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Colorado mayor discusses importance of diversity, representation after Deion Sanders hire

Sanders makes history as the third consecutive Black head coach hired at CU -- a first for a school in a Power Five athletic conference.

BOULDER, Colo. — Deion Sanders made history this weekend as the third consecutive Black coach hired by the CU football program. 

This is a first for a school in a Power Five athletic conference, and it's a significant mark for a college in a predominately white city. African Americans account for 1.1% of Boulder's population.

9NEWS spoke to Justin Brooks, the first Black mayor of Erie, a predominately white area about 15 miles east of Boulder, about making history and hiring for Black men in prominent roles.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.) 

9NEWS: Why did you want to become mayor of Erie?

It was very local for me. I think having a seat at the table and being able to provide impact and to put your fingerprint on the development of an area or on the growth of a community is extremely important. I am very passionate about the way we want to grow. I want us to do it smartly so that we still have the close-knit town feel that I enjoy.

I think the fact that I am an African American man and that I come from a different background, it just provides a different perspective. But I think what I want for the community is not too much different than the rest of the folks here, and that’s why they elected me.

Credit: Anne Herbst
Justin Brooks is the mayor of Erie, Colorado. He's the first Black man to hold the position.

Why is it so important to have representation in predominately white areas? 

Brooks: What representation does initially is that it creates a sense of possibility. In the long term, it creates a sense of regularity and normalcy. So I want it to represent the standard as opposed to the exception.

Embracing representation is recognizing that Coach Prime is coming not as the next Black coach but as a coach who has proven success, who really is investing in his athletes and who is able to achieve success. I think he has the ability to reinvigorate not only the CU football program but the university as a whole.

Coach Prime is offering a lot more than just football coaching. He’s doing a lot in terms of character development, player development and him leading in the way that he does. When you bring your whole self to work and you show up with your culture and with yourself and you’re unafraid of being confident, I think that’s a testament of how capable we as people can be.

Having players see Coach Prime not only have success in the NFL and in the MLB, but also achieve success as a coach, that gives longevity. That gives promise to their ability to participate in the sport that they love in many different ways.

What do you hope students take away when they see Sanders and other leaders of color in prominent positions?

Brooks: I hope that for students of color, citizens of color, children of color, I would hope that it gives them a sense that it could be done, that they can do it. For everyone else, I want it to represent a sense of normalization.

Me leading the town of Erie is not an exceptional thing. It’s a normal thing. I’m a member of the community just like them. I’m qualified to do this job. I’m passionate about my community and I’m bringing my ideas forward to benefit everyone, and so having a seat at the table and being part of the conversation is extremely important.  

I’m inspired to see not only is Coach Prime coming to CU, but he’s also able to bring in more coaching staff. People who understand the athletes and can connect with them at a personal level I think can have a longer-lasting impact than they would have necessarily had before. 

In politics, it’s very similar. If you can bring people to the table who have a stronger connection to the constituency who are marginalized by the community, then you’re able to have a greater, longer lasting impact.



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