This spring we celebrate as Denver Urban Spectrum marks its 30th year of publishing. Since its inception in April 1987, the newspaper has been the voice for Colorado’s communities of color. Rosalind “Bee” Harris has nurtured the Spectrum like a parent from infancy through adolescence into adulthood, always keeping its content relevant to its readers.
“I startedthe Urban Spectrum out of need, filling a void for the communities of color that were lacking a voice to tell stories that were not normally covered in mainstream media,” said Harris. “Originally, and for the first year, the Urban Spectrum was a ‘woman’ publication and featured women on the cover from the Asian, Native American, Hispanic and African-American communities. After the first year, and because those needs were met by other communities, the Urban Spectrum soon focused on the African-American community.”
Thus the Spectrum began its evolution, covering important community issues of the time. Denver had elected Federico Pena, the first Hispanic mayor. Planes were still flying in and out of Stapleton International Airport, east of Northeast Park Hill. Denver International Airport was emerging. Light rail, which would impact numerous communities including Five Points, was in the planning stages. Wellington Webb after having served in Governor Lamm’s administration was the Denver City Auditor and perhaps considering his first run for mayor.
Four years later, Webb became the 42nd mayor of Denver. The Spectrum was there as Denver’s first African-American mayor began his term and throughout his two successive terms, running the city and tackling the issues that impacted the community.
“I believe that it was very important for me to get my story out to the readership of the Urban Spectrum, of a person that grew up in Denver with very little money that was running to be the 42nd mayor of Denver, which coincidentally happened to be an African-American, and the responsibility that entailed,” said Webb. “The Spectrum also had the opportunity to cover the successes as well as the blemishes of my administration, where it would go direct to its readership, which in some cases the major dailies would overlook.”
Mayor Webb’s tenure had its challenges and controversies, significantly the concession contracting at the new airport and the summer of violence in 1993 that swept through numerous parts of the city. When a ricocheting bullet grazed a 6-month-old infant at the Denver Zoo, fired nearly a quarter mile away, there was growing alarm. Six-year-old Broderick Bell was shot in the head while riding in the car in Northeast Park Hill when he was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs firing at each other driving down the street which drew national attention.
“These kinds of brazen activities that were being printed about gave us the ability to solidify public support and for us to address those issues, capture the people responsible and send them to prison,” said Webb. “The Spectrumwasinstrumental, because people will talk about an issue that they will talk about in private or casual conversation. But once they see that conversation also in print, it has the ability to enlarge that conversation.”
Political action has been essential to our community conversations, and numerous politicians and leaders have occupied the Spectrum’s pages. The publication has consistently illuminated the historic African-American leadership milestones and accomplishments in the law and policy arena.
The newspaper’s success has come with strategic partnerships, and like any publication, it has relied on advertisers to keep the printer occupied. Harris and her son, General Manger Lawrence James, have found a way, through good times and bad.
The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 during the Carter Administration was helpful for bringing in advertising dollars for many years. The act sought to address shortages of credit and redlining, a common practice where banks refused loans to people because they lived in areas deemed to be a poor financial risk. The law led banks to spend money with community publications seeking to reach minority populations, but even after this activity subsided, the Spectrum managed to keep publishing and drawing advertisers, as well as turning into a news magazine with a glossy cover and adding online content.
“The Spectrum is somewhat like the town crier of ancient Rome that gives a report of the significant happenings of the day, and allows you to continue to be informed of what is going on in the community,” said Webb. “For those who aren’t in the community, it gives them an eye into, and a glimpse of the community as a whole.”
Because of its reach and large readership, politicians and businesses have used the Spectrum to get their messages out. According to Webb, its consistent reliability and relevance make it the go-to venue. It has stood the test of time.
Eula Adams has been spotlighted in the magazine numerous times since he arrived in Denver from Atlanta to join First Data Corporation in 1991. Later, when Forbes named Adams one of the top 50 African-American business executives, the Spectrum covered his notable honor. As he entered a new industry, becoming the CEO of Neuromonics medical device company, the Spectrum shared the news of his transition to the company with a mission of helping customers get long-term relief from tinnitus, ringing in the ears.
“I believe the Denver community is so blessed to have had Denver Urban Spectrum as our voice for 30 years. It is difficult for any business to survive for 30 years. And for a news or publication venture, which must depend on advertisers and other means of support to survive, it is certainly very difficult, particularly when you consider how easy it is for the media to alienate those in power,” said Adams. “Denver Urban Spectrum and Bee Harris have mastered the art of ‘getting the story right’ and not alienating the powerful to the point that would jeopardize their existence. I love the broad range of topics covered and the insight offered on our community that no other Denver metro publication provides. I salute Denver Urban Spectrum and wish them another 30 years.”
