It’s time to talk. That was the focus of Citizens Project’s June Creating Community breakfast, “Dialogue over Diatribe.”

That’s what it takes for the advocacy group’s challenge “to embrace equality, diversity and separation of church and state,” speakers told supporters, who raised more than $50,000 for their work during an election year.

Yemi Mobolade, a respected local businessman who became a citizen this year, said the most powerful thing is dialogue, to ask somebody, “Tell me your story.” And he shared his own, starting in Indiana as an international student from Nigeria.

He and a friend, a Russian student, often ran together. His friend was faster and out front. Police car stops. Why was the African-American chasing the white fellow, the cops asked. Back on campus, friends told him, “Welcome to America.” Yemi remembered walking from campus, hearing car doors locking as he passed.

Then the reverse, a barber asked him why he was “talking and acting white.” He was in a predominantly white university and had adopted the white culture. His identity became bipolar and multiple, he said, becoming one of his strengths. It’s his story.

“If we are going to have authentic dialogue, we must become champions, custodians and architects of each other’s stories,” he said.

Speaker Martin Garnar’s story evolved from the Amendment 2 era, when Colorado voters refused to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. Why would he want to leave New York for the “Hate State” of Colorado, he was asked. Then Amendment 2 was struck down.

Garnar worked in Denver, living in an area in which he was comfortable. In 2015, he was hired as dean of the Kraemer Family Library at UCCS. His husband, a Colorado Springs native, didn’t want to move back. A Citizens Project billboard changed his mind. The nonprofit is a perfect partner for the library, Garnar said, where a Just Talk initiative became a success, opening honest dialogue and sponsoring more than 50 events. “By coming together and modeling the way communities should work, we really can change the world,” he said.

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