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Celebrating Black History Month 2013


Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013

For more than 150 years, leaders from President Abraham Lincoln to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have challenged us to keep faith with the spirit that enlivens our Constitution. Today we continue the work of these two dynamic men who courageously led the charge – through national division and civil strife – in pursuing a more perfect union where all Americans are truly free and have equal access to opportunity.

As we celebrate Black History Month this year, I am honored to reflect on the historical and everyday contributions of African-Americans to the state of Colorado and our country. Their efforts to ensure equality for all Americans are tightly woven into the fabric of our ever-evolving nation.

Last month, millions of Americans and I watched as President Barack Obama took the oath for his second presidential term. And for the first time in our nation's history, there are two African-American U.S. senators serving at the same time - Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Mo Cowan (D-Mass.). And following the 2012 elections, Colorado celebrated a record number of African-American lawmakers in the Colorado House of Representatives, known as the "historic five" who are paving the way for more diversity. I also am proud of how our state set the precedent for the country four years ago, when two African-American lawmakers, Rep. Terrance Carroll and Sen. Peter Groff, held the top leadership roles in the Colorado General Assembly.

These public servants are prime examples of how receiving a quality education plays a crucial role in creating access to exceptional opportunities—and a step closer to true equality. As we work to close achievement and economic opportunity gaps throughout our state and country, I would like to pay homage to two of Colorado's African-American pioneers who worked tirelessly to guarantee equal access to quality education for all Coloradans.

Omar D. Blair, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen in the 1940s, served as the first African-American president of the Denver Public Schools Board and went on to become the first African-American president of the Colorado Association of School Boards. During his tenure as president of the Denver Public Schools board, Blair championed quality education and led the city through the controversial desegregation of its public schools.

Rachel B. Noel, known as the lion of the African-American Civil Rights Movement in Denver, became the first African-American elected to the Denver Public Schools board and was also the first African-American woman elected to office in Colorado. On April 25, 1968, Noel spearheaded a resolution to integrate Denver's public schools. Despite the school board's decision to overturn the resolution in 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Noel's historic resolution in its 1973 decision, Keyes v. School District No. 1.

These exceptional Coloradans changed the way we educate our youth and supported access to opportunity for all. But while we have seen progress, there is still much work to do.

In this rapidly changing world where we increasingly rely on technology, we must provide our youth with the math and science skills they need to become leaders and keep our nation on the cutting edge of innovation and ingenuity. That is why I stand with President Obama and Gov. Hickenlooper in supporting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs to provide our youth with viable pathways to academic and professional success. With a strong investment in STEM programs, as well as ensuring Colorado's students have continued access to language and arts education, there is no telling how successful our students can be in the 21st century.

From Colorado's earliest days as a Western territory to the present, African-American community leaders and public servants have been a driving force in transforming the works and vision of our Founding Fathers into reality. I am humbled and inspired by their commitment to pushing our country to reach its fullest potential. I will continue to do my part to honor African-Americans' legacy of triumph over challenge. I hope you will join me in doing the same.

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