The City Council race for District 9, which encompasses East Denver, has a new opponent in Five Points resident Kwon Atlas.
Atlas is a consistent face in Colorado politics having worked with State Senator James Coleman as a legislative aide, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet as a community liaison and most recently in the Denver mayor’s office.
He’s also an active member of the Five Points neighborhood and the Black community in Denver. He’s the founder and chief editor of the Five Points Atlas, a hyperlocal newspaper, and he helped create Metro DEEP, a nonprofit geared toward improving the economic status of Black Denverites.
Creating racial equity in the city is one of Atlas’ main campaign points.
“We have tremendous racial equity issues in our city,” Atlas said. “We have a large racial wealth gap. A large racial homeownership gap. Business gap. We’re losing legacy businesses in the Black community particularly on Welton Street. I have been fighting to get more support on Welton Street. We have so many vacant storefronts and so many opportunities and I’ve gotten push back from folks saying well there’s no foot traffic on Welton but there would be foot traffic if there were businesses. … We need someone who understands these issues, has been creating solutions for these issues and is committed to doing something about it.”
Atlas said creating racial equity in the city starts with promoting economic equity and mobility. One way is to help small businesses, such as the ones he mentioned on Welton Street. He said the city needs to look at small businesses through a different lens considering most owners don’t have the same capital as bigger businesses or the capacity to make frequent changes based on zoning and permitting rules. When it comes to Black and brown businesses, Atlas said those barriers are disproportionately higher. He pointed to Melody Market, a small grocer that took some years to open due to constant back and forth with the city.
“If we value small businesses and value businesses ran by people of color, we have to move differently,” Atlas said. “We can’t treat the big-box businesses the same way we treat the small businesses.”
Another pillar in Atlas’ campaign is homelessness, which he said ties into mental health and public safety. Atlas said the issue hits close to home because his mother has experienced homelessness. He described her as being an active member of the community and a “hard worker growing up as a single mother.” Atlas said she struggles with mental health issues that have pushed her out of housing.
“I understand the challenges of what can make someone homeless, and I really want to tackle those issues,” Atlas said. “Unfortunately, we are continuing to ignore the medical and mental health issues that we need to be more equipped to address in our city.”
If elected in 2023, Atlas would be one of the youngest council members, at the age of 28. Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez was the youngest council member, also at the age of 28.
But age is nothing but a number to Atlas who said many more young people will be running for office in search of change. Besides being a representative of the Black community and Five Points as a whole, Atlas said he also represents the many millennials living and renting in Five Points. Atlas said one additional thing he’d like to accomplish is incentivizing developers to convert rental units into an opportunity for ownership for renters.
“Five Points, for example, has a large population of millennials and the average person is under 40 in this neighborhood,” Atlas said. “These are folks who are paying excessively high rent, who have excessively high student loan debt but haven’t been able to purchase a home or start a business. I want to create unique solutions to address that. …to create permanent housing. If we don’t do that, even though Five Points, a historically African American neighborhood, has already been gentrified, even the new young folk that live here will get pushed out. If we don’t build home ownership and stability we won’t be able to stop the housing crisis.”
Atlas will be running against Darrell Watson and current councilmember Candi CdeBaca.