By: Jessica Villena Sanchez, Community-Engaged Fellow | PhD in the Department of Geography and the Environment
I joined the Valverde Movement Project (VMP) in February 2021. This project seeks to bring community health and wealth to Valverde, a historically marginalized and redlined neighborhood in west Denver. Through several community engagement events and constant communication with community leaders and members of the Valverde Neighborhood Association, VMP has worked to empower this community by uplifting their stories of resiliency, strength, and hope for a brighter future. VMP has also created a hub site where Valverde’s stories of past promises, present opportunities, and future hopes are shared in the form of story maps. More recently, VMP is supporting Evon Lopez, a local community activist, in naming a pocket park located in Valverde in celebration of her parents who were also community leaders and, among other things, participated in Denver’s Chicano Movement and she founded “Servicios de la Raza,” an organization that provides mental health services to Latinx communities.
Personally, being a part of CCESL’s Fellow program helped me realize how relevant it is to do work that actively engages disadvantaged communities and uplifts their stories. CCESL creates a wonderful space to discuss the relevance of community engaged work that seeks to create more just communities by, for example, undesigning previous redlined constraints. As a Geographer, as an immigrant, as a Mexican scholar, I see how much we need to not forget about the history of our cities, listen to people’s stories, and build trust with community members. I loved being a part of the VMP and CCESL’s Fellow program, my only complaint is that I didn’t join sooner!