We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Ryan E. Ross and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dr. Ryan E., is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
We live in a country that is full of hope, opportunity, and bounty for some people. However, the reality is there are far more people dreaming about meritocracy than actually experiencing it. I recall my early days growing up in some of Denver’s most impoverished areas. Everything in eyesight was a social challenge. As I walked, the neighborhood inequity, and achievement gaps were evident everywhere: education, economics, access to business capital, development, housing, and the list goes on. This reality was counterproductive; in fact, it was full of hypocrisy. This realization compelled me to find a way to serve in the interest of the community. As an adult, I visit the old neighborhood, new cities, and states, and the narrative is the same. People are often underemployed, under-housed, and disproportionately face barriers not only to their success but their very existence. Since childhood, my goal has been eradicating this narrative and ensuring everyone has an equitable opportunity to thrive. This pursuit of liberty and justice for all has created an extraordinary life of intersecting professional and personal experiences that support growth, actualization, folks changing their stars, and the creation of more servant leaders. My work in the Colorado Community College system focuses on access, equity, designing the student experience, and working to ensure our policies, procedures, and practices are anti-racist. Every decision is about eliminating achievement gaps and addressing social challenges head-on. Within the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado, I have a platform that embraces the unapologetic support of emerging and arriving leaders from the Black community. We provide leadership development that improves these leaders’ social and professional trajectory while also ensuring the community realizes who they are and their value to every field of human endeavor. These leaders also become servants committed to creating change that addresses the Black community’s gross inequities and the underrepresentation of Black professionals in board rooms, c-suites, boards, commissions, and non-profit organization leadership roles. Every day, I am blessed to work in environments that support my purpose, passion, and priorities and create the opportunity to get into “Good Trouble”! I believe our work is beneficial because we understand that real change happens when we focus all of our energy fighting to build what is supposed to exist rather than focusing on the ignorance that has held us back!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I believe in people and the power of a helping hand! I believe education is a right for all and not a privilege for some. I know we should not settle on being good because we were created to be great! I believe in the power of access, education, mentorship, sponsorship, and opportunity! Our country has focused on the destructive behaviors, values, and influence of negative people for far too long. We have to finally address the challenges and systems that birthed inequity so many years ago. My belief system and desire for everyone to have access to a pathway to thrive are the internal forces that I believe have fueled my career for the last 20 years. Despite the countless isms, closed doors to meritocracy, being the only, and social induced trauma I have experienced over the years, I’m only interested in everyone winning. In my opinion, Winning for the community looks like everyone having what they need to thrive and believing that we should confront challenges and not critics. It is BIPOC not being treated as second class citizens in a country built by the blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors. When asked what I do, my reply is simple; I support people in hitting “home runs” in their personal and professional lives. My role in creating life’s most extraordinary “home run” derby centers on youth empowerment and helping others find a voice. Furthermore, it centers on ensuring students who seek higher education start wherever they are and finish wherever they desire to conclude, developing the next generation of Black and African American folks, and unapologetically fighting for racial equity and social justice. For 20 years, I have been intentional about not just serving in the interest of the community but, in the words of the late great Rep. John Lewis, “getting into good trouble.” I wake up thrilled to do every aspect of my work. I am blessed to have the opportunity daily to do work that fuels my purpose, passion, and priorities. Good trouble isn’t always easy to endure, but it is damn sure worth it. I am Dr. Ross today because of a commitment to Good trouble, service, asking the tough questions, staying connected to my village, and not buying into society’s hypocrisy about my station in life. These practices have helped me navigate a meaningful and fulfilling career. My village helps me navigate, or problem-solve every obstacle- you need good people in your life. Good trouble or, more simply put, doing the right because it is the right thing to do has always helped me stay connected to my values and, more importantly, find the courage to speak out when others won’t or can’t. Service has allowed me to engage with various people in spaces and places where titles, influence, and power aren’t a factor; instead, it’s the service initiative’s outcome and the relationships developed while helping others. These altruistic moments allow real conversation and relationship building that provide opportunities to invest in my village and be heard in a manner not typically allowable. It has been the acts of service over the years that have taught one of my greatest lessons: I matter, and so does my voice. My presence and voice are just as significant, if not more, than those in positions of power and influence. Finding my voice has not only ensured I have or take a seat at any table but that I am also unapologetic about bringing others with me, especially those traditionally counted out or marginalized. Working with people directly and fighting for everyone’s ability to thrive has taught me a few additional lessons over the