We had the good fortune of connecting with Benny Samuels and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Benny, as a parent, what do you feel is the most meaningful thing you’ve done for them?
All too often, I worry about what I have not taught him or instilled in him. A worry that seems be common with parents, especially mothers like me, who have an only child. I call Sergio my “one and only” because whatever good or mistakes I have made with him, there are no “re-do’s”. Over time, as I have leaned into my competence and experience as a mother, I have come to realize that I don’t need to raise a perfect human being; but it is imperative, that I raise a kind, useful, and resilient human being. My mother used to say “monkey-see, monkey-do”. I have always been very conscious of this. One of the most important things I have done as a parent is to walk my talk (generally speaking and not perfectly; though I am sure if you asked my son he could quickly tell you the times I have not done so from his perspective LOL!). Our son has seen both his parents subscribe to the “work hard. play hard” concept. We work hard for the things we want in life, but we also take time out to enjoy those things. We know the value of rest, self-care, and play. Sergio has turned out to be a “larger than life” kind of young man. He is learning to weave in fun and work. And he is understanding his capacity to be resilient. As far as I am concerned, those are major life skills. Additionally, he has learned the value of diversity. I was born and raised in Panama and my husband was born and raised in New Hampshire; two completely different cultures. This has been an asset to our young man. With all the racial unrest in our country, proximity to people that look different than you, think differently than you, and have been raised differently than you is crucial to understanding and embracing the full beauty that this world offers each and every one of us. Of course, there is always so much more I could have imparted, taught, and insisted on him learning (ironing, baking, making his bed, unloading the dishwasher). My sense is that life will teach him some of those things. Maybe. Truth be told, I did not pick up an iron until I was in my mid-twenties. One thing is certain, we are proud of our respectful, kind, resilient young man, who holds a big thirst for life and is a joy to be around. This is more than enough.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
A 30 plus year career in social change has led me to Rose Community Foundation where I oversee the foundation’s grantmaking which is aimed at advancing equity, inclusion, and community engagement in the Denver Metro area. My purpose in life is to uplift marginalized communities by creating pathways, programs, access, opportunities, and empowerment for Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and those living in poverty regardless of race and ethnicity. I have lived my purpose by leading and developing programs to increase access to health care for uninsured families, by recruiting foster parents, and working to change the plight of children in the child welfare system. I have worked to support the reproductive rights of women living in poverty by creating access to free contraception. I have worked to support first-time mothers living in poverty become the best mothers they can be. I have worked to support the homeless and Native American families. I have loved every minute of my past and current work. I am proud of the change I have created for those who normally do not have a seat at the table. It was not easy. Social change is not easy. But it is worth it.
Over the years, I have learned to lean into my courage, and forget about perfection. I am crystal clear that living in a state of gratitude guarantees me joy (not at every moment, but always at my reach). I have learned that generating joy comes from within.
There are three things I have learned over the years I would share with young parents and young professionals: 1) Go for it even when it is scary! 2)Particularly true about motherhood is that life is a balance between holding on and letting go – and we must learn to do both with grace. 3) I have said this before, but I will say it again: find your tribe and keep them close. We cannot do it alone.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a weeklong trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We would spend at least a couple of days in the Rocky Mountains; Buena Vista, Beaver Creek, Telluride, or Crested Butte. We would go for a walk in my hood, Central Park, every morning before getting our day started, followed by shopping at my favorite consignment stores: Mercer Place, Inner Me, and Common Threads and make a quick stop in Cherry Creek North to check out what’s new. Cheese, olives, and drinks would be on the itinerary at Neighbors in Park Hill. Dinner, at least one night, at Tables, also in Park Hill. We would do brunch at Mimosa’s in Five Points, and ice-cream at Smith & Cannon on East Colfax. There would be a lunch at Las Delicias for sure! Bike rides around town are very likely. I also love our small-theatre scene and we might catch something at Curious Theatre. For sure we would spend a great deal of time outdoors and in the sun hiking, snowshoeing, skiing.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Shout-out to my parents who provided the absolute best (not perfect) example of how that “monkey-do, monkey see” concept works. Their lessons and examples live on. A big shout-out and immense love to my sister Emita who I came to live with at age 17 when it was time to go to college. She has ALWAYS had my back. Big gratitude to John F. Watson, my husband, friend, and life-partner for being the yin to my yang, and for taking such good care of us. Shout-out to my peeps who are my “go-to” before making big decisions: Ben, Jaime,Andy, Roberto and Fabiola. My tribe is strong. And I keep them close. I would not be where I am without the chicks (Rox, Jerene, Glenna, Sue, and Dr. Gilroy) or my “amiwis” short for amigas (Elizabeth, Patricia, Vero, Jess, Silkka, and my comadre Jen). There are a handful of women who have given me professional opportunities that have been life-changing, while providing unconditional love and support: Liz Whitley, Roxane White, Sue Cobb and Christine Benero. Finally, big gratitude to my my Fantasticas (friends from grade-school in Panama) Candy, Lurys, CristyLove, Queru & Sandra. Also my childhood friends (Andy, Guillo and my comadre, Damaris). We are on What’sApp daily connecting and supporting each other even though we are all over the world.
Photo by Susan English