WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4)– When you ask Westminster councilman Obi Ezeadi if he’s breaking barriers, he gets a little bashful.
“I hope so,” Ezeadi said.
Ezeadi is first-generation American with Nigerian roots. Born in Nebraska, and raised in New Jersey, he’s lived in Colorado since 2016. In November, Ezeadi won his campaign to serve as a city councillor, becoming only the second Black person to ever hold the seat in the city of Westminster.
“When I put my hat in the race, some people told me ‘Don’t do it, Westminster is a conservative city,’ is what I was told. It’s only 4% Black,” said Ezeadi. “So my odds were low.”
But Ezeadi believes when the odds are low, “that’s when we need more people trying to break that.”
The last Black councilor to serve on the city’s council was Butch Hicks nearly 20 years ago. Hicks served from 1999 to 2005. The city of Westminster is a predominately white area. The actions during the Jan. 6, 2020, insurrection is what motivated Ezeadi to run for council, because he wanted to bring move equity and inclusion to the city he lived in.
“I really emphasized the message of hope, of trusting government again,” Ezeadi said. “Of equity, of inclusion, of really making sure that working class families were heard.”
Ezeadi has only been in his council seat for about 100 days. And while he has been welcomed by hundreds in the community, he’s also had to deal with his fair share of hate mail.
“I’ve been receiving these messages once or twice a month,” he said. “Messages like ‘Go back to Africa,’ or ‘hey slave’ or ‘you shucking and jiving,’ there are all sorts of messages that they come with. My feelings on the matter is that it’s always going to exist. We went through 400 years of slavery. To eliminate that from people’s hearts after that period of time is going to take a significant amount of time.”
But Ezeadi said the hate isn’t going to stop him from doing his job, because he’s also seen a lot of acceptance from this community.
“When I was door knocking, people were very accepting, too. I think lots of residents were surprised I was in the race but also excited,” he said. “With diversity comes diversity of thoughts.”
Adam Barajas was a volunteer on Ezeadi’s campaign. Barajas also witnessed some of that racism first-hand.
“There were sometimes when we’d he holding signs, or honking on a street, we’d hear some people jeer or yell out, outside of the car window,” Barajas said. “There were a lot of moments where I did some internal reflecting, I thought, ‘you know if Obi is out here putting his own body on the line for the campaign, I could do the same.’”
But for Barajas, Ezeadi’s representation matters.
“I think seeing someone like Obi on council, where you wouldn’t necessarily see someone with his same color skin or his background, really helps me to see the bigger picture in our society but also gives me hope that there’s a chance for everyone to really take on whatever roles that they desire, and that there’s goodness in the heart,” said Barajas.
And Ezeadi is choosing hope over hate. He hopes his story will inspire others to get involved in their communities.
“You can do it too, figure out how you can get involved with your local government, how you can volunteer,” he said. “Advocate for what you want changed.”
Ezeadi received the most votes for a councilor in the city’s history. He said his priority over the next six months is finding solutions to the water treatment plant. He said the Semper Water Treatment Facility is operating on 1960s technology and has critical deficiencies that puts Westminster residents at risk if they don’t get a new plant.
“I love Westminster and I love Colorado. I know my neighbors want their elected officials to prioritize working family issues,” he said. “I believe government can lead the community and place shared purpose above self-interest, to help to transform our divided city into a united community full of arts and culture, sustainable cost of living, and opportunities for everyone to succeed.”