By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4) – The COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities that long plagued certain communities. Next month, the City and County of Denver will welcome a new Chief Equity Officer — Dr. Aisha Rousseau. Rousseau will also serve as the new head of the Mayor’s Office of Social Equity and Innovation.

Aisha Rousseau

CBS4’s Tori Mason interviews Dr. Aisha Rousseau. (credit: CBS)

“There have been inequities ingrained into the fabric of our country. Shifts and changes won’t happen overnight, but I look forward to making sure that overlooked and marginalized populations have a voice at the table. I don’t intend to simply be at the table, but bring people to the table to have a voice so they can be heard and shifts will be made,” said Rousseau.

The pandemic highlighted health inequities, disproportionately impacting communities of color. The shutdown hurt thousands of businesses, and some are taking to longer to recover.

According to the Legislative Council Staff, Colorado’s economy is recovering quickly, but there’s uneven recovery for groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Lower income Coloradans and small businesses, particularly women and minority owned-businesses, are taking longer to recover.

“Three businesses on this street have closed in the last month,” said Fathima Dickerson, co-owner of Welton Street Cafe. “We shouldn’t be in a position where our communities, our families, don’t have what they need to survive.”

On top of the common post-shutdown struggles like staffing, Welton Street Cafe and surrounding businesses are challenged with constant neighboring construction and a growing homeless population nearby. To make matters worse, Dickerson says the rising rent is making it nearly impossible to survive.

“We are already brainstorming about how to address that and how to effectively be able to reach the community and talk about how we elevate them to be able to succeed,” said Rousseau.

Dickerson says more direction from the city would be a good start, but for some businesses, it’s support that will come too late.

“We’ve reached out for guidance from the city. But when you’re in this type of national crisis, where do you even start?” said Dickerson. “If it affects your neighbor, it’s in the neighborhood. When it’s in the neighborhood, you’re not too far from being impacted. We have to look at it as a collective, like we’re all one life. We’re all trying to make it however we can,” said Dickerson.

Tori Mason