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Parents Demand Access to High-Quality Schools

February 20, 2017
Papa Dia
African Leadership Group in Colorado speaks out for better schools

The African immigrant community is the fastest growing population in Aurora and one of the fastest growing in Colorado. From Ethiopia to Ivory Coast, we all came here to give our children the opportunity to live out the American dream. Fundamental to that dream is ensuring our children get a world-class education.

That is why we are coming together as a community to demand better schools. We are growing in numbers, and politicians and policymakers in Colorado would be wise to hear us and heed us.

How Can Families Unite for Education?
Walton Family Foundation Board Chair Carrie Walton Penner visits with Papa Dia and members of the African Leadership Group, a Denver-metro organization with a statewide agenda.

Mattering to politicians was not on the top of my list of concerns when I first moved here from Senegal, but the longer I’ve been in this country, the more I realize how important it is to be a part of public policy debates. When you don’t show up, when you aren’t part of those debates, people decide for you and make choices for you. And that is something that we can no longer afford.

We have to be involved, and we have to make our voices heard.

When I arrived in Colorado in 1998, I barely spoke a word of English. One of my first jobs was stocking books at the iconic Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, and it was there that I taught myself English using the audiobooks and literature around me.

After learning enough English to be conversational, I got a job as a bank teller. Word quickly spread among the African community that their African brother worked at the bank, and every day, lines would form out the door — and not because people needed my help in making a deposit or withdrawing cash. My fellow Africans needed help translating documents, dealing with immigration issues and finding good schools for their kids.

The interactions and conversations I had with members of my community eventually led me to create the African Leadership Group. I wanted to create an organization that could help our growing community settle in Colorado, feel at home here and thrive in our new country.

In recent years, one of the top concerns I’ve heard is from parents who struggle to find and access good schools for their children. We Africans are a very education-focused community. In fact, according to recent census data, African immigrants are the highest educated subgroup in the United States, with 43% of African immigrants holding bachelor’s degrees.


This concern has motivated me and the African Leadership Group to become increasingly involved in the great debate around public education in Colorado. Members of our group have testified at the Capitol, spoken out at school board meetings and supported political candidates who put reforming education at the top of their agendas.

As the expression goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Increasingly, ALG members and the broader African immigrant community are demanding a seat at the table.

I have sat on the board of Highline Academy Charter School in Denver, where my daughters attend, and am a founding board member of Vega Collegiate Academy, a new charter school approved by the Aurora School Board last year.

Members of ALG have fought hard to bring high-performing schools to their neighborhoods in Denver and Aurora. Others are looking at running for office to ensure our community truly has a seat at the table.

You may not have heard a great deal about the growing African immigrant community in Colorado, but I promise you will in the future.

We are a proud people with a passion for giving our kids the opportunity for a great education. And we are at the table to stay.

Innovations in Education is a video and blog series with Carrie Walton Penner that explores first-hand groundbreaking work taking place across the country in K-12 education.
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