Columns » Between The Lines

Just how welcoming are we?


Perhaps you spent part of last Saturday at the "Everybody Welcome" festival downtown. If so, you saw uplifting cultural performances, ceremonies and costumes. You enjoyed the singing and strumming, group choreography, dancing by Asian and Hispanic groups, even some belly dancers.

It felt so good to see the diversity, not just at Acacia Park and City Auditorium, but also in the booths that promoted causes, messages, issues and churches.

The festival demonstrated, in a very public way, how Colorado Springs can be open and welcoming to all. But we can't say it's true without exception.

Curtis Colons-Borum found that out, less than 48 hours before the festival. Colons-Borum, a 31-year-old from a multiracial background in Los Angeles, has lived here since early 2005. He was a standout football player at Occidental College, a superb liberal-arts school that compares to our Colorado College.

Something else: Two years ago, Colons-Borum and his family started a nonprofit, called Romeo's Artistic Warriors for Autistic Children, after his young nephew was diagnosed with autism. As Curtis puts it, "My sister was in the Air Force in England, stationed at a place with high mercury content in the water, and that's where she had the baby. We always knew that something was wrong. After we found out it was autism, we established the organization as our family's cause, to bring more awareness and education for others dealing with it."

That tells you something about Colons-Borum, who's also a dedicated parent. Last Thursday he walked with his son from their home to a Parks and Rec kids football practice at Pion Valley Park in northwest Colorado Springs.

Colons-Borum was throwing passes to his son and a teammate when one went too far, deflected off a kid's hands and bounced off a preschool girl walking through the park with her mother.

"She was shocked, more than anything," says Colons-Borum, who immediately consoled the girl and apologized. "There wasn't any blood, and she calmed down when she realized it was an accident and that I was sorry."

The mother, by all accounts including those of other parents went ballistic. She left, then returned, saying her daughter had chipped a tooth and was afraid of Colons-Borum. He apologized again, saying, "There's nothing I can do, ma'am. It's a public park, and it was an accident. I'm very sorry." With that, the mother left.

As the practice ended, police arrived. They had heard of a disturbance and wanted to file a report. Colons-Borum gave them his name, but his ID was at home. One officer, Colons-Borum says, turned angry, "using the f-word." When Colons-Borum told him not to use profanity in front of the children, the officer accused him of being confrontational.

"We feel we need to arrest you, because we don't believe you," the policeman said, according to Colons-Borum. Told of an arrest warrant on a traffic violation "that I knew never happened," he was handcuffed and taken to headquarters. But when they arrived, as Colons-Borum puts it, "a lady ran out and showed them some papers that apparently said there was no warrant."

So the police drove Colons-Borum back to the park, nine miles away, without apology. Asked if he felt his race was a factor, Colons-Borum says, "It was as clear as day. They were gonna make up something if they had to. They were gonna try to use force if they had to, even with 10 kids and their parents still there."

Those parents would be witnesses for Colons-Borum if needed. But he doesn't want legal action. He didn't call the Independent; we learned about the situation and contacted him. He just wants to make sure others don't endure what he did because of race.

You hope this is a rarity, but you have to wonder. Colons-Borum and his son were the only minorities at Pion Valley Park last Thursday.

In a city trying as hard as Colorado Springs is to mend its intolerant image, what happened to Colons-Borum is abhorrent. It also can't be swept under the nearest rug. We can't simply say, "Aw, too bad. Surely that won't happen again."

Not good enough. The police should apologize and reach out to that team of young boys, making sure they don't judge all police by one incident. Perhaps the police can help Colons-Borum raise some money for autism awareness.

That's the only way everybody can truly feel welcome in Colorado Springs.

And if you disagree, guess what? You're part of the problem.

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