Black children and families in Colorado are still experiencing the effects of systemic racism 

Written by: Hunter Nelson
Date Posted: June 23, 2023

This week marked Juneteenth, a federal holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 that Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the message that all slaves were emancipated. Coloradans and people all over the United States turned out to celebrate this important day in United States history, uplifting Black joy and resilience while also acknowledging the harmful, lasting impacts of the 246 years of the enslavement of Black people in this country.   

The Colorado Children’s Campaign is committed to advocating for Black children and families to ensure they have the resources and support they need to thrive in their communities. But what might that look like today? 

A Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) analysis published earlier this year found that over the last decade, poverty rates among Black and Latino Coloradans have decreased, high school graduation rates for these demographics have improved, and the median Colorado household income of Black and Latino families has increased. That is good news – and yet, Black and Latino children are still more than three times as likely to live in poverty as white children in our state. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found growing racial disparities in mortality rates in our country – and included an urgent call to action to improve the health of Black Americans.  

Systemic racism is persistent in many of our policies and practices, and Black Coloradans continue to experience its effects. Black children and families in Colorado face troubling disparities in health, education, housing, and early childhood. For instance:  

  • Black or African American Coloradans were more likely (56.2% v. 28.0%) to rent their homes in 2021 than white Coloradans and experience housing instability at more than three times the rate of white Coloradans 
  • According to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, racial minorities are overrepresented in Colorado’s unhoused population – in 2020, Black Coloradans comprised 23.5% of Metro Denver’s unhoused population despite only being 5.3% of the population. 
  • Black and Hispanic children are disproportionately likely to experience gun violence in schools. According to Washington Post data, Black children make up 16.6% of students, but experience 33.3% of school shootings.  
  • In 2019, one-fifth of Black Coloradans reported experiencing food insecurity, and those who reported experiencing food insecurity were also more likely to report worse health outcomes. Nationally, Black children are three times more likely to experience hunger than white children. 
  • Nationwide, Black birthing mothers and people are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white birthing mothers and people. In Colorado, as of 2021, Black birthing mothers and people were just half as likely (48.2% v. 81.2%, respectively) to be aware of lactation resources as white birthing mothers and people. The Black infant mortality rate is almost seven times higher than that of white infants in Colorado. 
  • In 2021, Black or African American parents were twice as likely to report not being able to find child care compared to white Coloradans, and Black child care providers earned an average of 78 cents less than their white counterparts.   
  • School districts that serve students of color receive significantly less funding nationwide. In Colorado, wealthier school districts sometimes receive more money from the state – even though these districts often have the resources to fundraise locally and also disproportionately serve white students. 

These disparities result from persisting, racist practices embedded into U.S. policies that create more barriers to economic stability, educational resources, and high-quality health care for families of color. We can and must advance equity-informed policies that remove these barriers and invest in Black communities.  

Alongside many partners, the Children’s Campaign has supported policies in recent years that aim to make our state’s systems more equitable, including: 

  • Expanding access to income support for families who need it, such as Colorado Works, cash assistance programs, and policies that expand access to affordable housing and protect families from evictions. HB22-1259 expanded and improved Colorado Works, while HB23-1186 will give families greater access to eviction court process by allowing remote hearing participation.  
  • Developing more accessible pathways to health care coverage and reproductive health services, promoting positive maternal health outcomes, preventing gun violence, and ending food insecurity. HB22-1289 expanded access to Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) to undocumented children and pregnant and postpartum people while also advancing perinatal support for all Colorado Medicaid recipients. We have also supported policies such as HB19-1122, to strengthen Colorado’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, and SB23-169, which raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21.  
  • Making more equitable early childhood and K-12 education systems. The Children’s Campaign was a strong supporter of both HB21-1304 and HB22-1295, which respectively created and then implemented the state’s cabinet-level agency focused on supporting young kids and their families in Colorado – the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC). The CDEC offers the opportunity to increase access to early childhood care for all families and provide better support to early child care providers – who are disproportionately women of color. We also led SB22-202, which created the Mill Levy Override Match Fund to provide increased funding for low-income school districts through approved mill levy overrides. 

The statistics do not tell the full story of Black families’ experiences in our state – individual and shared histories, joys, triumphs, and more. They do, however, remind us that there is still more we must do to support and build healthy communities for Colorado’s Black families, and to empower and protect Black kids.

Hunter Nelson

About Hunter Nelson

Hunter works as a Policy Analyst at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role, she supports the Children Campaign’s Vice President of Health Initiatives and other policy staff by assisting in the management of coalitions, maintaining relationships with key stakeholders, conducting relevant data collection and analysis, and coordinating policy advocacy strategies with other Children’s Campaign staff. Before coming to the Children’s Campaign, Hunter served as the Volunteer and Data Specialist for Child Advocates – Denver CASA, interned with the Bell Policy Center, and worked as a research assistant at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. She has also worked with multiple organizations serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness across Metro Denver. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology from Arizona State University and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Denver.