Emotional secretary of state knows nonprofits make a difference

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, center, with Michelle Majeune, who works with people with developmental disabilities, and Linda Childears, the Daniels Fund president and CEO, at the Colorado Nonprofit Association lunch today. (SOS photo)

The Colorado Nonprofit Association’s annual award lunch has produced its fair share of tears over the years as the community thanks those who make a difference in so many ways, and this year’s catalyst for catharsis was Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Usually, it’s the award recipient who is weepy.

In this case it was Williams, set to hand out an award to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who became so emotional when  praising nonprofit groups that he had to pause for several seconds before he could continue.

“For those who don’t know my two daughters, we learned as they grew that they had significant speech deficiencies,” Williams told a ballroom full of people at the Hilton Denver City Center. “So we worked with The Resource Exchange, one of our great nonprofits in the Colorado Springs area, to provide services for them.”

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams became emotional today when talking about the impact of a nonprofit on his family. (SOS photo)

Williams paused, and when he could resume speaking, his voice was thick with emotion.

“In 2013 I had the opportunity to hear the youngest of those daughters give the salutorian address at Rampart High School,” he said, to applause.

“Folks,” Williams said, struggling to continue, “the work that you do makes a real difference in the lives of everyone.”

After the lunch, Williams talked with the Gerry Rasel, director of membership services for the Colorado Nonprofit Association, who told him she cried during his speech.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association exists to strengthen nonprofits. Today was its 23rd annual awards lunch, capping a week of highlighting nonprofit agencies.

Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, talks at a reception before today’s awards lunch. (SOS photo)

“Colorado Nonprofit Week is one of our favorite times of the year because it brings all of us together and truly shines a light on the important contributions that happen everyday in communities,” said Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association.

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Inspire Colorado’s work with high school students inspires donors

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams speaks at a fundraiser Monday for Inspire Colorado, a nonpartisan group that encourages high students to register to vote and get involved. To his left, in blue, is Donalyn White with Inspire Colorado and to her right, in a white shirt, is Bob Meinzer, a board member with the national Inspire group. (SOS photo)

Twitter is filled with suggestions about motivating young people to vote this year, but the Centennial State is way ahead of that idea, thanks to Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Inspire Colorado.

Over the last three years, Inspire Colorado has worked with schools across the state in a student-led movement to register classmates to vote or get those already registered to pledge to vote. So far Inspire Colorado has signed up more than 7,000 students.

Williams — who got his start in politics in high school — believes it is so important for young people to be involved he established the Eliza Pickrell Routt Award, which the offices hands out to high schools where more than 85 percent of the senior class has registered to vote.

Roxane White, former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose daughter Donalyn White organized the fundraiser for Inspire Colorado. (SOS photo)

“We would not be where we are today in the state of Colorado without the wonderful support of the Secretary of State’s office and Secretary Williams,” said Ryan Drysdale, regional manager for Inspire Colorado.

Drysdale, Williams and Roxane White, the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper, were among the speakers at a fundraiser Monday night in Denver to benefit Inspire Colorado, a nonpartisan organization that works with students, teachers and school administrators to talk to classes about the importance of civic engagement.

“I have to say that Inspire Colorado has become my top charity,” White said. “I’m concerned about the growing inequality in America and the growing anger in America and the feeling that we can’t make a difference.”

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Wayne Williams, other secretaries of state, honor Little Rock Nine

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and four members of the Little Rock Nine who were honored during the National Association of Secretaries of State conference Sunday in Washington, D.C. Left to right, Williams, Melba Pattillo Beals, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Elizabeth Eckford and Ernest Green. (SOS photo)

The story of integrating America’s schools is a personal one for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who often talks about growing up in Virginia and what inspired him to become involved in politics.

As part of that journey, Williams last year visited the Little Rock, Ark., high school where nine black students were denied entrance to all-white Central High School, forcing a very public conflict between President Eisenhower and the Arkansas governor in 1957.

On Sunday Williams got to shake the hands of four members of what became known as the Little Rock Nine when the group received the highest award possible from the National Association of Secretaries of State. The emotional ceremony reduced the Arkansas secretary of state to tears and had Williams leaping to his feet to give standing ovations to the four.

The Little Rock Nine has received plenty of honors — in 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded each one the Congressional Gold Medal.  But what makes the NASS award unique, said Ernest Green, who was present Sunday, is that is comes from elected officials who oversee most of the nation’s elections.

“You are the critical players,” he said, when he accepted the award. “It’s not who we elect to office but how we get that election done.”

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DSST Green Valley Ranch receives recognition for voter registration

The Denver School of Science and Technology Green Valley Ranch received an award today from Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, back row, left, for its efforts to encourage voter registration.  (SOS photo)

The Denver School of Science and Technology Green Valley Ranch has registered 85 percent of the senior class to vote, making it the first public school in Denver to earn the Eliza Pickrell Routt award.

The award is named after Eliza Pickrell Routt, wife of Colorado’s first governor, John Long Routt, after whom Routt County is named. She was the first woman to register to vote in Colorado.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams told a story he often tells to groups of young people. His high school in Virginia didn’t have a graduating class in 1959 because the town leaders closed the school rather than follow orders to integrate it.

Secretary Williams with the Inspired high school leaders at DSST Green Valley Ranch, John Zeerak and Marjorie Tabora, who are  surrounded by their classmates. (SOS photo)

“I didn’t like that kind of leadership so I got involved and as a high school student,” Williams said.

“I organized about 70 kids to work the polls on election day and stand outside the limit and hand out literature to everyone that came and voted and we changed the leadership in that county for the first time in years.”

Marjorie Tabora, a senior at DSST Green Valley Ranch, who registered the 2017 class and much of the 2018 class, also spoke to her peers about the importance of making your voice heard.

“I know with the current events that happen a lot of you guys are concerned,” she said. “Something to always remember is that voting is the first step and your vote does count and it does matter.”

Secretary Williams reiterated the importance of her message, noting that when he was El Paso county clerk and recorder two school board races that were decided by one vote.

Last year, Yuma High School and Eaglecrest High School received the inaugural Routt awards. This year, Eads and Kit Carson high schools on the eastern plains, Peak to Peak charter school in Lafayette, and Ouray High School have received the awards.

(Main picture, back row, left to right, Secretary Williams, Bradley West, DSST internship coordinator, Ryan Drysdale, Inspire Colorado program coordinator, John Zeerak, senior at DSST Green Valley Ranch high school, and Alton Dillard, communications director for Denver Elections. Front row, left to right, Front left, Marjorie Tabora, senior at DSST Green Valley Ranch high school and Donalyn White, Inspire Colorado program. coordinator.)



Pat Steadman, champion for the underdog

Gov. John Hickenlooper high-fives Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, after signing Senate Bill 11, establishing civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado, on March 21, 2013, at the History Colorado Center in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

So, Pat Steadman is finally going to let One Colorado honor him for all the work he has done to better the lives of the state’s gay and lesbian residents.

The former state senator has been passionate about gay rights for more than two decades — he cried in the streets of Denver the night Coloradans in 1992 passed Amendment 2, which prohibited laws from protecting gays from from discrimination.

“It was a very volatile, explosive evening with lots of raw emotion. It was a huge wake-up call,” Steadman said in an interview with The Denver Post in 2013.

That’s the year the legislature finally passed his measure to allow gay couples to enter into civil unions. It was a bittersweet victory for the Denver Democrat — his partner of 11 years died of pancreatic cancer a few months before the session began.

Steadman, who was term limited after the 2016 election,  will receive One Colorado’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver on Aug. 26.

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