This afternoon, a crowd of around 50 gathered under the MLK Memorial Statue in City Park to watch as Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) signed the “Racial Equity Study” bill into law, establishing an independent commission that will research solutions to racial disparities in areas from K-12 education to housing to healthcare. 

Katherine Casey — chief strategy officer of Collaborative Healing Initiative within Communities, a grassroots organization that supported the bill throughout its passage — laid out the responsibilities of this commission.

“This bill will do three things: This bill will document racial harms that Black Coloradans have experienced, it will quantify the economic impact of those harms on Black Coloradans and on all Coloradans, and it will propose concrete, evidence-based steps that the state can take to repair those harms,” she said. 

Even after Polis’ signature, the creation of the commission depends on the receipt of “$785,000 of gifts, grants, or donations for the purpose of conducting the study,” according to the bill.

“It doesn’t end, unfortunately, with the signature of this bill,” said Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), who joined Polis at the bill-signing event along with the bill’s other prime sponsors, state Sen. James Coleman (D-Denver) and state Rep. Naquetta Ricks (D-Aurora). “We still have to raise money in order to make sure that the study is conducted, and that’s going to come from community.”

Despite the potential roadblock of funding, Polis and the three prime sponsors expressed their excitement for this bill’s potential to bring about data-informed policy. 

“The data that we uncover, the history that we uncover, the economic analysis will allow us to figure out how to make Colorado the best place to live … and how to uplift all the lives of all the people in the state,” Coleman said. 

Some Republicans have said the bill (SB24-053) is divisive and could lead to reparation payouts, which they oppose.

“In this charged environment that we have, do we really need to be doing this?” state Sen. Larry Liston (R-Colorado Springs) told Colorado Public Radio. “I don’t see other groups coming to the legislature and saying, ‘Hey, you need to do a special study for us because we were hurt or held back.’”

Coleman and his colleagues were particularly interested in repairing the economic hurdles that Black Coloradans have faced and, in doing so, bolstering the state economy at large. 

“Quite frankly, because many of us [in the Black community] are in a position where we have not thrived economically, we haven’t been in a position to help Colorado thrive economically. So this isn’t just about the Black community,” Coleman said. 

Outside of those directly involved in the enactment of the bill, some community members gathered at City Park to celebrate. One was Jameka Lewis, a librarian and historian at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. 

“It’s really exciting to have something tangible, that we as Black Coloradans can actually have pen-to-paper to say: these are the action items, these are the things that we’re going to do,” Lewis said.