Liberia Native Finds Her Footing as New Colorado Lawmaker

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Nacquetta Ricks was 13 when three soldiers came to her family’s home in Monrovia, Liberia, to look for her mother’s fiancée, a government official.

elected in america

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Granthshala is profiling the family ties to Africa of several rising American politicians who are helping to change the face of American politics. they include:

  • Esther Agbaze, Minnesota House of Representatives
  • samba baldehi, Wisconsin State Assembly
  • Umar Fateh, Minnesota State Senate
  • Adoye Ovoleva, DC ‘Saya’ Member of the US House of Representatives
  • nequeta ricks, Colorado General Assembly


“They held my mom at gunpoint for more than two hours while my sister and I watched,” Ricks said, weeping over the memory. Soldiers officer Cyril A. Bright hiding in the house and, after questioning the couple in the driveway, dumped him in the back of a pickup truck.

“By the grace of God, in fact, they left my mom and they left,” Ricks said.

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The mother and daughters hurriedly packed a suitcase and ran to a relative’s house. Bright and 12 other deposed ministers were later tied to poles on Monrovia beach and shot by a firing squad – casualties of a 1980 military coup.

Within two months of interrogation, the family fled to the United States and was joined by relatives in the western state of Colorado.

Ricks, 54, is now a legislator in the Colorado General Assembly, having been elected in November 2020. A Democrat, she represents the 40th district east of Denver, which includes the city of Aurora, where she grew up.

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Colorado’s new legislator from Liberia is getting her feet

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Hers is one of the state’s most diverse districts, with nearly one in 10 residents being foreign-born—mostly from Latin America, with Asian and African followings—and one in 10 having an immigrant parent.

Ricks is the first black immigrant elected to Colorado’s statehouse. Ricks, a mortgage broker and co-founding president of Colorado’s African Chamber of Commerce, said his decision to take public office was influenced by the struggles of “coming here as an immigrant.”

“When we arrived, my mother applied for political asylum, and we were not able to prove our case” that Liberia’s political turmoil posed a personal risk if they returned, Ricks said. “But, you know, we’re not lawyers. We weren’t able to defend ourselves in court.”

path to citizenship

Rick’s family found a path to citizenship in 1986, when then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law not only tightened enforcement but also made unauthorized immigrants who arrived before 1982 eligible for amnesty. Ricks became a US citizen in his early 20s.

In June 2021, she stood with Governor Jared Polis as she signed legislation to help make Colorado the first US state to establish a legal defense fund for low-income immigrants facing deportation.

“It would help immigrants like my family, who came here, who didn’t have a lawyer,” Ricks said of his late mother, Mary Eudora Ashe.

With Naqueta Ricks at the Colorado General Assembly, the state

With Naqueta Ricks at the Colorado General Assembly, the state’s African diaspora has “a voice to see how we can prosper here in America,” says Congolese-born chef Cabongo Serge-Patrick, center. (Betty Ayoob/Granthshala)

In this session, Ricks introduced several other laws aimed at accelerating the growth of small businesses, diversifying Colorado’s teacher ranks, and setting up a pilot project for renters to build credit histories and improve access to credit. Successfully championed. The passage of the measures was facilitated by the Democrats taking control of both the legislative chambers and the governing body.

“What I see from Representative Ricks is a ton of work to represent his constituents, and especially those who are often involved in the political process,” said Michelle Rosenier, former head of Emerge Colorado, part of a national organization that trains Ricks. is forgotten.” and other Democratic women to run for elected office.

“It speaks to the importance of people in positions of power understanding the problems of their community in order to change those situations,” Rosenier said.

political legacy?

Ricks said she never set out to be a politician, but that politics “runs in my blood” and extended family.

Her grandfather, John Henry Ricks, she said, was a state representative in Liberia “before I was born”. His maternal grandfather, General Glacron Gablodel Jackson, was the superintendent of Bommie County and was killed by ousted politician Charles Taylor after launching an insurgency in late 1989, leading to several years of civil war and a quarter-million deaths.

