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Students at the Educating Children of Color Summit participate in a Hip Hop with Suave session.

Regina Walter’s passion to help children and educators was behind the genesis of the nonprofit Educating Children of Color back in 2007.

Walter, ECOC’s executive director, created the organization “to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline” for children of color and children in poverty through education. 

“If you’re a Black child in the Department of Human Services’ custody, you’re more likely to age out of foster care without permanency than any child of any other race,” Walter says. “Outcomes for Black children continue to be bad in our community and nationwide. We were always studying the problem and never quite solving it.”

ECOC offers students SAT preparation courses and mentorship, and created the I-Inspire Awards for youths in El Paso and Teller counties who overcome adversity and help others who are struggling.

For educators, students and parents, ECOC developed an annual summit, held during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The 2022 ECOC Summit will be held virtually on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 (free for students and parents, register at educatingchildrenofcolor.org/ecoc-summit-2). 

“The point was to teach kids and young scholars about college, life skills, self-empowerment, self-advocacy and career opportunities,” Walter says. “We also wanted to show teachers and juvenile justice professionals, who are mostly white women, how to interact with and inspire children from different backgrounds. We wanted them to know how to engage and inspire instead of pushing them out into the juvenile or criminal justice system.”

ECOC’s first conference, held in 2008 in Colorado Springs, hosted 350 attendees. Now, the event averages 1,500 eventgoers each year.

During these summits, Walter says, ECOC awards scholarships and provides laptops to participants — $20,000 in scholarships, $12,000 in educational gifts and laptops for 20 students were awarded at the 2021 summit.

Since its inception, ECOC has given away $232,000 in scholarships, laptops and other tools to help buoy the success rates of college-bound kids. Walter said ECOC is expecting to receive a grant from USAA for next year’s summit that will allow the nonprofit to increase its scholarship fund to $150,000.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve done and what we continue to do,” Walter said. “We haven’t solved the problem, not for Colorado Springs or the nation. But this is certainly a start.” 

As for educators, Walter created Diversity University, which is “an exploration of implicit bias, microaggressions, white privilege, ableism and homophobia.”  

“[Diversity University] used to be a weeklong event, but I’ve started exploring a two-day version so I can get more people who go, ‘Oh, shit! I didn’t realize I was making [a bias] distinction,’” Walter says. “We’re all impacted by implicit bias, and our understanding that there are ways to address it is a significant way to improve outcomes for youth and for those you talk to every day.”

Walter says she’s found satisfaction watching the program benefit students of color, children in poverty and local educators. And she’s happy her own self-awareness led to the creation of the program. 

“I wouldn’t have started Educating Children of Color if I didn’t recognize that I had been contributing to the issue,” says Walter, a former juvenile magistrate and county court judge. “I might have come back and started [Educating Children of Color], but feeling like I wasn’t part of the problem. Knowing I’m part of the problem was critical. I’m so proud of what we’ve done and what we continue to do.” 

Marcus Hill is a staff reporter for Colorado Publishing House. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.