By Tina Griego | Denver Post Columnist | Source: DenverPost.com
The Aurora Human Rights Center occupies a small, two-story brick building on the corner of Dayton Street and 14th Avenue in what’s called Original Aurora, which is in north Aurora. It’s the kind of neighborhood where you can find a Somali market, an African hair-braiding and, in between, a great Mexican restaurantLa Cueva, if you’ve never been. It has its pawns, art galleries, a light-filled library, a small theater, apartments full of refugees, a corner claimed by day laborers.
It’s a changing neighborhood and has been for a while now. Some enjoy this. Some don’t. In either case, it holds a collection of communities that tend to be isolated from one another. It’s a kind of default isolation that’s generally a product of language or legal status or economic class.
What city and community leaders know is that isolated communities serve no one well. Not the people who live in them. Not the neighborhoods that surround them. Isolation breeds stagnation.
This, then, is the context for the Aurora Human Rights Center. The idea was sparked by the Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods program, with funding from the Buck Foundation, whose matriarch is Mims Buck. She has been described as a 101-year-old maverick, which makes her the kind of woman I want to meet.
The AHRC building is plain, drab, even. It doesn’t look like a bridge, but it is.
“We want to create the cross-fertilization of cultures, backgrounds, languages,” says Patrick Horvath, director of the Strengthening Neighborhood program. “It really is designed to be a melting pot.”
Five nonprofits are housed here: El Centro Humanitario, which is well- known for its work advocating the fair of day laborers; Rights for All People, which cultivates leadership among the Spanish- speaking immigrant community; the Lowry Family Center, which supports low-income families through a variety of services; and the Somali Community Center, where a small sign reads: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Strengthening Neighborhoods also has a satellite office run by Mario Flores, a longtime community organizer.
A day laborer can come here for workplace-safety training. An immigrant can sign up for citizenship classes. A Somali refugee can learn computer skills. Struggling mothers and fathers can take parenting classes.
Like other nonprofits in the city, the AHRC seeks to do more than serve clients. It wants to grow leaders. What’s different here, the experiment, if you will, is how to take five entities sharing one building and make them more than five entities sharing one building. That’s where the bridge comes in — the cross-fertilization, as Horvath called it. It can manifest itself in the simplest way. The Somali Community Center started a sewing group for its women. Soon enough, it was inviting Mexican women to join.
“We can say we want to know people outside our own communities, but how do we that? Where does it begin?” says Lisa Duran, the executive director of Rights for All People. “It’s not a small thing, and the Aurora Human Rights Center has that built into its vision.”
The AHRC held its open house a few weeks ago. It’s taken three years to get here and not without some controversy. El Centro Humanitario wanted to move the informal day-laborer gathering site to this building. It planned to establish a hiring center much as it has in Denver. The pushback from some city and neighborhood leaders has shelved that plan.
In some ways, the AHRC is still figuring out how to articulate the vision expressed by Mims Buck, who gets the final word today. On the occasion of her 100th birthday, she was asked for her wish. “Fewer wars and more tolerance for people of all backgrounds, faiths and races,” she said, and then added: “I think peace is something we are all wishing for, but it is not enough to wish or hope; we all need to strive towards it.”
Tina Griego writes Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at 303-954-2699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.