“Not only is it relevant in the area of politics, it’s also relevant from the standpoint of sharing charitable news as well, and advertisements and news beneficial to the community or other aspects of the community such as the 100 Men Who Cook, or the bicycle giveaway by Geta and Janet Asfaw or functions by our local sororities and fraternities,” said Webb. “These are important as well. We can’t leave out the MLK activities and the rodeo.”
The Spectrum has been at the forefront of covering the Martin Luther King Day Marade, after the holiday was officially declared in Colorado in 1986. Events by the late rodeo producer and entertainment promoter Lu Vason were annually on the cover as well as Black History Month events. Its editorial calendar is inclusive of all communities of color. Whenever anyone has wanted to see what is happening in the Black community or who is attending a particular event, they have always been able to turn to the Spectrum. Since radio stations like KDKO and voices like James “Dr. Daddio” Walker have gone silent, the Spectrum has become an even more viable and vital connection to the community.
“I think that the loss of the Urban Spectrum magazine would be devastating. Many people would not understand the loss until after it occurred, because of the value it has added to the community as a whole. It would be like the loss of other giant publications like JET, the Pittsburgh Courier, or the Chicago Defender,” said Webb.
“These publications were special because they also provide news to our community, which we may not receive from anywhere else. If they aren’t publishing and we don’t have radio hours and TV hours, then our community becomes – if you allow me to be ethnically chauvinistic for a minute – we become deaf, dumb and blind. We’re relegated to Fox News.”
Clearly our media landscape has changed, and although there is a dearth of Black community media in other parts of the country, the Spectrum has undergone changes, but it remains. In its second decade, it found an unexpected ally in the new editor of the Denver Post, Greg Moore, when he arrived in 2002. Moore has roots in community papers, and started his own paper in college. After graduation, he was employed by a newspaper in Dayton, Ohio, moved on to Cleveland’s Call and Pulse, then the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and eventually worked his way up to the managing editor position at the Boston Globe, before recruitment to the Post. During his tenure, the Denver Post was the recipient of four Pulitzer Prizes.
Moore believes community papers are essential, because there can be gaps in coverage from major dailies. “My community paper was started when I was in college, but I think the objective and the reason is that communities of color, particularly poor people – more so back then but even today, weren’t being covered well, deeply and sensitively,” said Moore. “And I just think it is important to have an alternative to get your preferred message into the wider community, and community papers are able to do that in a really exceptional way.”
From his position at the Post, Moore saw the Spectrum effectively cover politicians, entertainers, and political activists like Brother Jeff Fard doing great things. “To chronicle Brother Jeff, you would be better off reading the Urban Spectrum over the last 20 to 25 years instead of the Denver Post. And politically it offers what life is like in our part of the city,” said Moore. “Mainstream media like the Denver Post and the [now defunct] Rocky Mountain News, they do a great job covering breaking news and issues, occasionally shining a light on community leaders and people that are making a difference at the grassroots level.Butmonth in and month out, in the case of the Spectrum, they are there all the time. And there is an authority and authenticity that can’t be matched by the mainstream media.”
Like former Mayor Webb, Moore sees the Spectrum as akin to papers like the Call and Pulse or the Pittsburgh Courier. When the staff and writers go into barbershops and stores once a month, we continue checking in to see what is happening.
“The Call andPulsewas there – where Black people are, and we are very busy people. By and large where Black people are, the Urban Spectrum is there, it is there for us,” said Moore. “It’s chronicling our lives and chronicling our achievements, and our challenges, and it helps that it is writing in this space, because that is what a print publication does – ‘Oh let me take a minute to get connected.’ The Spectrum is special because of that and it’s very effective because of that.”
The effectiveness and credibility of theSpectrumhas informed its staying power and stature. The magazine has received numerous Colorado Association of Black Journalists (CABJ) Scribes In Excellence (SIE) Awards, where the Spectrum’s freelance writers are pitted against mainstream media reporters, who submit positive stories about the Black community. One of the award-winning writers, boldly featured by Harris in the Spectrum is cannabis industry entrepreneur, Wanda James, who periodically writes a column. Other award winners included editors, writers, photographers, graphic designers, and Harris for overall achievement.
