Being Black in Telluride

A mother shares her experience of raising kids in a rural, white town

By Angela Pashayan

Ed. note: This essay first appeared in the summer/fall 2020 issue of Telluride Magazine.

I am one of the few Blacks that live in San Miguel County. I lived in Telluride from 2003 to 2005, and for the rest of the time in Mountain Village. I am married and have raised three sons here. When I first came to Telluride, I met a Black man from Kenya named Erastus. At that time, we knew of no other Black people in the region; hence we called ourselves #1 and #2. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, I felt a calling to make my voice heard in the community I love so dearly.

We all know that living in Telluride equates to living in a protected bubble—for my half-black sons and me especially. My boys attended Mountain School and Montessori back when the schools were located in the Mountain Village core, and led by Ernie Patterson and Karen Walker. Their friends were white. It was normal for them as there was no alternative. Their dad is Armenian-Russian (quasi-white), so no alarm bells rang for our children in this all-white town. Our sons eventually moved to the public school and have all since graduated.

Shortly after we settled in Telluride, my late brother “Dumie” came to visit. Dumie was a personable guy, always smiling and starting conversations with people from all walks of life. Because of this, people in Telluride thought he must be famous. When we ate at our top local restaurants, the chefs would hand-deliver his order. It was a nice bonus for a first-time visitor—but I contend it happened because people imagined a Black guy in Telluride who was that congenial must be someone wealthy and special. Well, Dumie was special, but not wealthy. He lived at 2533 Compton Blvd., Apt. #D. His life struggles were colored with all the things you’ve heard about in poor, Black communities.

By 2008, my husband and I realized that our three sons knew very little about the Black community in general. We had not been visiting Compton regularly due to getting settled in Telluride. So, we decided to move out of “The Bubble” for a few years to help them become more grounded. Black lives do matter; understanding and appreciating the struggle is part of our heritage, whether we like it or not. I refused to raise our boys in absence of the realities that await them outside of San Miguel County. In Telluride, our boys were Johnathan, Kevin, and Maxwell. Outside of Telluride, our boys were Black.

We moved to San Francisco. I figured we’d pile it all in; Black, Asian, Latino, multi-racial, gay, straight, rich, poor, homeless, drugged out, and anything else in between. The point is that Telluride doesn’t offer any of the real-life experiences that most Blacks live with. One might think that’s a benefit, but not when you’re Black and have to leave Telluride. On our first drive down Market Street in San Francisco, our sons saw five Black ladies crossing the street and said, “Mom, are they your family?” In their innocence, our sons had demonstrated how whites honestly could not easily see differences in Black phenotype, nor understand that our minority presence does not mean that a gathering of two or more Blacks equals family. Our sons learned about Being black in America while in San Francisco. Trayvon Martin was killed during that time. He was the same age as our eldest son. Our church ministers at GLIDE mourned Trayvon’s death by preaching in hoodies the Sunday after his death.

After services, I gave them a lite version of “the talk.” I explained to them that wearing hoodies can get you killed. Hands in your pockets can get you killed. And that more rules for Blacks applied in places like Compton, where their Uncle Dumie lived.

Our sons learned about Being black in America while in San Francisco. Trayvon Martin was killed during that time. He was the same age as our eldest son.

Upon our return to Telluride, we drove past the middle-high school, where all of us were aghast at Telluride’s whiteness. We’d forgotten. The schoolyard was riddled with freckled-faced white kids wearing plaid shirts. But we love those white kids, and they love us. We had sleepovers and playdates from the days of Rainbow preschool up to the time we left for San Francisco. Nevertheless, stop for a moment and consider my point…that Blacks raised in Telluride are unprepared for the real world, where things can turn dangerous at any moment, especially for Black males. Can you imagine yourself living in two worlds, one safe and one unsafe?

Even so, being Black in Telluride has been one of the best life choices for our family. We were not escaping outright oppression but instead, like most visitors, were captured by Telluride’s beauty. We, like many others, came for vacation and never returned home. We feel like our Black lives matter in Telluride—my children and I have been embraced by the town and never had any racial problems. My husband started Tellurideflights.com, a private charter service that affords us our lives here. The community knows me for my work at Ah Haa School for the Arts with children, at the ski resort as a mountain host, as a committed member at Christ Church, an international festival producer, and for my life work for poverty reduction in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya (yodinternational.org).

Black lives do matter in Telluride, and we are grateful for that.

People often ask me what they can do to help. If you are not from Telluride, consider hosting a letter-writing party requesting your mayor and governor to institute statewide law enforcement rules regarding choke hold bans, the duty to intervene to save a life, officers being fired/fined for breach of public trust, harsher sentences for hate crimes, and the KKK and white supremacists being designated as domestic terrorist groups.


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