Colorado Center on Law and Policy presents Communities Against Poverty event featuring the Champions of Economic Justice & Equity Awards

Communities Against Poverty 2021

About the event

On October 28, 2021, join Colorado Center on Law and Policy for our signature annual fall event, Communities Against Poverty. This year’s celebration of the anti-poverty movement in Colorado will feature a Keynote speech by famed author, scholar and activist Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, as well as the award ceremony for the 2021 Champion of Economic Justice & Equity Awards, given out annually to the stand-out community organizers, partner organizations, legislators and individuals who made a difference in the lives of Coloradans over the past year.

Due to the pandemic, this event will once again be conducted virtually over Zoom.

Premier Presenting Sponsors

The Center for African American Health logo
Colorado Access logo

Donald W. and Lynn K. Burnes

Founders of the Burnes Institute for Poverty Research at Colorado Center on Law and Policy

Double Presenting Sponsor

CCH: Colorado Coalition for the Homeless logo

Presenting Sponsors

9to5 Colorado logo
Aloha Foundation logo
Connect for Health Colorado logo

Tiffani Lennon

Executive Director,
Colorado Center on Law and Policy

Supporting Sponsors

Colorado Children's Campaign logo
CWEE: Center for Work Education & Employment logo
Lass Cooper Ramp LLC logo
Interfaith Alliance of Colorado logo

Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

About the Keynote Speaker

Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, historian, activist, writer, and 2021 MacArthur Fellow, writes and speaks on Black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States.

​She is author Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, published in 2019 by University of North Carolina Press. Race for Profit was a semi-finalist for the 2019 National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2020.

Dr. Taylor was named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow, with the MacArthur Foundation award committee citing her “powerful critiques of the political and economic forces underlying racial inequality” in their granting of this honor.

“Taylor helps us understand why racial inequality in the United States is so devastatingly intractable while offering new visions of justice and democracy with the power to improve people’s lives.” — MacArthur Foundation

In 2016, she was named one of the Hundred Most Influential African Americans in the United States by The Root. In 2018 Essence Magazine named her among the Top 100 “Change Makers” in the county. She has been appointed as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians by the Organization of American Historians.

Taylor is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesBoston ReviewParis ReviewGuardianThe NationJacobin, and Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, among others. She is a former Contributing Opinion Writer for The New York Times. She is Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University.

Champions of Economic Justice and Equality Award Recipients

Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis

Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis

2021 Legislator of the Year

Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis is this year’s Legislator of the Year. Serving as the Colorado State Senator for Senate District 17, eastern Boulder County, Sonya is a Pharmacist and Social Justice Advocate. Senator Jaquez Lewis previously served as the first Pharmacy Director and first Latina Health Administrator with Colorado Medicaid, Colorado Access.

While at Colorado Access, Sonya established the first drug access program for thousands of children and families in Community Health Centers across Colorado. Those services are now the safety net program for so many communities of color and undocumented folk in our state. Sonya worked to initiate the first behavioral health network for Colorado Access offering mental health services to Medicaid families.

From an early age, Senator Jaquez Lewis learned to how important it is to give back. Her mother, Georgia Jaquez worked side by side with renowned civil rights leader Dolores Huerta. Sonya helped lead some of the first LGBTQ marches in the South, in North Carolina and South Carolina–where there were more protestors than marchers. She is a past Board Director of the Boulder County Board of Health and past President of Out Boulder, the LGBTQ community center.

Sonya has sponsored and passed many important laws in health care, gun violence prevention, environmental protections, animal protections, and COVID relief, but is humbled and thankful for the community’s support on SB21-199, Removing Barriers to Undocumented residents in Colorado.

Named a 2019 National Henry Toll Fellow and Top New Legislator, Sonya is small business owner and nationally published author. As Boulder County’s first Latina and first LGBTQ elected to the General Assembly, she continues to work to address the social and health disparities in communities of color and marginalized groups.

Ki`i Powell

Dr. Ki`i Powell

2021 Governmental Partner of the Year

Dr. Ki`i Powell is this year’s Governmental Partner of the Year. Since 2017, Dr. Powell has served as the Office of Economic Security Director at the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). Powell oversees the State’s anti-poverty programs in child support services, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food commodities programs, the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), State-funded cash assistance programs, several employment programs, the Colorado Refugee Services Program (CRSP), and the training supports for eligibility technicians across the State.

Powell joined CDHS in 2010 as the research and evaluation manager in the Division of Child Welfare and served as the Department’s first Performance Management Director beginning in 2011. In that role, she built and managed C-Stat, a performance management approach for CDHS to better focus on and improve performance outcomes by reviewing over 100 measures each month. Prior to joining CDHS in 2010, she held research and evaluation roles with the Colorado Division of Mental Health and the Hawaii Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division.

Powell earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and her bachelor’s in psychology from Hawai`i Pacific University.  She is the mom of three kind and imaginative little boys and has a feisty, yet loving cat named Alvin.

Mathew Mengesha

Mathew Mengesha

2021 Community Advocate of the Year

Mathew Mengesha is this year’s Community Advocate of the Year, in honor of his incredible, committed and tireless efforts to advocate on behalf of low-income and marginalized people.

Mathew joined Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning in August of 2019 as a Policy Advocate. In his role, Mathew contributes to Spring Institute’s policy goals of increasing access to and funding for adult education in the state of Colorado, restoring U.S. leadership in resettling refugees, creating career pathways for internationally-trained medical graduates (IMGs), and supporting greater health access and equity among all Coloradans.

He has worked in immigrant and refugee communities for over 10 years and is a member of the Denver Immigrant and Refugee Commission. He also has a rich background of working as a community organizer in education and politics, including work for RISE Colorado and the Denver office of Congresswoman Diana DeGette. Mathew’s passion for connecting voices from marginalized communities to policy and politicians has increased representation of diverse views in decision-making processes.

Clayton Early Learning logo

Clayton Community Ambassador Program

2021 Community Partner Organization of the Year

The Clayton Community Ambassador Program is this year’s Community Partner Organization of the Year. This program partners with interested parents, educators, staff, and members of our community to build the confidence and skills to become successful child and family advocates. Participants in this program develop knowledge around policy and advocacy, work to inform the policy process, and engage in direct advocacy opportunities. Clayton Program staff – including team members from the Education Services and Policy and Advocacy Departments – learn and grow alongside Community Ambassadors, support leadership development, and provide advocacy opportunities across local, state, and federal policy.

Going beyond the traditional community engagement models, the Clayton Community Ambassador Program creates a ladder-to-leadership model in which community members excel in leadership skills they identify, network with local organizations, and promote leadership development, while dignifying the policy process.

This award is accepted on behalf of the Clayton Community Ambassador Program by:

  • Kayla Frawley, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Clayton Early Learning Center
  • Ealasha Vaughner, Program Coordinator.

Kayla Frawley

Ealasha Vaughner

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To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.


Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.


Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.


Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.