By Chanel Ward
It didn’t take long for Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (House District 8) to begin making headlines across the country, working on issues affecting Coloradans of color and racking up awards such as Legislature of the Year. Rep. Herod assumed her role as Chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado, a role she says, “I’m proud to be the chair of the Black Caucus, the Historic Eight Black Legislatures who are serving in the General Assembly.” (Cover photo: Rep Leslie Herod talks with her collegues.)
But front and center in politics was not always in Herod’s plan, until she was presented with the same question; but instead it was asked by someone who made the answer seem more significant.
“When I first thought about working in politics, I always thought I would be working behind the scenes, mostly because I don’t see a lot of representation at the state level for Black people, or people of African descent,” explained Rep. Herod.
“When I started to serve as an aide in the building, as an intern, there was only one African-American female serving at the time, [former State Representative] Rosemary Marshall and she took me under her wing and was my mentor. But, being LGBT and Black, that had never happened before and so, I thought I really valued the work that she was doing. I could tell the impact she was making on the community and I thought, okay, well, if I work behind the scenes, I could help someone make sure those things happen and be a voice for the community and be at the table,” she said.
“I worked for Governor Bill Ritter, I also worked for President Obama and I kind of was going in that route and eventually one day when Obama was in Colorado – I was his political director – he was like, ‘so, what are the young people doing, what is it like out here?’ And I was answering all of his questions, even though I was like mortified and completely intimidated and wondering why he is even asking me these questions, like why did my opinion matter?”
“What I love about the Black and Brown Caucus together, is that we all have unique experiences, we all have unique skill sets and what’s really cool is that we can always look to each other when one of us needs help.”
Rep. Leslie Herod
Rep. Herod continued, “then, he finally turned to me and he said, ‘when are you running for office?’ And I realized that I didn’t have the same excuses that I thought I did, considering I was talking to the first Black President; that I couldn’t be what I wanted to be or achieve what I wanted to achieve and so pretty soon, thereafter with the encouragement and support of others, I chose to run for office and in that run, there were many of us who now serve in the Historic Eight, who were running as well.”
The Historic Eight in Colorado is made up of six State Representatives and two State Senators. “We were able to support each other through our campaigns and all get elected,” said the Chair, “and so what I think matters the most to me right now or why it means so much to me right now, is it’s great to have people you know, no matter what and they have your back, almost like a new family. To be there fighting with you when you’re fighting for the community, to work behind the scenes when you need support behind the scenes, to keep their eye out for you, that really makes a huge difference.”
“With folks like Representatives Melton and Coleman, I always joke with them that I can take pictures of us and I can see that they always have their eyes on me, or Representative Buckner, or Representative Jackson like, is everyone good? Do they need support? I think that makes such a big difference,” acknowledged Herod.
“To know that Senator Fields and Senator Williams are over in the Senate looking out for us too, it really does help us move an agenda forward and we’ve been able to be really successful.”
“As a Black caucus we tend to have a lot of strength around the budget process and not to get too into the weeds, but because of our numbers we’re able to shift priority to the budget in ways that we have not before,” said Rep. Herod. “We have a lot of control in that process, because of our numbers and because we do work together and we work a lot with the Latinx caucus, which has been really phenomenal. The way we work together, I think, puts everyone else on notice that communities of color will be heard, and will have our representation.”
When asked about communities who may feel left out to a Black and Brown unity, she replied: “We’ve been teamed up against for generations and when it comes to Black and Brown communities, I think it’s really important that we stick together, because it’s so easy to tear us apart and there’s no reason for us to be torn apart. For so long people thought we we’re fighting over this small piece of the pie, when really we should be looking at the entire pie and quite frankly the entire dessert tray, because there’s so much more that we can have, if we knew about it and fought for it.”
Rep. Herod expanded on the benefits of unity among people of color. “What I love about the Black and Brown Caucus together, is that we all have unique experiences, we all have unique skill sets and what’s really cool is that we can always look to each other when one of us needs help,” said Rep. Herod.
“Representative [Adrienne] Benavidez has been around the block for a while, she knows the community, she knows the process, she knows the brass tacks, which I think is pretty phenomenal. Representative [Jovan] Melton knows the process; he knows the rules better than anyone. Representative Exum is like the moral compass and Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutiérrez’s family has been fighting for our community, the East Side, Latinx and African-Americans for generations with her grandfather Corky Gonzales. So combined, we’re a pretty tight force to beat,” assured Rep. Herod.
Since taking office, Rep. Herod is in the media quite consistently with her bills being passed into law, but many don’t know her background. The Weekly Issue/El Semanario was able to have an exclusive sit down with Rep. Herod and she explained to us a bit about herself.
“I was raised by both a Black family and a Latinx family down in Southern Colorado and a lot of people don’t know my background, but I’m naturally drawn to making sure that Black and Brown faces are represented together and that we call out our specific inequities that face our community,” she explained.
“I’ve never had an opportunity to say, ‘oh, we’re going to leave Brown folks behind,’ because the family that picked me up is Brown. The family that lifted me up and family that’s in my heart are all Brown and so I’ve seen how the system treats them, how the system treats us, and also the challenges we have between communities and realizing that we really have to break those things down and the way that we do that is by showing that we can work together and that when we do, it’s really successful,” Rep. Herod told El Semanario.
“We have to have more thoughtful conversations about immigration and realize that there are Black immigrants as well as Brown immigrants,” noted Rep. Herod. “When we look at things like the achievement gap, or healthcare reform, or criminal justice we’re disproportionately impacted — Black and Brown — and we’ve got to work together to be able to knock that down and say that we deserve the same amount of progress as anybody else and we’re stronger when we do that together.”
“If you look at the Black and Brown Caucuses, we are represented in every committee and can sway the vote on every single committee, and so when we work together, we really are unstoppable,” stated Rep. Herod.
“I am so inspired by Tay Anderson [Denver Public School Board member] and a lot of folks who are running for office; Jennifer Bacon, who is running for Representative James Coleman’s seat. Shontel Lewis who is amazing on RTD [Regional Transportation District] and the second African-American LGBT to hold office; they are also an extension of our family,” said Rep Herod, while expressing that Anderson is like a son to her.
Her ending message: “We can’t worry about being the only one, we’ve got to figure out how to be strong together, we have to unite,” urged Rep. Herod.
To learn more about the Black Caucus or the Historic Eight you can visit their website at BlackCaucusCO.com. To learn more about Representative Herod, visit her website at LeslieHerodforcolorado.com where you can read her bills, past and present and sign up for her newsletter to stay informed.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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