Connecting community during our 2022 bike tour

October 17, 2022

A little rain.. a lot of heat… and thankfully, no snow: The Denver Foundation’s 2022 bike tour was a success.

I started the bike tour in 2019 as a way to get to know the community and to listen and learn about the challenges and goals of each of Denver’s unique neighborhoods. I also wanted the bike tour to help make philanthropy more accessible to our community and lead with humility in an area that is truly meant to be in service to the community. Rather than inviting people to come into the foundation’s space and meet on the foundation’s terms, the bike tour allows us to flip that around. The goal is a simple one – go into our neighborhoods and meet people where they live and work. Doing so gives us a deeper understanding of the challenges our community is facing and insight into how we can do our work better.

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This bike tour was about more than getting to know the neighborhoods. It was about listening, collaborating, and becoming a partner to help us achieve aspirations for the community.

In that regard, and in many others, the bike tour is a success.

During the bike tour, I had different conversations in different communities in different languages and with organizations working toward different goals. Despite the differences, each conversation had more in common than they had apart.

The largest commonality was the power of community voice. At every stop, with every group, I heard the unique voices of those in the room and those they represented. I heard of shared struggles and ambitious hopes. We heard unique stories from individuals struggling with many of the same issues in their communities, ranging from education to safety to climate.

Stable, affordable housing was a consistent theme. We’ve all seen the headlines, and during these conversations, we heard the stories of those most impacted by the housing crisis. I heard the testimonies of people struggling to support their families, leading to displacement and relocation. I heard about the impacts of escalating housing prices and policies that will protect homeowners, including those living in mobile home parks.

These conversations underscored the need for us to lend our voice, the voice of The Denver Foundation, to lift up voices throughout our community. We believe our collective voice can bring power to issues in a way that individual voices are often unable to.

I was moved by all the stories I heard, but one particular story that we learned about just prior to a bike tour stop was particularly impactful. Just days before heading to East Colfax, community leader Ma Kaing was killed by stray bullets when she was unloading groceries from her car. Walking into this meeting, I knew Ma Kaing’s presence would be profound, given her years of work in this neighborhood. The East Colfax Community Collective began the meeting by describing their work to support residents with housing assistance and local business relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversation eventually turned to safety and a discussion about how Ma Kaing’s death continues to impact the community. Through the efforts of East Colfax Community Collective’s advocacy and relationship-building, a number of steps have been taken to increase safety in the neighborhood, including increased lighting and greater collaboration with the police department. The community said, “We need this to change.” I saw that afternoon how these neighborhood leaders took change into their own hands.

The bike tour showed me just how powerful all of us can be.

In East Colfax. In Westwood. In Montbello. In Sunnyside.

In each community I’ve visited, I have seen that power in action. I saw how when people join the fight, real change is possible. I think that is the role of an effective community – and we, as a community foundation, are proud to join in that work.

Lastly, my deep thanks to the organizations who welcomed us and shared their voices with us:

Montbello Organizing Committee; Colorado Changemaker Collective; Una Mano, Una Esperanza; West Denver Renaissance Collaborative; BuCu West Development Association; East Colfax Community Collective; 9 to 5 Colorado; Movimiento Poder.