Now in its second year, Colorado Publishing House’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awards celebrate advocacy that creates a more just community.
The awards, born out of the civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, are designed to bring community together to celebrate our diversity and learn how to create equitable opportunities in El Paso County.
This year’s winners have worked tirelessly to bring people together, build bridges and create those opportunities.
Consider Dr. Wendy Birhanzel, one of this year’s Transformational Leaders award winners. As superintendent of Harrison School District 2, Birhanzel has improved test scores and provided a path to higher education through a partnership with Pikes Peak State College and its Dakota Promise program, which translates to free tuition for qualified Harrison graduates.
Or Joe Aldaz, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that builds bridges between the Hispanic community and other business groups and leaders in Colorado Springs.
Anthony Perez is another Transformational Leader. I can tell a personal story that shows how Perez connects community and strives for equity. When I met Anthony in 2017, I had just become publisher of the Indy’s sister publication, the Colorado Springs Business Journal and I wanted to partner with the Hispanic Chamber. He pointed out, without mincing words, that we didn’t always do a great job at covering people of color or minority-owned businesses. He was right — and we set about changing that to include more diverse populations.
Our advocacy winners are no less impressive. Patience Kabwasa is no stranger to Indy readers; she advocates for people of color in our DiverseCity column. Jennifer Horn is involved through the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments and Julissa Soto has been recognized throughout the state for her work in bringing people together, particularly during the COVID pandemic.
We are honored to recognize these outstanding individuals. This year, we received more than 30 nominations for individuals around the county and we know there are many more people who deserve this attention. Let us know who’s doing great work in your corner of the community and we’ll continue to shine a light on their efforts and provide a platform for continued progress toward diversity, equity and inclusion for all.
Navigating a path out of poverty, as a single mother with three children, is what led Patience Kabwasa to Food to Power.
Wendy Birhanzel’s parents were both teachers. Her mom, a high school honors teacher. Her dad, a high school math teacher and football coach.
'Service before self.” It’s a principle Joe Aldaz lived by during his time in the Air Force, and carried with him into the civilian sector.
When Julissa Soto was 26 years old, she left Michoacan, Mexico, with her husband, for Colorado, crossing the border in the trunk of a car. She was undocumented, uneducated and did not speak any English.
‘I was a weird child,” says Jennifer Horn. “I never really wanted to hang out with people my own age. I liked hanging out with older people, hearing their stories.”
The culture statement Anthony Perez lives by is something Vince Lombardi, the former Green Bay Packers coach, once said: “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”