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Members of Southside Alliance, Be the Change 719, Chinook Center and American Descendants of Slavery at John Adams Park for the Oct. 10 Sam Dunlap mural unveiling.

 

From the passage of statewide legislation changing policing to the local law enforcement accountability commission, the protests forced difficult conversations about race and policing throughout Colorado Springs. And in Southeast Colorado Springs, the movement — which reached its height from May 30 to June 6 — galvanized local community groups like Southside Alliance and Be the Change 719 to take action. They’ve organized cleanups and put on events to build community in Southeast.

“It started with the protesting,” said Shequan Smith, one of the founding members of Southside Alliance. “People weren’t eating, and that’s not OK, so I started buying pizza, but that’s pricey. So I started cooking dinner every night, at my house, and watching the different groups of people come together. We’re all pretty close, but we’re all so different. If we could do this on a small scale, why can’t we do it on a bigger scale? That was our main goal, originally, to get the community together.”

Southside Alliance has organized a number of events since the summer protests, including “sip and dip,” painting classes, zine-making workshops, community brunches and a “weird science” event for Harrison District 2 students during a recent break.

“Everybody talks about Southside [Colorado Springs], but nobody ever does anything to help,” said Smith. “Southside is where our heart and our focus is. Now we’re doing art events; we did the zines, so our goal with that is taking these different groups of people — the people who come today might not go to our brunch events — we’re going to do one big event to get all of those people back together, because someone who was at the zine-making will connect with someone who was here tonight, so it will bring everyone together. Our biggest goal is to bring community. Community starts in our own neighborhoods, so we’re committed to providing that space and safe spot for that to begin.”

Latrina Ollie, one of the organizers of Be the Change 719, was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests, but wanted to do something that wasn’t as emotionally fraught as the downtown protests. 

“We got started during COVID and all the Black Lives Matter protests,” she said. “We just wanted to show a different way of representing our voices, because we didn’t know if the protests were going to be dangerous or not. We started out with the community cleanups, because we felt that was a big focus for the Southeast — actually having people come out and show they care about the community, because we live in the community, and we didn’t want other people talking for us.”

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Black Lives Matter protesters march through the John Adams neighborhood on July 4.

After hosting successful cleanups in the empty lots along South Academy Boulevard, Ollie helped organize a “Respect My Vote” event Aug. 29 at Van Diest Park.

“If you look at a lot of the records, the Southeast side kind of lacks in voting,” she said, “so it’s important to get people registered to vote, so they can use their voice to make change happen.”

Be the Change 719 has partnered with other local groups to help register voters. 

“We teamed up with Solid Rock Christian Center and we actually went out and were door-knocking to get people registered to vote if they weren’t registered,” said Ollie. “We were able to get like 20 people registered.”

Southside Alliance has also partnered with other groups for their events. The Chinook Center, which opened its doors Aug. 19 at Airport Road and South Circle Drive, has been providing a space for community activists to organize and host events.

“Without Chinook we might not be where we are today,” said Smith. “They are a physical space, but the three of them [board members Shaun Walls and Jon and Sam Christiansen], their heart is in this so much and it’s obvious. They genuinely care, and the fact that you have this space with that type of people running it makes everything fall into place. They’re there and I know I can keep going.” 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.