From the Opinion Panel: Implementing Boulder’s Racial Equity Plan

A mural of Boulder mayor Penfield Tate II on the Boulder library. Tate’s mural, and the renaming of the municipal building in his honor, are two accomplishments the city touted in the first year of implementing its Racial Equity Plan. (Courtesy City of Boulder)

Saturday, April 30, 2022 

Boulder City Council recently received an update on implementation of the Racial Equity Plan. How is the city doing? Does the plan go far enough? Should the city look at different approaches?

Fred Hobbs: Equity plan provides roadmap for even greater inclusion

The City of Boulder has a well-earned reputation for promoting diversity and inclusion among its citizenry. The  recent progress update on the implementation of the city’s Racial Equity Plan demonstrates that the city is committed to upholding and building upon that reputation. The comprehensive and multi-faceted plan is taking significant steps forward in addressing institutional and systemic racism in Boulder, and the efforts made to date deserve to be applauded.

However, if Boulder is truly committed to being a diverse and inclusive community, perhaps it is time to take what has been learned so far from the Racial Equity Plan and apply those lessons to another population that has historically been marginalized by society: our fellow citizens living with a disability.

According to a 2015 report, 8.2% of Boulder residents are living with some sort of disability. Statistics demonstrate that people with disabilities face challenges that mirror BIPOC populations: barriers to healthcare, high unemployment rates, and exclusion from community participation.

Efforts to provide full inclusion to individuals with disabilities has often lagged behind other efforts designed to make communities more diverse. The premier legislation for disabilities rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, hasn’t even been around as long as the television show “The Simpsons.”

Fortunately, Boulder’s Racial Equity Plan provides a perfect template for improving opportunities for people with disabilities to fully participate in their communities.

For example, Boulder’s Racial Equity Plan includes a number of racial equity training courses for city employees. Similar resources are available for disability inclusion training and could easily be added to Boulder’s current training requirements.

Boulder could also incorporate awareness of the disability community through city council declarations. The Racial Equity Plan Update indicates that for the legislative year 2021-2022, the city council issued 13 declarations with topics promoting diversity, equity and multiculturalism. A quick search of city declarations in the past few years shows few corresponding declarations about the disability community. Something as modest as following  the State’s lead by issuing a declaration celebrating Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day would go a long way to show Boulder’s commitment to diversity in all of its forms.

We live in a community that has a clear commitment to inclusion and diversity. That is something to be honored and celebrated. We still need to take a few more steps to create a community that is welcoming to all of its citizens, regardless of ability or disability. The Racial and Equity Plan provides the roadmap for making that happen. I encourage the city to follow that roadmap and to expand the reach of the plan to include our friends and neighbors with disabilities.

Fred Hobbs is Director of Public Relations at Imagine!, which serves individuals with disabilities living in Boulder and Broomfield counties. More about Fred.

Jake Brady: Time to walk the talk on equity

Boulder may be a bubble, but if you dig into its history you’ll quickly find a pattern of discrimination that is not dissimilar from any other community in this nation. From the razing of The Jungle in the 1920s, to the mid-century exodus of residents from the Black Little Rectangle neighborhood, to the 1974 car bombings of Chicano activists Los Seis de Boulder, our city has both perpetuated and been the site of continual injustices against the underprivileged.

Unfortunately, not much has changed. Today, on average, residents of color have a higher poverty rate, lower median income, lower homeownership rate, higher housing cost burden, and higher rate of traffic tickets than white Boulderites. Indigineous and Black residents are represented in the homeless population at a much higher rate than they are in the housed population.

I believe that as a community, it is our moral obligation to build a world where race can no longer be used to predict these types of outcomes and all people are lifted out of poverty.

There are a few positives in the city’s one-year update on the Racial Equity Plan. For starters, hundreds of city employees have been trained on how local governments perpetuate discrimination and how to use the new Racial Equity Instrument. The city used the instrument to effectively distribute vaccines to communities of color and screen budget requests. Boulder also created more multilingual offerings and strengthened relationships with community connectors.

As the official plan states, the tool is “only as good as the accountability mechanisms that demand tangible progress.” It is disappointing to see that the city does not expect to be utilizing the instrument in all decision making processes until 2030 at the earliest. 

Critical votes are coming up later this year on affordable housing, homelessness and transportation. How will staff and council be held accountable to filtering these decisions through an equity lens? How will future legislation be measured against outcomes concerning poverty, incarceration, health and more? How will an already-understaffed city government find the resources to make all of this happen?

It is vital that the city delivers on its promise to provide baseline demographic data and the tools to present this information by the end of the year. Without this, true accountability will be nearly impossible.

During the public input process, many of those whom the Racial Equity Plan purports to help were skeptical of the city’s ability and will to “translate good intentions into effective, life-changing policy.”

Boulder has put much effort into symbolic, feel-good gestures over the years. Now it is time to turn that talk into action.

Jake Brady has rented in Boulder since 2017. He aspires to a world with more worker power, stronger tenant protections and ubiquitous public housing. More about Jake.

Nikki Rashada McCord: Decision makers, plan to act on the plan

The framers never planned for the enslaved to be citizens, let alone participate in democratic processes. During Reconstruction, the country was forced to define who was a citizen of the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 stated that Native peoples were citizens of their own sovereign nations and that citizenship was extended to anyone born in the United States. Birthright citizenship was ratified in the 14th Amendment. The formerly enslaved were now citizens, providing them the full and equal benefit of all laws (wink, wink). This newly defined citizenship provided a path to bring legal action and participate in the democratic process.

Just as the formerly enslaved understood the importance of participating in the local democratic process, today, Boulder’s Racial Equity Plan seeks to create more democratic opportunities for our neighbors who have been historically excluded.

However, the plan is only as strong as the people who will implement it. I am reminded of my time on the Boulder Housing Partners board when I attempted to participate in the democratic process and called for a vote of no-confidence in our chair and vice-chair after witnessing misogyny and racism and lack of action from both. My motion failed spectacularly, 1-7. 

In 2021, I was asked to participate in a conversation with council candidates before an audience of Black and Brown community members. I asked one candidate to tell us about a time in which they personally advocated for social justice. They told our group that they could not think of an instance. The answer did not instill confidence in their ability to advocate for our historically excluded neighbors and me.

I am optimistic about the Racial Equity Plan, and I appreciate the work that ethnic minorities and historically excluded groups are spending on it. The process of sharing your trauma in a way in which decision makers will respond and change is… traumatic! We are currently in the data collection part of the plan, and I am eager to see more ways in which the plan is implemented. 

If individuals minimally impacted by the plan do not have the fortitude to make decisions to uphold implementation of the plan, the plan will never reach the more important level of action. Hopefully, Boulder’s decision-makers are ready to vote and advocate for our historically excluded neighbors as they put action to this plan. 

Nikki lives in Boulder and firmly believes red chili should not contain beans. More about Nikki.


Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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