unstoppable!

EspeciallyMe™ Founder and Executive Director Patricia Houston surrounded by conference volunteers. Archive Photo: Courtesy EspeciallyMe.EspeciallyMe is not afraid to address real issues as demonstrated by the people chosen to speak to its participants over the years. This year is no different. The keynote speaker for the 18th Annual EspeciallyMe™ High School Conference, focusing on African American high school girls is Kemba Smith-Pradia. The theme is “Unstoppable!”

Smith-Pradia gained national attention in 1994 when she was sentenced to 24.5 years in federal prison, without the possibility of parole, for a first time non-violent drug offense. She served six and a half years in federal prison. Her case drew support from across the nation and the world in a crusade to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time non-violent offenders. She was granted executive clemency in 2000 by President Bill Clinton after he reviewed her case and determined that an injustice had been done. 

On March 30, 2016, the wife, mother, national public speaker and author met with President Barack Obama at the White House. She and other commutation recipients from the George W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations were invited to the White House by the president to discuss the reentry process and resources needed to lead a fulfilling, productive life.

Kemba Smith-Pradia“Kemba exemplifies what we are capable of doing when we are focused on a goal and believe in our capabilities. She continues to work for those who she feels deserve another opportunity at life,” says Patricia Houston, EspeciallyMe™ executive director and founder. “In 2016, Kemba Smith-Pradia is still sharing her story to help educate young people in the importance of making good choices and how easy it is to get caught up in the criminal system's ‘war on drugs.’”

Smith-Pradia also served as the EspeciallyMe keynote in 2006. For more information on the conference, which takes place on April 23 at Gateway High School, visit EspeciallyMe.

Below is an article originally published at Canady’s Corner in March 2012 that further conveys the mission and commitment of EspeciallyMe. 

EspeciallyMe Annual Conference a Year-round Affair for Founder

April 28, 2012 marks the day when nearly 150 volunteers and mentors will connect with an estimated 500 high school girls to teach them how to listen to their inner voice and understand right from wrong in their daily lives.

The 14th Annual EspeciallyMe High School Conference The conference aims to steer them away from peer pressure and the tendency to emulate stereotypical images in the media. Meeting the challenge requires year-round commitment from Founder and Executive Director Patricia Houston. 

“Every single day there is a thought, somebody to contact and something to be done” in preparation for each young lady that attends the conference, and for the countless people they will inevitably touch as they move throughout their lives. On the big day, it all begins with a smile.

“Nobody should stand off by themselves,” says Houston, who annually tours college campuses from Greeley to Colorado Springs training mentors (high school students to business women) on how to conduct the workshops and interact with the participants at the conference. “We are teaching young ladies to feel welcome and to feel special.”

The participants bring perspectives from a range of family dynamics, including two-parent homes, single-parent homes, homelessness and parental roles where they may be the ones raising their brothers and sisters.

“We know that the message resonates with all the girls,” she says. “You can be a millionaire today and broke tomorrow. Value comes from ourselves not the money we have.”

Through the years, the conference keynote speakers have included African American women from a broad range of backgrounds. The list, to name a few: Claudia Jordan, Colorado’s first African American female judge; Shoshanna Johnson, the first African American female prisoner of war, Laila Ali, professional boxer and entrepreneur; and Wilma Webb, former First Lady of Denver.

With the demand from parents and educators, in 2007, EspeciallyMe began a biennial conference targeting middle school students. An estimated 500 girls participate in that event every two years. Also to meet a growing request, both high school and middle school conferences feature workshops for parents who want to attend. The subject matter is coordinated so that when parents and children go home they can be on the same page when they discuss the day’s experience.

Houston started the conference when she saw that there were a lot of messages in the media and the community saying what not to do, but few showing young ladies what to do. Today, no matter where she goes in Colorado, she runs into participants or people who have heard of the program. “I love that EspeciallyMe has become a household name.”

She adds, “We get a lot of emails and requests for information from other organizations on how to start similar programs. That’s great. We can’t have too much for our girls. If one person goes to two things, that’s a double blessing.”
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 

Dr. Allison Cotton: A Passion for Politics 

Allison Cotton, Ph.D. Photo: Karrie Davis Family Photography. Long before she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D, Allison Cotton was a daddy’s girl. That meant learning to hold her own in a political discussion about local, national and international issues.
She hails from a family of life-long, active Democrats, but it was her father who stirred her passion for politics.  

“My dad was always active, always going to meetings and watching political talk shows,” says Cotton, who officially registered to be a Democrat when she was a sophomore in college, and is currently seeking to be a Hillary Clinton delegate. 

If elected at the convention/assembly on Sunday, April 10, it will mark her second go-round. She served as a Barack Obama delegate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Tears of joy flowed a lot for her during that convention, but no more than at the very moment when she became the second delegate to sign the petition to nominate him for president of the United States. Her name will be forever connected to the first African American president of the United States.
So, how do you top that? Rather, how do you come close?

Perhaps a repeat performance, but this time for the candidate who might stand in history as the first woman president of the United States. As she prepares for the Sunday vote, she is reflecting on her first journey as a national delegate. 

Being her father’s daughter, she naturally duplicated his habit of attending local political meetings, including city candidate forums, on a regular basis. When she saw the opportunity to be a delegate and have a more active role in nominating Obama, she jumped at the chance and was willing to fight for it. But she didn’t know how. She inquired, asking questions all along the way.

The process, lasting a couple of months, required completing lengthy paperwork, successfully passing a background check and attending meetings – some open, some closed. Though the process itself was not a secret, she chose to only tell her father of her mission.