“When Nqueta said she was going to run, I smiled because I said she was going to take Papa’s place,” said Adriana Henderson, Jackson’s daughter and Ricks’ aunt.

Henderson lives in Aurora, outside her niece’s district, so she could not vote in support. But he is a fan.

“I was so excited when I went to his swearing-in ceremony,” Henderson said. “I’m very proud of that. … Coming from our small African community, we try to uplift each other.”

Ricks describes himself as a “man of faith”, having been baptized as an evangelical Christian in Liberia at the age of 13.

“I keep on praying. I fall, I get up,” she said.

Nequeta Ricks listens at a service celebrating the dedication of the CVMI Alliance Church in Aurora, Colo.  The politician says she is a "person of faith".  (Betty Ayoob/VOA)

Nequeta Ricks listens at a service celebrating the dedication of the CVMI Alliance Church in Aurora, Colo. The politician says she is a “person of faith”. (Betty Ayoob/Granthshala)

Ricks’ confidence kept her through two unsuccessful bids for public office—the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 2014, and the Aurora City Council in 2017—and when she ran for the assembly seat. She was a Dalit who challenged the Democrats backed by the party leaders. But Ricks enlisted friends and allies to assist with the campaign outreach. In the general election, it claimed 59% of the votes.

A handful of Riks’ backers, mostly immigrants from Africa, gathered on a June morning at Endless Grind, an Ethiopian-owned coffee shop in the Riks district. One of them was a Cameroonian-born health worker who organized a COVID-19 vaccination clinic; a local businessman who promotes African culture; a Nigerian pastor; Kenya-born policy analyst in Rix’s office; and the US-born executive director of the African Chamber of Commerce.

Congolese-born chef Kabongo Serge-Patrick said he was “the first to jump in line” to collect signatures endorsing Rick’s. With his election to the assembly, “we now have a voice to see how we can prosper here in America,” he said of the African immigrants.

‘Globally busy’

On a driving tour of her district, Ricks strolled outside Aurora Central High School, where she arrived as a shy freshman. Then, she was one of the few students of color. Now the school’s 2,200-something students are a widely diverse mix, mainly Latino. The Public School System reports that its students speak more than 160 languages.

A banner near the entrance declares the high school’s ambition “to graduate leaders who are self-aware, locally active, and globally engaged.”

Ricks embodies those ideals. In addition to her work in the Assembly, she continues to advocate for entrepreneurs and small businesses through the African Chamber. It has brought investors to Liberia, hoping to create opportunities for them, as well as “encouraging people to build businesses” and jobs in the West African country, she said.

He has sought his country in other ways. When the deadly Ebola virus swept through Liberia in 2014, Ricks was “soliciting content on almost all radio stations,” said Daniel Moore, a former president of Colorado’s Liberian Community. “We were able to load a container of medical supplies and food items.”

Two years later, Ricks created a non-profit foundation To support the socioeconomic empowerment of Liberian youth and women. “I’m excited to help young people reach their full potential,” she said.

earnings recognition

In Colorado, Ricks’ legislative efforts are gaining recognition. In October, the Colorado LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce honored her as Government Officer of the Year for her advocacy for “inclusion and diversity within the larger business community.” The state’s Independent Bankers Association and the non-profit housing group Habitat for Humanity both honored him for legislating for a pilot program to help renters improve credit scores.

In the next legislative session, Ricks expects to do more work on consumer protection, education and immigration issues. She insisted that she act on behalf of all her constituents.

“I talk a lot about under-served communities and under-represented communities,” she said, “but I care about my whole community. … We have similar needs, whether it’s education, health care, you know. financial opportunities, jobs, small business. We all want a place that’s working, where we can all thrive and grow.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Naquetta Ricks’ Rivals in the Democratic Primary for the assembly seat. He was neither the incumbent nor African American.

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