From the editor: Indivisible series concludes with hope that community conversation continues

This week marks the sixth and final installment of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Indivisible series. Since January, the Pilot & Today news team has been working diligently to produce the series while faced with unanticipated challenges, including a remote work environment, increased news demand due to COVID-19 and a smaller staff.

Lisa Schlichtman, Steamboat Pilot & Today editor

They persevered, dedicated themselves to excellence and tackled tough topics that made us all uncomfortable along the way, and as the series concludes, I am extremely proud of the journalism they produced — from beautiful portraits that reflect the diversity of Routt County to compelling, deeply-researched articles that clearly define the divides that exist in our communities to storytelling that amplifies the voices of people of color and immigrants who live and work here.

The goal of Indivisible was to educate and enlighten our readers about the issues of diversity, equity and inclusivity. We also hoped to spark community dialogue around these issues, and the overall response to the series has been encouraging. A conversation has definitely begun and that in itself represents progress. Historically, issues like race and social injustice have been whispered about but not often openly discussed. This series has people talking, and we intend to make sure that interest doesn’t fade by continuing to report on DEI issues in the weeks and months to come and including diverse voices and perspectives in our reporting.

This series has impacted my life and my work as a journalist. Indivisible has transformed my perception of racism and provided me with more understanding of what it’s like to be a person of color living in a predominantly white community. And while I can never fully comprehend that experience, I now recognize the systems and policies that exist in our country that work against Black people and brown people and Indigenous people, and I openly acknowledge my white privilege.

During the past six weeks, I have been inspired by those who shared their stories with me through the Immigrant Voices profiles as well as those who agreed to be interviewed by my reporters and spoke about some of the most painful moments in their lives. That type of honesty is very brave, and I believe it’s in the rawness of that storytelling that hearts and minds are changed.

Our reporting process included weekly Indivisible meetings, which gave us a chance as a team to check in with each other and make sure we were tackling these topics with sensitivity and vigor. These meetings also served as a safe place where we could test our reporting along the way — looking for inherent bias, poking holes in story ideas and challenging each other to dig deeper and do our best work.

It became a labor of love for each of us and below are personal reflections from members of the Pilot & Today news team, who, like me, have been impacted and changed by our Indivisible series.

Derek Maiolo, reporter

I make no exaggeration when I say the Indivisible series was the hardest assignment I completed for Steamboat Pilot & Today. Hard in the most meaningful way. Hard in the sense that I had to take a deep, interrogative look at myself and my place in the world before I asked anyone else a question or put any words to paper.

I had to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about this nation’s history, this community’s prejudices and my own privilege. This all happened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, protests over police brutality and a more fundamental, burgeoning revolution taking hold of the country.

Considering how contentious the context of this series was, I quite honestly was terrified of how readers would react. I put months of work into these stories in an effort to make them balanced and representative of the complex nature of the issues at hand.

I pored over my research. I agonized over word choice, not wanting to mischaracterize or offend. As the stories gradually developed, as I spoke with sources and wrote, then re-wrote, then re-re-wrote paragraphs, something wonderful happened: I began to feel as if these stories could go out into the world and do some good — even if it’s just getting a curmudgeony uncle to watch an episode of “Schitt’s Creek.”

What I really hope is that these stories encourage readers to think more deeply about these issues and to consider other points of view. The beauty of storytelling is to go on a journey in shoes other than your own. While it can be uncomfortable to consider other perspectives or admit the ways in which we have caused wrong, doing so is a necessary part of progress. The experience reminds me of a quote from a French author, Jean de La Bruyère, who wrote, “Out of difficulties grow miracles.”

As is always the case with journalism, there is so much more behind the story than what appeared in the newspaper: quotes I wanted to include but could not fit; people who left a lasting impact on me and whose profound personalities I could not give justice to without writing a Tolstoy-gargantuan epic.

But as is also the case with journalism, these articles shaped me and will continue to do so, informing the way I look at the world and respond to it. I will take these memories with me and thread them through future stories, even if not explicitly.

Journalism has taught me that nothing is ever so simple as politics or opinionated family members would have us believe. There is always more to the story and real people behind the issues just trying to carve a home in the world. For that perspective, I am ever grateful.

Mackenzie Hicks, copy editor/page designer

I can still remember the day when a rumor swirled through my predominantly white high school about a guy asking people to join the local Ku-Klux Klan chapter. Though I grew up in the South, I couldn’t believe someone in 2009 was proudly asking such things — and in front of one of our few Black students.

My naivety was on full display in that moment. My white privilege was, too. I had never had to think about things like that, and I honestly thought my generation was beyond such things. But I was wrong.

I’ve never been one to pass up a learning opportunity, and while this small moment from my teenage years was enough to make me think, it wasn’t until recently that I fully dived into learning more about what I have obviously been so blind to. Right in the midst of wanting to know more, Lisa announced her plans for the Indivisible series, and I was able to learn more about how divisions effect people on a local level as well as nationally.

As a copy editor, I’ve been privileged to read all of our reporters’ articles as they were being placed in the paper. I have cried at personal stories, and I have felt hope swell in my heart at how so many people see positives through what many would consider defeating negatives. It was good to have my eyes opened to differences in our communities, but it was even better to see that while we may have far to go, we’re all willing to do it together.

Katie Berning, evening editor/copy desk chief

The thing that made the six-week Indivisible series so meaningful was to see the impact it had on the community. Hearing back from community members, especially those whose voices were highlighted in the series, made me proud to be part of the team.