“It was hard on him because he was proud of me and wanted to brag,” says Cotton, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1991, a master’s degree in sociology from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1995, and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2002. But he respected her wishes, and was a partner in her mission. After every update to him, “he would say ‘Okay, what are we going to do next?’ ”

As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., she also turned down a number of social and civic engagements. They noticed her absences. But she stayed her course, realizing that she was navigating a new process and really wouldn’t know how to answer their questions about it when asked.

“It is very competitive to run for a national delegate position,” she says of the many levels from caucusing to the actual election to national delegate. “You have to go through the motions.”

Becoming a delegate also required campaigning among other delegates for votes for the coveted position. She recalls, “A lot of people had campaign materials like candy, hats that lit up and all kinds of gimmicks to promote themselves. I just had a poster and handed out fliers.”

She also had years of being politically active. People already knew her. If not from that arena, they knew her as the author of publications ranging in subject from issues related to the death penalty, eye-witness identifications, lethal behavior and expert witnesses to issues around race class gender and crime. Some knew her from her regular attendance at spoken-word sets around the city, soaking up the poetry scene. Or maybe it was seeing her drive by with the windows down, music blasting and top open as she likes to do.

Dr. Allison Cotton at the end of the convention after Barack Obama had officially been nominated by the Democratic party. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Allison Cotton.Long story short, she made it to the congressional district level, where she was elected as a national delegate but then still chose to attend the state convention in Pueblo because she had been elected to serve as a state delegate as well. Each delegate had to give a two-minute speech to hundreds of participants at the congressional district convention. The professor of criminology did a variation of Obama’s slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” the chant “Yes, We Can,” and spelled out her name. She found out the next day that it worked!  Her name appeared on the Colorado Democratic Party’s website as one of the chosen few. 

Her mission was near complete, and now public. A Denver Post article announced the 70 national delegates and included a photo spread. She began receiving emails and calls from everywhere. 
“I was a celebrity for about two weeks,” says Cotton.

Once on the floor of the convention, she settled into the fourth row listening to speeches and fielding calls from friends and family, namely her dad, who had told everybody to watch her on TV. He was calling to get updates, and also to report sightings of her on TV. She remembers, “On one call he said, ‘I think I saw your arm.’ ” 

The Second Time Around
Last month, Cotton was elected to serve as a delegate to both the Congressional District Assembly and the State Assembly. On Sunday night, she will know if she has advanced to serve as a national delegate again.

But if she is unsuccessful there, she may also have a chance to be elected at the state convention in Loveland next week. As she prepares for the final vote, she knows that her journey has not been in vain. Though attending political meetings is natural for her, there was a time when she was one of a few black women in attendance. In recent years she has noticed more black women and black men in the room. 

She says, “I feel and I hope that I have contributed to the participation of more Black women in the political process, those who care about the country and government, reflecting our values.”
If she is not elected this time around, she hopes the spot opens up for someone who has not experienced being a delegate so that yet another person can be introduced to a new experience. 

The tenured, full professor of criminology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, didn’t feel equipped to answer questions on the first go-round. “Now I have the answers. Now I know.” 

Her experience has only added to political talk with her father. “We have spirited discussions about the candidates and the issues. But it’s a more mature discussion that we have now,” says the author, who has traveled as a two-time Fulbright scholar to conduct research in both China and Egypt, and holds a packed calendar of speaking engagements on campus and at community events. 
She can certainly hold her own. 
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 

Press Release: Reps. Watson Coleman, Kelly, Clarke, Announce Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls

Congresswomen (l-r) Bonnie Watson Coleman, New Jersey, 12th District; Yvette D. Clarke, New York, 9th District; Robin Kelly, Illinois, 2nd District.
 On March 22, Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Robin Kelly (IL-02) and Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), announced the creation of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, the first caucus devoted to public policy that eliminates the significant barriers and disparities experienced by Black women.

Despite more than 430 registered congressional caucuses and Member organizations, no group on Capitol Hill has sought to make Black women and girls a priority in the policy debates that occur here. The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls will fill that gap, and provide the same attention for women that President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative has given to Black men and boys.

“From barriers in education, to a gender based pay gap that widens with race, to disparities in both diagnoses and outcomes for many diseases, our society forces Black women to clear many hurdles faced by no other group, and asks them to do it with little assistance,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “Black women deserve a voice in a policy making process that frequently minimizes, or altogether ignores the systemic challenges they face. This caucus will speak up for them.”

"Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by myriad socioeconomic issues that diminish their quality of life and threaten the wellbeing of their families and communities,” said Rep. Kelly. “The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls gives Black women a seat at the table for the crucial discussion on the policies that impact them while also providing a framework for creating opportunities and eliminating barriers to success for Black women."

“In many ways, 23.5 million Black women and girls are consistently left out of the national discourse on a variety of policies that will affect their lives,” stated Rep. Clarke. “This caucus will be purposed to ensure that the infrastructure of inclusion fully incorporates the varied and unique needs of Black women. Our experiences must and will inform the direction we take as a nation and we can no longer afford to be excluded from important conversations.  I am proud to stand with my colleagues at the inception of this caucus to be a vehicle for change and look forward to the great work that we will do.”

The Caucus was inspired by the #SheWoke Committee, a collective of seven national women leaders with a shared vision of advocacy, equity, and sisterhood.

"In January, we launched a petition asking our national leaders to create a space that prioritizes Black women and girls, and here we are in March with a platform that will serve as a vehicle towards change,” stated #SheWoke member, Sharon Cooper, biological sister of Sandra Bland.  "We lift up all the Black women and girls who have lost their lives without press coverage, all the Black women and girls who are fighting for our collective liberation, and the Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, who responded in the way all elected officials should: with urgency. #SheWoke looks forward to supporting the efforts of this Caucus, and empowering Black women and girls through policy and advocacy."
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.