DENVER (KDVR) — When we talk about Black History in America, we are typically referring to the contributions and achievements of Black people born here in America.
Here in Colorado, the state has become a hot spot for Black immigrants to make a life for themselves and break history while doing it.
One immigrant blazing her own trail in the state Capitol is Rep. Naquetta Ricks, of House District 40 in Southeast Aurora.
Ricks has served in the Colorado House of Representatives since 2021. She led the way on measures like what is known as the towing bill of rights and a homeowner’s association accountability act.
But you may not know the story that brought her to the Colorado Capitol.
“My mother, my sister and I went through this military coup,” Ricks recalled. “Her fiancé was executed in Liberia and my mother almost had a nervous breakdown. And we — she came on a medical emergency leave to the U.S.”
Ricks and her family settled in Aurora when she was just 13. Ricks said living in Aurora was fine, but becoming a permanent resident was not as easy.
“Even though my mother had newspaper clippings of all of the trauma and the horror that we had experienced, it wasn’t enough,” Ricks explained. “We did not have an attorney who could advocate for us, so we continued to fight that fight until we were granted amnesty through Ronald Reagan’s amnesty bill.”
Ricks and her family have been in Colorado ever since. After graduating from Aurora Central High School, Ricks went on to get her bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver and her master of business administration from the University of Colorado Denver before starting her life in politics.
“As an immigrant and someone coming here, education is the great equalizer. That was something that was stressed to me growing up: You will go to college,” Ricks said. ” So I ran for the Board of Regents. It was a big seat, a statewide seat. I got over 100,000 votes, but that still was not enough to win in that election. I then ran again in 2017 for Aurora City Council. I came in third in that match.”
Ricks said after that loss, people were wondering if she should let go of the idea of getting into politics.
“I did not see anyone in the state legislature that carried my lived experience as an immigrant,” she said. “When we ran in 2020, we had a tough primary, but we were able to contend and even though we had money, leadership and all the power against us, we overcame by 400 votes in a very tough primary. And that is how I landed here at the state Capitol.”
After her win, Ricks began serving as the first African immigrant at the Colorado General Assembly and the first Liberian American woman to win a state assembly seat in the United States.
“Black immigrants over the last 20 years have increased in Colorado 400%, according to the Census and Immigration Council,” Ricks said. “So the importance that Black immigrants, whether you are from Africa or the Caribbean, are represented here in the statehouse is important.”
Ricks just began her second term as a state lawmaker. State Rep. Junie Joseph, a Haitian immigrant, now joins her in representing Black immigrants at the state Capitol.