In researching and reading about the topics, I learned so much. I feel like I know Routt County better than I did before. My biggest takeaway is to be an advocate for change or for someone different from me. I learned that advocacy can look different depending on the need. Taking the time to help someone understand why diversity, equity and inclusion are crucial without shame is what we need in this political climate.

It was challenging and sometimes hard to have certain conversations, even in the safety of the Steamboat Pilot & Today newsroom. My biggest hope is that the conversation doesn’t stop here. I also hope Indivisible inspires Routt County residents to look at diversity as a way to enrich our community. As with a forest, diversity makes us stronger. I hope we can all move to a place of acceptance, not just tolerance.

A huge “thank you” to those who were willing to share their stories. Props to our newsroom for the hard work. And a big round of applause to Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman for pushing us to have those tough conversations and get uncomfortable in order to help give space to voices that aren’t usually included in the mainstream.

Alison Berg, reporter

My first day at Steamboat Pilot & Today, I was asked to write an article for the Indivisible series about women in leadership positions in Routt County, which is something I’m very passionate about. I was overjoyed with the opportunity and got to speak with women in local government as well as the private sector and felt the huge privilege of telling their stories.

As I continued my reporting for the story, I realized almost every local leadership position is held by a white woman with the exception of a few positions in the private sector. So, I tried to make that a focal point of the story. And while Routt County does have an incredibly rich history of women in leadership that is worth celebrating, we have a long way to go before we truly represent all women.

Kari Dequine Harden, reporter

I am so grateful to have been a part of this project. I hope these stories made people think. They gave me an opportunity to think.

I am grateful to my editor for her courage to confront divisions in our community and for trusting me to take on the complex issue of race.

I am excited about our commitment moving forward to pay more attention to the underrepresented and to raise voices of color.

There’s a pivotal moment in my own life I have been thinking about in terms of my own journey to understanding racism.

I had been in the New Orleans area for less than a week, arriving in the recent aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I went naively — thinking I could volunteer and in some way help. But more anything I did to help, my journey became an indispensable part of my life education.

And I found a place I loved and spent more than a decade — and hope to go back some day.

I had traded my car for a camper van, knowing there was nowhere to stay.

One hot October evening, I was parked at a motel. There were no rooms available, but I had permission to stay in the parking lot. I wasn’t sure where to go or how best to help. I was trying to get a sense of things.

The motel, outside Baton Rouge, was filled with evacuees.

Most of New Orleans still looked like the site of a nuclear bomb.

I was standing outside the van, watching a little boy play with my dog.

Out of nowhere, a Black woman rushed at me and put her hands around my neck, pinning me against the van.

She was livid and screaming at me. It took me a few moments to comprehend that she was accusing me of flirting with her husband or boyfriend, who I then understood to be the father of the boy who was playing with my dog.

I had barely spoken two words to him — just said something to let him know my dog was friendly.

Then the man came over, and essentially sided with the woman, accusing me of I don’t know exactly what — but accusing me of something. I think it helped him with his girlfriend if he attacked me, too.

As a naive privileged little white girl from a Colorado ski town, it was frightening and really shook me up, to say the least.

I left but had nowhere to go. All the motels were full of workers or evacuees, and I was still figuring out safe places to park in the van.

So, this is not to say I know what it’s like to experience racism. I don’t, and I never will. But for about 10 minutes, I did feel what it was to be thoroughly despised — looked at not as a human — because of the color of my skin. I have no idea what it is like to face a lifetime of this — to face this discrimination each hour of the day in a constant battle to prove you, too, are human. I do not, and I never will.

And in the 12 years I spent in New Orleans, this was probably the worst experience and one of only a handful of negative ones relating to race.

I cried. I was scared and never felt more alone. But I learned.

It caused me to check myself. It exposed my ignorance, as did many other experiences along the way — like when I started to learn about systemic racism. I was shocked — and thought, no, it couldn’t be so deeply ingrained in our policies. We are better than that. And then I wondered why I didn’t learn that in the course of my education.

I love New Orleans because of its diversity, and it didn’t take me long to fall deeply in love with the city. I loved being exposed to other rich and vibrant cultures. I loved living in a neighborhood where most people didn’t look like me. When I did have uncomfortable experiences, I grew.

New Orleans wears its colors on its sleeves. It’s brutal, and it’s beautiful. There is no pretense that race and racism don’t exist.

Today, I have by no means arrived at enlightenment. I am still ignorant. I still have bias.

This series has helped remind me of that and the work I need to continue to do. It also reminded me of the importance of being truly open to the viewpoints and experiences of others.

From each of my colleagues I learned more and was prompted to think more deeply about our divisions, misconceptions and steps forward. I hope this series made some of us grow a little — on both sides of the keyboard.

The absolute best part about doing this series, for me, were the people I interviewed. The greatest privilege of being a reporter is the access to incredible and interesting people and the license to ask them probing and personal questions. The fact that each of these people agreed to sit down with me and talk about what it is like to be a person of color in the Yampa Valley — and in the world — shows such tremendous courage and candor.

And it was hopeful to talk to white people who are working to find ways to make a better world.

I have the deepest respect and admiration for the people I interviewed and their willingness to tell their stories and their willingness to trust me, especially in such a small community. That’s brave and risky. That’s caring enough to want to be a part of the solution.

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