This week, Emerge launched Faces of NAM (#SayNAM) featuring Emerge alumnae across the country. Colorado State Rep. Naquetta Ricks, a Democrat who represents the diverse community of Aurora, shared her story on what it was like to represent the New American Majority.
Below, read Emerge’s interview with Rep. Ricks.
Emerge: Please tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What position do you hold? Could you describe your major accomplishments?
Ricks: My name is Naquetta Ricks. I was born in Liberia and lived there with my family until I was 13. We left Liberia for the United States because we had to escape a violent military coup. My mother, sister, and I settled in Aurora, Colorado, and I achieved my undergraduate and master’s degrees at Metro and CU respectively. I am the proud mother of a 24-year-old daughter, and I’ve worked hard to provide for her and operate a successful small mortgage brokerage business. Now, I am the Representative for House District 40, my home, and I have been able to champion groundbreaking legislation including creating the first state-level Immigration Legal Defense Fund.
Emerge: What would you say motivates you every day in your position? What do you take inspiration from?
Ricks: I’ve dedicated my life to working to improve my community by helping build economic knowledge, capacity, and opportunity for immigrant and low-income communities. I take inspiration from my faith, and I strive to create a more equitable and just Colorado for all. For me, it’s important that underserved and underrepresented communities are present in the State House.
Emerge: What was the biggest lesson you learned from running for office?
Ricks: I learned that it’s important not to sell yourself short on what you’re able to achieve. My win was a seven-year journey; I’ve learned that the combination of determination, hard work, and faith is key for overcoming impossible odds. It pays to be persistent, so no matter how difficult a challenge appears if you believe in your vision, you can make it happen.
Emerge: Could you describe your most rewarding experience from serving in the Colorado State House?
Ricks: As the first African immigrant in the Colorado Legislature, the Immigration Legal Defense Fund is extremely meaningful to me. Immigration proceedings are the only legal proceedings in the U.S. where someone can be detained without the guaranteed right to an attorney. With the Immigration Legal Defense Fund, the Department of Human Services can award grants to provide legal advice, counseling, and representation for, and on behalf of, clients subject to an immigration proceeding. When my family had our day in court after fleeing the civil war in Liberia, we didn’t have representation. The Immigration Legal Defense Fund is a start to making sure this is no longer the reality for immigrants and refugees. Also, serving in the House allowed me to host over a dozen equity-based COVID-19 vaccine clinics to underserved and underrepresented communities. We served everyone from children to at-risk elderly adults, and it was so rewarding to see people’s relief at getting vaccinated in a safe environment.
Emerge: By 2045 the country will no longer be majority white, and women from the New American Majority (NAM) – Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and women of color, LGBTQ+ women, young women, and unmarried women – will be taking their seats at every decision-making table. How can we support more NAM women in their run for public office?
Ricks: Emerge can support NAM women by being intentional about not just recruiting fantastic candidates, but supporting them at every level. This support must include resources for networking and fundraising to build campaign capacity and feasibility. Emerge can also give NAM women opportunities for leadership. I think it would be great to do continuous trainings and professional development for folks who win their races and become elected officials.
Emerge: What is a common misconception that deters people from running for office?
Ricks: One of the biggest obstacles to running for office is fear. This fear looks different for everyone: it’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of losing, the fear of rejection…it’s so difficult for women of color and immigrants to see themselves in the culture of American leadership, and many of us doubt if we could ever fit in. We need to make sure we are helping folks see that they deserve to be in positions of power. I have realized that one has to show confidence and speak boldly so that no one can doubt that you belong in your leadership role.
Emerge: What’s coming up next for you? Is there anything our readers should keep in mind?
Ricks: We are currently in the interim at the State Legislature, but I’m keeping busy meeting with constituents and stakeholders for legislation that I will introduce next session. In 2022, I am prioritizing legislation that builds on some of the bills I sponsored the last session, including opportunities and protections for immigrants, consumers’ rights and protections, and fighting the overreach of HOAs. I am also continuing to fight for the long-term sustainability of immigrant-, Black-, and women-owned small businesses. Through my work at the legislature and as the President of the African Chamber of Commerce Colorado, I am helping these businesses recover from the devastation of the pandemic by providing access to capital, consulting, and technical support.