//Jordon and Avyn Vaden at the Capitol on June 6, 2020. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | firstname.lastname@example.org
Like many other people who took to the streets this week, Jordan Vaden was out to protest. He, and thousands of other Denverites, made their voices heard on the epidemic of systemic racism and police brutality facing the country. This was in the wake of similar protests in other cities following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020.
However, Vaden and the white allies who protest with him differ in one key respect.
“A lot of people there that are allies, and not African Americans, do get to escape the problem for a little bit,” Vaden said. “They get to go to their corners of the city and forget about it. It doesn’t end for African Americans.”
What Vaden means is the feeling of being trapped by the systemic racism that is woven tightly into the fabric of contemporary American society. And, although Vaden sees people of all backgrounds hit the streets with him and show that they care, those are still bittersweet moments he said. Not enough progress has been made where he, and others like him, get to escape from the realities of systemic racism. African Americans like him and others have to put in the work.
Or as his sister, Avyn Vaden puts it, “You’re born into it. It’s in your bloodline. You gotta fight more than others.”
There’s a duty to protest, she said.
Vaden is a Colorado native. He loves documentaries, with wildlife docs being among his favorites. He went to Prairie View High School, and later studied sociology, criminal justice and ethics at Colorado State University. He attended on a football scholarship, where he played as both wide receiver and cornerback, and was with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the NFL preseason. The environment is one of his main concerns.
In short, Jordon Vaden could be any of us. However, he’s had to deal with things that many people who aren’t African American will never have to face. He’s been slammed face-first into concrete by an officer. He’s been followed through stores while shopping. After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, others at CSU asked Vaden what “Obama was going to do to save me now?”
This is par for the course for other African American men like Vaden.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He said that there are so many other things that you don’t see but still have an impact on race. For Vaden, the issue surrounding any discussion about race isn’t so much that it’s an uncomfortable one, at least for him, but that it’s a deep one. Racism curls its roots around the African American community and runs deep within the experiences of many men like him all across the country.
These realities lead Vaden to get involved and work toward dismantling those systems. His real passion lies in helping other people.
“I hope that I can use my platform, and the little bit of privilege that I have – or a lot of privilege that I have — to help people that don’t have it,” he said.
Vaden has gone out to protest with his nephew, Jackson Vaden, a few times. Jackson is a smart kid, Vaden said, and he’s glad that he’s at the protests. African Americans don’t have the luxury to be oblivious to certain things that might affect them in their lives, he said, and he hopes that by exposing Jackson to that information early in his life, his nephew can then do positive things with it.
He added that when he was Jackson’s age, seeing his brother and father getting involved had a positive impact on him. He now hopes to do the same for Jackson.
Vaden’s current goal is to establish an unofficial council composed of local leaders, business owners and other members of the community. His hope is that by doing so, he can encourage discussion as well as harness the political will that has been generated by the protests.
However, tackling the large systemic issues facing the country’s African American population is a problem that won’t be solved overnight. Vaden realizes this. Although tackling police brutality is a good start, it isn’t a simple knot that when pulled will unravel the fabric maintaining white supremacy. The issue is deep and incredibly interconnected, he said.
Undoing the impact the country’s legacy of violence has had on people of color will take much hard work.
“This is a place that is very good at what it was designed to do,” Vaden said. “The United States of America was created by the theft and massacre of native people on this land, and the import of human product to do white men and women’s bidding and labor. That is what the foundation of our country is.”
Racism is like a chameleon — it changes, adapts and moves in different forms, Vaden said. It is not always in your face, nor is it always a church being burned down with a hundred people trapped inside, he said. It is insidious. It can be invisible.
To fight it means to become educated. Whether it’s looking up stats or asking people their stories, do your research, he said. Hard statistical evidence is out there. Objective proof. Don’t become complacent, Vaden urged.
Vaden’s ultimate goal is to live in a fair, more just and unbigoted world with no discrimination. It’s going to be a long road, getting from here to there. His anarchist side wants to burn it all down and start anew. The frustration is understandable, he said. However, his realistic side wants to see significant progress be made. He wants government institutions and organizations to provide objective, statistical proof that something is being done about the problem of police brutality, among other system issues African Americans face.
Vaden is also a little bit of a cynic. He knows that the world will never be perfect for Jackson. However, just because the world won’t run exactly how he wants it to doesn’t mean Vaden will give up any time soon. He believes we all have a moral obligation to leave the planet a little better than we found it.
“I’m just hoping that my little bit of a voice and participation in this leaves a better world for him,” he said. “So that they can use their power and creativity and passion of their generation and leave it better for the next person.”