With new additions to the team, the city of Durango’s Community Relations Commission is changing how marginalized groups are represented within city government.
In 2020, the city launched new diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in response to months of social and police reform protests sweeping the nation. But when it comes to putting those plans into action, city leaders often look to the Community Relations Commission, an advisory group founded in 2012 that serves as a liaison between the community and City Council.
Many of the commission members have taken leadership roles in supporting traditionally marginalized groups in Durango, such as people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ, who are experiencing homelessness or who are immigrants.
“Think ‘not about us, without us.’ No one should be making decisions about a population without their direct involvement, we want to ensure that,” said Tirzah Camacho, commission chairperson, in an email to The Durango Herald. “The community is diverse, we want to make sure all voices are heard, honored and involved – beginning with who’s been missing the most.”
Ten people submitted their names for three open positions on the commission. City Council interviewed and appointed the members Feb. 23.
The two newcomers to the board are Trennie Collins, a Southern Ute tribal member, and Enrique Orozco-Perez, who works with Durango’s immigrant community. Jennifer Latham, who works in education, served a partial term on the commission starting in 2020 before being reappointed.
“I was thrilled that Indigenous people and people from the Latinx community applied for (the positions) and have the required lived experience and expertise in working in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Barbara Noseworthy, City Council liaison for the commission. “It’s probably the most diverse committee we have.”
The council appointees will join Camacho, a senior community organizer for the Colorado Trust, and Olivia Lopez-DePablo, an emergency services counselor with Housing Solutions for the Southwest.
Collins, a Durango resident, is the public relations coordinator for the Southern Ute Drum. She co-founded several organizations in the area, such as Ignacio Out & Equal Alliance, Southwest Rainbow Youth, Ignacio Mutual Aid and Four Corners Mutual Aid.
“Indigenous people surround the Durango area but are hardly seen or heard in the decision-making, especially in the town of Durango,” Collins said in her application for the position. “To me this is an important piece to building equity and together-ship. ... In a city where we are proud to be diverse, we should take pride in appointing those people to serve on these boards or commissions.”
Orozco-Perez is the community outreach coordinator with Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center. There, he runs workshops, such as Know Your Rights and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and does community outreach to the immigrant and undocumented community.
“I strongly believe that for a fair and equal change to happen in the city of Durango, we need to have people that represent our diverse community,” Orozco-Perez said in his application. “As a person of color, I know that when I see boards, businesses and other organizations that have made strides to diversify their workplace, it makes me more comfortable to come forward and participate.”
With accountability in mind, he planned to hold the city to high standards on how it makes people feel welcome and accepted for who they are, he said.
Latham works as a paraeducator with Durango School District 9-R. She is involved with state and national education associations, where she said she received training about racial and social justice, as well as bias and leadership training.
“I believe strongly in the importance of civility, equity and acceptance of and respect for diversity,” she said. “I feel it is important to be involved in my community and issues that I feel strongly about, and to give back through public service.”
Among the other applicants were: Jesse Peters, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Fort Lewis College; Ashley Gonnella, owner of Pine Needle Mountaineering; David Zoberman, server at Olde Tymers Cafe; Tricia Simpson, a retired public affairs executive; Nancy Burpee, a retired nurse; and Karen Rosenberger, who retired from Vanguard Financial Services.