Aurora: the natural light

An aurora is a natural light display in the sky (from the Latin word aurora, “sunrise” or the Roman goddess of dawn), predominantly seen in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions.

Aurora, Colorado, 2009

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I have been reading through my old angsty college-aged journal entries and I have found frequent musings regarding the concept of place.

It was an important topic to me at the time. Especially as I was traveling, engaging with other places in the country and the world, I couldn’t help but consider the place I had come from.

I loaded up in buses with my hockey teammates all over the South and Midwest; took mission trips to the Delta; traveled globally; and even wrote my senior thesis about the idea of “place” in urban areas (focusing in New Orleans) and how poverty affected geographic boundaries and youth development.

It was fascinating to me.

However, I can’t help but think, girl. How little you actually knew.

While I appreciated my place of origin – beautiful Colorado – I wrote about how my neighborhoods, high school, and community as if it lacked any form of diversity or difference. I acted as if I had grown up in a suburban-snooze, with no sense of culture.

Aurora, I would write, as if I was lamenting about some pre-described, orderly white-picketed fence safe haven.

In a way, I might have been right. Yet, mostly, I just didn’t know. I didn’t have the eyes to see. I didn’t have the experience or the tools or even the resources to know where I could find the very thing I yearned for: difference.

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John Lewis writes,

We must not turn away from one another. We must not retreat into separate tribes of like-minded, like-looking people who worship the same God, wear the same clothes, read the same books and eat the same food as one another. This is the way of exclusion, not inclusion. We cannot afford going this way. If we are to survive as a society, as a nation, we must turn toward one another and reach out in every way we can. It is not a choice; it is a necessity. We need to listen to one another, to look, to open our minds as well as our hearts.  (Walking with the Wind, 1998)

John Lewis is a Congressman in Georgia and a major leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. His call for unity – especially as I heard him speak at a conference in North Carolina my sophomore year of college – pushed me to think, what can I do to SEEK and ENGAGE that which is different?

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This planted a seed that grew into a journey that has become a passion. And now, it’s brought me back home.

So, when I read those old journal entries, frustrated that I couldn’t find what was “different” in Aurora, I literally LAUGH.

On paper, Aurora has demographics that are sometimes surprising for typical suburban areas. The latest census reports that over 61% of the population is white, 15.7% is African-American, nearly 5% is Asian, almost 29% of any listed race is Hispanic or Latino, and a great deal of other racial categories are listed as well. It’s quite diverse.

My dad moved to a neighborhood on the border between North Aurora and Denver that has Russians, Burmese, Somali, and Mexicans in a variety of neighborhoods. Immigrants and refugees don’t only exist within his community lines, he teaches these very students at the academically successful Overland High School. He’s been doing this for nearly 27 years.

More than just race, Aurora was actually the first city in the United States to have a female mayor when Norma Walker took over in 1965.

Someone reminded me that it was Cherry Creek Park, back in the early 90’s that World Youth Day was hosted. I was too young to remember, but apparently hundreds of thousands of people went, including Pope John Paul II.

The Broncos Practice Facility is arguably located in Aurora too. Well, okay, it’s not. It’s technically located in Englewood, but I would like to note that it’s only a hop-skip away from the Aurora border-line.

Since I’ve come back to the Aurora area it’s been freakishly easy to appreciate.

I have started attending church at Colorado Community Church in the heart of Aurora; this is a place of worship and friendship and fellowship that’s allowed me to make friends 10, 20, or 30 years older than me. I have discovered kinship in a Ugandan friend here, I have been honored to take part in a community group every Sunday that has people from all walks of life. My Sunday family breaks bread together just as we are; whether we have Cerebral Palsy, struggle with finances, or have started a new family.

Along Colfax Avenue, I have visited Rwandans, eaten at legitimate Moroccan eateries, and have seen construction of the planned unveiling of “the African Mall” – an urban development for a one-stop shop for African food, markets, shopping, and culture. NPR ran an interesting story about these cultural developments that can be read and listened to by clicking the link below:

Aurora’s Ethnic Richess

I have ran on the nature trails out by my mom’s new home in South Aurora, near “Southlands”. Even in the midst of suburban sprawl, it’s immensely beautiful. There’s a bit of country left out by their home – adjacent to a super-mall, believe it or not – and I remember thinking, what a wonderful place to live.

There’s all kinds of food, frozen yogurt shops, malls, and coffee shops. A new one that I tried last week – where I happened to meet a new Cameroonian friend for coffee – was established by an Israeli.

It’s not like diversity can only be fueled by color, race, or place of origin. I’m seeing diversity in other things too. There’s a lot to do; you can run, swim, climb mountains, join a fitness club, start cross-fit, go to museums, peruse libraries, shop in local boutiques or massive chain stores, and learn how to paint, or attend your choice of wine tastings & bars. People got stories here. It’s just about finding them.

Aurora has both Democrats & Republicans.

Aurora has a mix of schools, churches, and organizations to boot. On the way to my high school alma mater I can pass the booming cross of the Catholic house of worship and a few miles North would see several buildings for the Korean Christian Church. The Adventists once built a church in just under a week right by Parker & Arapahoe. Impressive.

Aurora is very, very different. When I thought otherwise, I had the classic case of “blinders”. More than that, I simply did not know how to look for that kind of thing.

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Apparently, I needed to leave, see the world, and come back to see all that’s happening in my little hometown.

And “little” ain’t the case; the town is its own rightful entity outside of Denver – having nearly half the number of the major city’s residents (over 300,000).

Besides the “All-America City” signs I see around town, my grandma – who has worked for the city for over 10 years in the municipal court – tells me that Aurora is also considered the “gateway to the Rockies” or the “sunshine of Colorado”.

What a completely appropriate name for what Aurora means anyway.

It’s been the light showing me the right direction all of these years and I just couldn’t see it most of the time. Aurora is a great city. Never more have I appreciated this place. It’s ironic now that I’m a Centennial resident, but let’s be real, a large chunk of my time is back in what is lovingly called “A-Town.”

As the world is in up in arms over cyber war-fare, and our country is exposing areas of existing racial tension, it’s more and more clear to me that we must heed to what John Lewis advises in his wisdom above. Inclusion.

If Aurora can do this, it will continue to be that light that it has its namesake from. I encourage you, whether you live in Aurora, in Denver, in Texas, in New York, or somewhere entirely outside the country, to purposefully seek what you do no know. Find what is unfamiliar. When you do, you’ll be surprised at the things you will learn. The process has proved true for me – and it’s been about the very place I was raised and grew up as a young girl. The world really can surprise us.

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