“Bee Harris is a community treasure,” said Moore. “I am sure it is not easy to keep a paper going for 30 years. Media publications, the Amsterdam News, the Pittsburgh Courier – some of them have disappeared. So I think some of us take the Urban Spectrum for granted that it is always going to be there. But it won’t always be here if we don’t support it, if we don’t nurture it and support Bee Harris. I think she has made a lot of sacrifices to keep that publication on counters throughout Denver. I just want to salute her for sticking to it and embracing the public trust that comes with running a print newspaper in these days and times, and it’s making a difference, and I hope that it goes for another 30 years. It would be a shame for it not to.”
Paying it Forward
Bee Harris continues to make a tremendous impact in Denver, earning countless awards for the Spectrum as well as for her contributions to the larger community. She has made a concerted effort to pay her success forward. The last two summers, in conjunction with the non profit Big Hair, Bigger Dreams, she revived the Urban Spectrum Youth Foundation working with middle and high school students to seep themselves in journalism and write about issues pertinent to them and their community with a summer journalism camp. The program instills professionalism, self-confidence and real-world work experience that students can take forward into academia and careers.
Some students out of this program are working media professionals.
Julius Vaughns was co-editor of the Junior Spectrum in the summer of 2002. With a scholarship, and bound for the Pulliam School of Journalism at Indiana’s Franklin College, he was intent on becoming a reporter for the L.A. Times or New York Times. Vaughns recalled his summer experience at the Spectrum.
“I learned several things. I learned how to work on a team of people that were all trying to work toward the same goal of getting this paper put out at the end of the summer. So I learned collaboration,” said Vaughns. “I learned – when I was 18 at the time – to be a leader, because of the students in the Urban Spectrum Youth Foundation; Kia and I were the oldest. They were all several years younger, but there was that opportunity for them to all look up to us as peers. I learned a little bit of that leadership aspect.”
“I learned how to be an editor of a newspaper. I had been yearbook editor, but the writing and the subject matter were different. It expanded my knowledge of newspapers, and it intrigued me even more to follow through with this in college. I was a member of the newspaper staff in college. It aligned well for me,” said Vaughns.
Vaughns recently accepted a public information officer position with Aurora Water, after several years as a communication specialist with Aurora Public Schools. He is grateful that Harris saw something in him and gave him his first shot.
“That summer I learned how to interact with adults in the workplace. I learned how to be prompt and keep my word and do what I said I would do. Just getting all that exposure at a young age, I think helped me tremendously to become and do some of the things I have been able to do at this point in my life. It is just something that I look back on because I don’t know where I would be without that. So I am glad that I had that type of exposure at a young age, to show me how to carry myself, how to work in a newsroom – a lot of the things people in the industry might take for granted.”
Kia, who Vaughns refers to, is Kia Milan, who until recently was a marketing associate with Starz. Milan was the editor of the Junior Spectrum from when she was 14 to 16-years-old, and was the co-editor with him that summer. The values, lessons, skills and knowledge gleaned from her experience she has carried well into her career.
She didn’t write for the school newspaper, because it could not be as fulfilling as the Junior Spectrum where she was able to tackle more controversial and meaningful issues. “I had a story, ‘Is Color Still an Issue?’ about colorism. And I don’t think that would have been a story that would ever have made it into my high school paper. But the Spectrum gave me that opportunity to write about something that I cared about. I remember that story very well. It was one of the ones that I won a CABJ award for,” said Milan.
Nearly 150 students have gone through the summer program with the Urban Spectrum Youth Foundation, and been exposed to numerous facets of and career paths in the media business. Many of them are journalists or PR professionals. Milan’s first job out of high school was as a production assistant with the Spectrum.
“I contribute a lot of my professional success to the Spectrum, because I was given that opportunity at such a young age to feel comfortable doing those things,” said Milan. “So when it was time for me to walk into that entry-level position, I could stand a little taller knowing I had a strong foundation. And I thank Bee for that.”
Seeing the impact it had on Kia, her mother got her brother Shane into the program as well. He did the graphics for the story on colorism and received a CABJ award for it as well.
Today Shane Franklin, aka SF1, is on 95.7 the Party and is well known in hip-hop circles. He has been considered for Grammys and has won the Westword magazine readers poll for best hip-hop artist or best hip-hop group three years in a row.
Franklin came into the program in middle school, and said one of the most important lessons was deadlines and professionalism. He likes that he was able to write anything that seemed relevant to youth in the community.
