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The first-ever African immigrant elected to state legislature prepares to serve Colorado

Dec 3, 2020 | Badass Women, Features | 0 comments

//Naquetta Ricks, State Representative-elect for Colorado District 40, stands in front of the Colorado State Capitol on Nov. 27 with a notebook she’s carried since she was a child. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | este.fdez20b@gmail.com

Representative-elect Naquetta Ricks has kept a diary for decades. Now, she’s about to write history in the Centennial State.

Following an Election Day win to represent Colorado’s House District 40, Ricks stands tall, bursting with pride as the first African immigrant elected to the Colorado state legislature.   

“This is now my office, it’s amazing. It brings tears to my eyes,” Ricks said.

As she holds her personal story tight on the steps of Colorado’s State Capitol, she’s flooded with memories from the now faded and wrinkled pages making up her past. The nightmare she had to run from to achieve the American dream is never forgotten.  

“My diary reminds me of the life lessons on my path and the adversity and odds that I have overcome,” Ricks said.  

Tear-stained ink smudges of a different kind marked Ricks’ beginnings in Liberia, West Africa. At the age of 13, she and her family fled a Civil War and resettled in Aurora, Colorado, to reimagine a life without constant fear and widespread bloodshed. 

My sister and I had a great childhood in Liberia up until the military coup d’etat when the government was overthrown in April 1980,” Ricks said. 

Ricks went on to say during the military coup her mother was held at gunpoint and interrogated for more than two hours as she watched alongside her sibling. 

Ricks’ mother was being interrogated because her fiance was a government official. When the military coup located him hidden inside their house, he was thrown in the back of a truck and taken away. 

“Within a couple days they had rounded up all [13] members of the government and lined them on a beach in the Capitol and shot them by firing squad,” Ricks said. “My mother had a nervous breakdown and by June 1980 she asked for a medical leave and we came to the U.S. seeking asylum and refuge.”

Thirty years since leaving her native country, the first-generation Liberian immigrant is prepared to start a fresh new chapter, thanks to voters’ support.  

“It shows democracy. It shows the beauty of America, that there’s so many opportunities and possibilities for a lot of immigrants, especially African immigrants. We’ve never had anyone in the State Capitol,” Ricks said. 

As a businesswoman and community advocate, Ricks never set out to be a politician. But she decided to step into the state political ring after a series of negative tweets and statements from President Trump. 

“After hearing Mexican immigrants were criminals and gang members and that Africans come from s-hole [sic] countries by our current president, it made me that more determined,” Ricks said. “We really need people that have an accent, people that have a lived experience, people that look like me or have similar experiences representing us in the State Capitol.” 

According to the American Immigration Council, one in ten Colorado residents is an immigrant, while another one in ten is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. 

As the pandemic plays out across the U.S., the AIC says immigrants are essential workers on the frontlines in public health, food preparation and delivery, construction, cleaning and maintenance. Those positions often make social distancing a challenge, putting immigrants at higher risk of COVID-19 infection. 

With that at the top of her mind, Ricks plans to be on the pulse of immigrant crises in her new role as a state legislator. 

“Immigrants are hardworking. We are taxpayers,” Ricks said. “The essential workers, those people who are working in the grocery stores, those small business owners who are working 60-hours-a-week, they’re not coming to the Capitol. I represent a whole bunch of different people. And I want to bring solutions to solve some depressing issues facing Colorado.”  

Since March, thousands of Colorado businesses have been forced to close, and some will forever remain shuttered, leaving many without a steady income to pay for the basics.  

Rent is one of those basics. Ricks plans to tap into her financial background as a mortgage broker to help Coloradans reeling from the pandemic’s overwhelming pressure, although she believes that affordable housing in the state was an issue long before COVID-19. 

“No American, let alone Coloradan should be spending more than 30% of their income on housing. I will help develop legislation that moves us towards rent caps and housing programs for low income and fixed income residents,” Ricks said. “My priorities are around housing, public schools, and we want to make sure that Colorado is back to work and make sure that our small businesses recover.”  

As she prepares to pen the next chapter in her diary at the start of the 2021 legislative session, Ricks finds herself eager to cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’ on behalf of her constituents. 

“This is an opportunity and a privilege to bring the voices that have not been heard to the table,” Ricks said.

For another story on Colorado’s firsts this election cycle, check out Jenna’s story on Iman Jodeh, the first Muslim-Arab woman elected to the state’s General Assembly. 

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