When Fannie Mae Duncan opened her cafe and club in the late 1940s, she envisioned a place devoid of the sting of segregation lingering outside her doors.
The idea proved to be a powerful one. Spurning retorts from the police chief, she kept her club open — boasting, as always, a sign reading “Everyone Welcome.”
“She persevered,” said Shirley Martinez, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum.
“And left us a great legacy,” quickly added Paula Miller, the fellow co-chairwoman.
Paying homage to Duncan’s stout confidence, thousands of people gathered Sunday under that same theme of “Everyone Welcome” at the annual festival in America the Beautiful Park, hosted by the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum.
The fourth annual festival capped a weeklong celebration of the city’s diversity that included a symposium on immigration and awards on diversity and inclusion.
People basked in the warm afternoon sun while watching nearly 20 performances from different ethnic groups across the city. In one such performance, the Sons and Daughters of Samoa clapped and danced to traditional music, summoning yet another round of applause from the growing crowd.
Elsewhere, hungry people mingled along a string of booths featuring food from several nations. Boasting a strong accent from her days in Colón, Panama, Dania Loving dished out healthy portions of her gallina guisada, an inviting dish of chicken, tomatoes and hot peppers.
“I think that we’re doing a lot better,” said Loving, though she added race relations in the city still need work.
The forum’s efforts to build a community that embraces diversity recently prompted the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials to bestow its City Cultural Diversity Award upon Colorado Springs, one of four cities to receive the award.
The award was less to recognize the city’s demographics than its willingness to build bonds between ethnicities.
As such, organizers said Sunday’s event was aimed at further nurturing strong bonds between the city’s residents.
“It’s not just being out here and enjoying the day. It’s learning about the cultures,” Martinez said. “Just look around — this is making a difference to people.”
Watching another lively performance near the end of the event, Cleo Kellam, 25, acknowledged she was a little surprised to learn of the award bestowed on the city.
But, she added, Sunday helped dispel some of those notions.
“It’s nice to know there’s so many different people here,” Kellam said.