years that I would like to share. The first is that perfection is a ruse. The pursuit of perfection can lead someone into grave danger and poor decision making. Our focus instead should be focusing on excellence. Excellence demands discipline, practice, and commitment but allows us to be human and have critical growth moments necessary for success, triggered by moments of failure. Excellence is something we can understand and strive for; it is not an unattainable deity existence that can never be attained. The second lesson is that our happiness is our responsibility. We cannot give our power to create joy to someone else. Only we know what fulfills us and drives our satisfaction; we should be unapologetic about making our joy our priority. I would argue that you can’t value anyone, initiative, or organization if you do not fully value yourself. Practicing mindfulness, self-care, meditation, and healthy living strategies will go a long way in helping you find and maintain what centers your joy. Service is the great equalizer. Giving of yourself and having an unselfish concern for others’ welfare will always yield two things when the actions are pure. The first is the community, due to your efforts, will be a better place, and the second is you will be blessed with opportunities and experiences you can’t even imagine. A commitment to service is an investment in yourself. The final lesson I will share is that: IT IS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY! We (human beings) are designed to be uniquely flawed, and the world itself is not perfect. Sometimes we have to sit in the ambiguity and work it out. Verbalize where you are. Honor your feelings; it is not a sign of weakness to be vulnerable. It’s okay to not be okay.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
A week in Colorado is not enough to appreciate it all, but it would be a great time. We would start in Five Points with the Blair Caldwell African American Research Museum and Library and then do the walking tour where I would share our rich history and contributions to the Denver community and the world. We would discuss Five Points being called the Harlem of the West, Madam CJ Walkers’ time here, and Frederick Douglass’s son’s Lewis and Frederick Jr. They are known for creating Denver’s first black school, owning a mortuary, a restaurant on California Street, and petitioning for Colorado to remain a territory until all men could vote. After soaking up all the rich history, we would have to make two more stops. The first would be at Welton Street Café for some Honey Hot Wings, Oxtails, or Catfish, and finish by pulling up to hang out at Brother Jeff’s culture center and catch a show in the Free Think Zone. We would have to roll down 23rd and make a stop at the oracle, the one and only Honorable Mayor Wellington E. Webb’s home, and get some knowledge, stories, history, and jokes. We would have to pull up on Vices (for the sneakers) and Iman at Victory Clothing Boutique (for the swag) to get some good shopping in and then hit All Originals Barbershop for a haircut from O, Buddy, or RP. The Denver hip Hop scene, so we would have to check out mural work by Detour and stop by GBL Studios and check-in with artists like Midas, A Meazy, Kevin Kartoon, and Mike Coates. We would definitely take a day to appreciate Colorado’s beauty and head to the mountains to do the Alpine Slide in Winter Park and check out Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. There would be a Nuggets game for sure, and we would stop at some of my favorites places to eat or snack throughout the week like: Jamaica Grill, Nola Voodoo Tavern, African Grill and Bar, Lucero’s, Whittier Café, Mimosas, Welton Street Café, and Coffee at the Point. The week would end how it started back in Five Points with a Sunday Funday of brunch, shooting at the 1770 Armory, and one of my crews’ infamous bike rides!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have a great deal of gratitude and respect for the members of my village. Years ago, I learned that if I were ever going to change my stars, I would need people. Today, I am honored to give out some verbal roses; my village definitely deserves them. I am who I am because they are who they are! I can’t list everyone, so to my entire village, THANK YOU! My life experiences are an 180. I went from discounted and forgotten to embraced, sponsored, and ushered into a reality where my existence mattered! Make no mistake about it; I am here today because great people stopped and offered friendship and a helping hand. First and foremost, my day ones: Ahmad, Jay will, Roman, Duan, Thal, Jalani, and Seth. You know all you have done and continue to do; I love you all, Brothers, for life! I learned the value of an education in high school from a real Saint, Sister Brendan Jordan. Her countless lessons and honesty about the world prepared me in ways that still pay dividends. Larry and Patrick Byrne, thank you for the investment of time, talent, and treasure that afforded me an educational experience at Mullen High School that changed my life! Press and Patty Askew, thank you because of you, I believe in the power of relationships, trying new things, and being resourceful. Quitting is never an option, and using each day to become a better version of myself, was instilled in me by watching my Godmother, Debra Spivey; thank you, mom. The confidence that has propelled me forward I owe to the men of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, especially K.C. Mathews, Glenn Younger, Ken Morgan, Kevin Kight, and Dr. Eric Lee. These men believed in me during moments I had no belief in myself. They demonstrated the power of vulnerability, loyalty, and loving your fellow man. Mayor Wellington E Webb, I can’t give a shoutout without including him. I can’t thank him enough for the countless lessons, experiences, opportunities, embracing me as family, and his unselfish concern for others’ welfare. My greatest lessons, grace, and patience come from Gavin and Zoe Ross, my children. They are my greatest gift, and their approach to life, each other, family, and friends remind me to focus on the journey and not merely the destination. A sincere shoutout to all listed here and everyone in my network. Thank you all for being in my village and taking part in my evolution. I salute you!
Ajay Kyle Gavin Ross