Inspirational messages about courage and the lasting power of legacies filled the room at the 11th Annual Rosa Parks Diversity Awards Luncheon in the Tivoli Student Union.

Rosa Parks Award winners at CU Denver
Pictured from left are guest speaker Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, Sheila Shannon (faculty winner), Roberto Montoya (community winner), Cheryl Matias (nominator), Jose Silva (community winner), Robert King (community winner), Timberley Roane (faculty winner), Sky Roosevelt-Morris (student winner), Johnnie Nguyen (student winner), and Naomi Nishi (community winner).

Nine people at the University of Colorado Denver received awards, which were presented by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Educational Opportunity Programs and the Office of Student Life.

Guest speaker Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler delivered a rousing talk about courage in the face of unjustness, inequity and the torment of African-Americans who lived in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s. Tyler, who founded of The Equity Project, an organization that supports organizations and communities in building diversity and inclusion strategies, grew up in the South in the 1960s and remembers the pain of racism and segregation.

Lisa Shaw of Kaiser Permanente
Andréa Law of the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Office of Diversity Equity & Inclusion accepts a community award at the event. Photo by Zakiya Ali.

“I stand on the shoulders, as you do, of giants – lots of giants,” Tyler said. “I’m also fortified by people who are my age and younger and doing work to create a world that’s a better place. These legacies, just like the one Rosa Parks left, require courage. Legacies just don’t happen. There’s something over our shoulder that creates the legacy.”

This year’s winners

The Rosa Parks Diversity Awards recognize CU Denver students, staff and faculty – as well as community members – who are building bridges for inclusion and future leadership. This year’s winners and their nominators:

Community Winners

  • Kaiser Permanente Colorado Office of Diversity Equity & Inclusion representatives Robert King and Andréa Law – nominator Dominic F. Martinez
  • Jose Silva – nominator Tina Silva
  • Research Advocacy in Critical Education (R.A.C.E.) representatives Roberto Montoya and Naomi Nishi (both fourth-year doctoral students in the School of Education & Human Development) – nominator Cheryl E. Matias
Johnnie Nguyen of CU Denver
CU Denver student Johnnie Nguyen accepts his Rosa Parks award. Photo by Zakiya Ali.

Student

  • Sky Roosevelt-Morris – nominator Lexine Salazar
  • Johnnie Nguyen – nominator Isha Kanu

Faculty

  • Timberley M. Roane – nominator Dr. David Mays
  • Sheila Shannon– nominator Carlota Loya Hernández

Each winner and nominator and winner also gave brief remarks, many giving thanks to those who helped mentor and inspire them on their own leadership path.

Crawl to courage

Roosevelt-Morris, of the Shawnee and White Mountain Apache Nations, is a graduate student in political science at CU Denver. She cited Parks as an inspirational figure whose stand against segregation on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. – she refused to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger – is a reminder of how people sometimes must crawl to courage. “Knowing that she was not going to live in a fear-based world, she had to sometimes crawl – and sometimes we all do,” Roosevelt-Morris said. “We have to crawl some days, because to do nothing would be the greatest injustice.”

Timberley Roane of CU Denver
Timberley Roane, PhD, accepts a Rosa Parks Award in the faculty category. Photo by Zakiya Ali.

Nguyen, an undergraduate in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the undercurrents of prejudice on the Internet pose an unhealthy influence to young people who may lack positive role models. “I just know that if one day that child becomes a CU Denver student, they are going to have a lot of mentors here,” he said. “It will bring them out of that prejudice and move them into the world to become our next leaders.”

Other speakers at the recent event included Omar Montgomery, MPA/MES, director of Black Student Services in the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs; Aisha Mohammad, president of the Muslim Student Association); Zakiya Ali, a student in the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program; and emcee Rene Davis, a graduating senior.

The pyramid within

Ali expressed thanks to Kaiser Permanente, where she served as an intern for two semesters and she also was recipient of the Kaiser Permanente Scholarship. “Without them, I wouldn’t have pursued medicine as strong as I currently am,” she said. “They showed me I could do it, so I’m very grateful.”

Cheryl Matias of CU Denver
Cheryl Matias, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Education & Human Development, introduces two community winners at the Rosa Parks Awards. Photo by Zakiya Ali.

Tyler, the guest speaker, finished her talk with a reverential nod to the pyramid builders of ancient Egypt. Like Parks, she said, they were committed to an ideal that they would not live to see completed.

“When you leave the room today, know that the next move that you make could be a Rosa Parks move and you just have no idea,” Tyler said. “Keep building your pyramid with excellence, commitment and dedication, and the world that comes after us will look over its shoulder and see you in it.”

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