“I wrote everything from poetry to tackling social issues. One of my favorite articles I wrote was ‘What is an American?’ And people are like, ‘You are only in 8th grade; what do you know about this?’ I think that is what I enjoyed about the youth paper was that it was whatever we wanted; whatever we were facing as youth, we could put it in the newspaper, so that we were a voice for the youth in this community through the Urban Spectrum. Anything from social issues to poetry to music and the fun stuff that was happening; it was limitless for what we could do with that paper.”
Whenever Harris puts out the call for support, Milan and Franklin are ready to respond. “I think Ms. Harris has been the backbone of the community for years, and has gone through a lot with this paper,” says Franklin. “There have been times when she could have said, ‘You know what, I’m done,’ or ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ or ‘I don’t have the passion,’ or ‘I don’t feel I have the support anymore,’ but she has always found a way to keep it going. And I admire that a lot. If I learned anything from her, it’s perseverance.”
Perseverance for Franklin and resilience for Kia, they were inspired by those values to reach success. Inspiration is part of the mission of Denver Urban Spectrum. “Since we have been a monthly publication, our goal has always been to enlighten and inform our readers. We were never in the scooping business, so we have been fortunate enough to cover stories that have brought that insight to the communities of color since 1987,” said Harris.
Ryan Ross, Ph.D., started the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado for the purpose of encouraging more students of color to pursue higher education. For him, the Spectrum is an essential resource.
“I’m a believer that education happens in a variety of ways. It’s delivered in a variety of manners. As a
community, our truth is often only told in certain venues,” said Ross. “So forme it’s important to have a community paper like the Urban Spectrum to ensure that holistic education is told. It’s important that we geta true in depth understanding of the African-American experience from a historical and contemporary standpoint and that paper is what gets that done.”
Harris says the top five nationally-related stories for the Spectrum include a series of stories on President Barack Obama, profiles on First Lady Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey, and several features on the Motherland. A strength of the paper is its ability to frame the experience of local communities of color in the national context.
She said, “It has consistently provided a platform for the general population and provided a voice for candidates, giving readers and the general public information to make informed decisions for the betterment of their future. And DUS has participated by sponsoring events that support the common good of the community.”
Ross has used the Spectrum as a platform and his go-to tool to get the word out about what he is doing and what needs to be done. If there is no credible venue for these issues, these important conversations in the community don’t take place.
“These conversations are important because they are the conversations that we want to hear. They are conversations we value. They are conversations that we think are really important, and so it is our place to have and tell that story,” said Ross. “It has also become a tool for our students to then take the paper, and take it to majority outlets or different conversations and be able to show that these different conversations are happening, and use it as a tool to get other people to see what is going on. So without that tool we wouldn’t have the opportunity to challenge people’s thinking, because those stories or details wouldn’t be listed or wouldn’t exist.”
The Spectrum continues to inform, even as it adapts to new modes of digital delivery and reaches out to communities like Montbello with more focused publications like the MUSE (Montbello Urban Spectrum Edition) which she produces in conjunction with theMontbello Organizing Committee.
“There is still a need for the Denver Urban Spectrum. And although many people get their news electronically on their phone,tablets and computers, many people still look forward to picking up, touching and feeling the actual printed publication,” said Harris. “Many of our readers enjoy reading the publication online and on our website and we are grateful for that.”
The Spectrum has allowed Harris to meet celebrities and luminaries like Oprah, Desmond Tutu, Cedric the Entertainer and the Obamas. She is grateful for these interactions, but the biggest rewards come from continuing to do the essential work of the publication.
“The biggest rewards for me have been to tell stories that really provide impact to our people and stories that people don’t know about. I always say we are a recorder of history,” said Harris. “One example is Leo Smith, who is originally from Cameroon. I have known her since 1999, and until recently, when she wanted me to help her prepare for an award she was to receive, I never knew she was the very first Black flight attendant for a major airlines. We were able to tell her story. That is just one of many.”
After having shared thousands of stories and has untold impact in the community, she said, “I guess the biggest reward has been giving the opportunity to budding journalists to experience and refine their craft and to mentor youth through our youth foundation who pursued careers in journalism.”
“Our 30th-anniversary theme is “Power 30…More Today Than Yesterday.” The spirit of this theme is two-fold. One, we love and appreciate the support from our advertisers, readers, sponsors, family and friends, more today than yesterday. Two, and to show our gratitude, we plan to give and love so much more tomorrow,” she concluded.
Congratulations to Denver Urban Spectrum on 30 years of caring and loving the community. And here’s to many more years of informing us about issues and significant events, entertaining us with articles about arts and entertainment, and inspiring us with news of opportunities and achievements.