Assétou Xango, also known as the Dark Goddess Poet, works to dismantle "the dangerous, colonial binaries that restrict or full existence." Courtesy photo

On Nov. 29, MANAUS and The Arts Camps at Willits (TACAW) will host poet Assétou Xango for the fourth installment of their Equity Speakers Series in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The Equity Speaker Series is a free, community-facing program that hosts space for experts in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to come to the Roaring Fork Valley and share their stories, encouraging conversations centered on equity.
The program emerged from within MANAUS’s Equity Action Project, an initiative to address injustices strained further by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Equity Action Project connects community organizations with a seven-week curriculum rooted in DEI and anti-racism training. The Colorado Health Foundation recently awarded $240,000 in grant funding to MANAUS to continue offering public events, trainings and ongoing support for the growing alumni network of over 30 organizations spanning many sectors.
This curriculum helps organizations identify and dismantle oppression from within and throughout the region. MANAUS garnered attention quickly, eventually connecting with individuals interested in participating with the Equity Action Project but unable to attend a training on behalf of their organization. In response, MANAUS and TACAW partnered to launch the aforementioned Equity Speaker Series.
Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas, project manager for the Equity Action Project, believes that the Roaring Fork Valley can change for the better through open dialogue regarding equity.
“We’re trying to shift away from that normative thinking that we have and hold as a community, as a region, as a nation,” they said. “We’re trying to push back on what we take as a given and reorient how we can have these conversations better and how we can do our respective work in a more inclusive and equitable way.”
So far, the Equity Speaker Series has seen three different guests take the stage at TACAW.
The program’s first guest speaker was Alejandro Jimenez, a formally undocumented immigrant, Emmy-nominated poet and two-time National Poetry Slam semi-finalist. Jimenez was named in TIME Magazine as one of the 80 Mexican artists shaping contemporary Mexican culture.
Then MANAUS and TACAW brought in Dr. Adrianna Alvarez, assistant professor in the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education program at the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. Dr. Alvarez dove into a research study that illuminated the educational experiences of families with immigrant backgrounds in the Valley.
Next, TACAW screened “The Holly,” a documentary film by Julian Rubinstein that follows the case of anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts after he shot someone during his own peace rally. Rubinstein and Roberts were in attendance to speak about the film, the complex history of gentrification, activism and violence in our most marginalized communities.
Assétou Xango will be the fourth speaker to come to the Valley. Xango is a Colorado-based artist and facilitator who identifies as a black, pansexual, polyamorous, genderqueer womxn. They have been featured on HBO’s “Brave New Voices” in 2010 and are a two-time TEDxMileHigh speaker. Xango was a fellow of the Academy of American Poet Laureates in 2021 and is the former Emeritus Poet Laureate of Aurora, Colorado.
MANAUS and TACAW think of each speaker as part of an overarching mission of the series, not as an isolated transaction.
“What I’ve been trying to be really intentional about has been trying to bring in different perspectives and lived experiences into this space, to bring to life the different variety and diversity that exists in this term that we call ‘equity,’” Alvarez-Terrazas said.
Alvarez-Terrazas reflected on the need for this type of program after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement following the murder of George Floyd. He notes a waning prioritization of these discourses as time passes, but sees the Equity Speaker Series and the Equity Action Project as a refusal to let those conversations fade out.
“We want to make sure these conversations get the space and attention that they deserve so we don’t revert back to the status quo, and make sure that we’re still moving forward when it comes to equity, inclusion and justice,” he said.
Anyone interested in joining the conversation can score free tickets to Assétou Xango’s Nov. 29 lecture by submitting an RSVP at TACAW’s website ( Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the program starts at 6:30 p.m.