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Harold And Claudia Fields On Race, Justice, and Building Bridges

The sculpture that was handed to Harold Fields stands discretely on a bookshelf. It’s in the corner of the dining room, in the tidy Park Hill bungalow he shares with his wife, Claudia. It joins several other statuettes, testaments to Harold’s decades-long quest for racial and social justice.

In late September, Fields was honored by the ACLU of Colorado, presented with the organization’s highest honor. Named for founder Carle Whitehead, the award is bestowed annually to a person whose life has reflected unswerving devotion to the cause of human justice. (Notable past recipients include former Mayor Wellington Webb, former state Sen. Penfield Tate, DPS board member and civil rights trailblazer Rachel Noel and Tattered Cover founder Joyce Meskis.)

ACLU board member Carolyn Love explained: “[Harold] advances civil rights by creating spaces for people to understand the effects of hierarchy, separation, and injustice of all kinds and the resulting consequences. [He] facilitates the healing of wounds resulting from a history of racial intolerance and injustice.”

Exactly a week after the ACLU banquet, it was Claudia’s turn. At the annual meeting of the Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. on Oct. 5, she received the registered neighborhood organization’s highest accolades: Claudia is this year’s recipient of the Babbs Award, honoring the legacy of former Park Hill United Methodist Pastor, J. Carlton Babbs, who was a force for integration in Park Hill 50 years ago.

Claudia’s efforts have been long and sustained in Park Hill. Her most recent project is founder and coordinator of the Weekend Food Program, which provides thousands of meals every year to young students in the neighborhood who likely would otherwise go hungry on days when school is not in session. In addition to her GPHC volunteer work, she works with Denver’s Youth Violence Prevention Center and the Northeast Park Hill community board.

Harold and Claudia Fields with daughter Elisha Roberts, at the GPHC, Inc. annual meeting. Photo by Cara DeGette

The plaque that Claudia was presented with stands on her small desk, in an alcove just off the kitchen. That’s where she says she does her work.

In truth, for both Harold and Claudia, most of the work they do is conducted beyond the walls of their home, throughout the neighborhood, the city and the nation.

Over the past 10 years, Claudia says, their work seems to have taken on more urgency, a need to hurry up. This coincides roughly with the amount of time they’ve been in love.

Fugitives from the FBI

Harold Fields grew up in Tulsa in the 50s and 60s. He got, he said, a great education in a school system that was socially and economically integrated, but racially segregated. The massacre of an estimated 300 mostly African Americans had occurred just a few decades earlier. Historians term it the “Tulsa Race Riot of 1921,” and it was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in the history of the United States.

Claudia and Harold Fields, on their wedding day

The horror of what happened was certainly still alive in the community’s collective memory by the time Fields came of age. But he said, no one talked about it. Much later, he learned, survivors included teachers and parents of some of his best friends.

Fields studied civil engineering at Oklahoma State University, and was recruited by IBM. He had fallen in love with the mountains of Boulder, and the company gladly approved his move to its Colorado headquarters.

But there was a glitch. He had also fallen in love with a white woman named Cyndy – this was not many years post-Loving v Virginia, the 1967 landmark Supreme Court case that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The couple made plans and eloped. Cyndy’s grandfather called the FBI and reported that Fields had kidnapped her; an uncle called IBM and demanded Fields be fired; her mother travelled to Denver to beseech their church to not marry the pair.

“I felt like we were fugitives from the FBI,” Fields said. The couple endured. In 1978 they moved to Park Hill, a home at 22nd  and Leyden. Of the four corner houses at that intersection, three were inhabited by families with varying skin tones. “This was a perfect place to raise a mixed family,” Fields said. The couple had two sons.

Claudia Fields, grew up in Oregon, Texas, and Littleton, the mostly-white suburb just south of Denver. She went to Western State College in Gunnison, and left Colorado for the University of Texas in Austin. A social worker, Fields witnessed poverty in south Texas that she had never seen before. In 1972 she adopted her son Sherman, who is black.

Harold Fields with his portrait as a young man in the law library of the Ralph Carr Justice Center

At the time such adoptions were, in many quarters, unimaginable. The experience, she said, made her into a completely different person. “Because of many discriminating and threatening situations that we faced, I couldn’t trust white people,” she said. She and her son lived in a black neighborhood. She married a black man and that marriage ended in divorce. Claudia has two other biracial children. In the early 1980s, Claudia moved back to Denver with her family that defied a label.

“Although we were a single parent family, an adoptive family, and a mixed-race family, we were just a regular family, she says. “When my son was young, he thought all dads were black, and all moms were white – regardless of how people actually looked.” Her girls were surprised when they met families where everyone looked alike, as they thought all families were mixed like their immediate and extended family.

The bridge on Star Trek

during his time at IBM, from the Charles Eames Collection at the Library of Congress. Photos courtesy of Harold Fields

Harold Fields, meanwhile, had been transferred to New York. He was a manager in the “Advanced Systems Division.” In plain English that means he was riding the cutting edge of some pretty astonishing inventions: His team developed the technology that eventually became the first computerized spreadsheet (you may recognize this as an “Excel spreadsheet.”). He developed the software for the first laser video disc (you may now know this as a DVD you pop in the machine to watch a movie). He managed design teams that worked in robotics and artificial intelligence, and part of the IMB System 38 operating system.

“My work environment looked like the bridge on Star Trek,” he says.

After five years in New York, Harold returned to Denver and went to work developing computer systems for Frontier and United Airlines.

In the early 1980s, he and Cyndy helped organize a support group, Multi-Racial Families of Colorado. Most mixed-race families, he had come to realize, shared the same experiences: teachers who would ask whether a parent was really the child’s parent, curious stares from strangers in just about any public setting. The Denver group grew into the hundreds. One of the families he recruited was Claudia’s.

Nearly 20 years ago the Second Tuesday Race Forum formed, co-sponsored by Tattered Cover founder Meskis and Hue-man Experience Bookstore owner Clara Villarosa. Harold was tapped to facilitate the monthly gatherings, which he’s been doing since. The group – from 45-80 strong, gathers nearly every month in the basement of the United Methodist Church on Montview and Glencoe to burrow down on issues of racial justice. The model has since been replicated in other communities around the country

Topics range from month to month, and yes, they can be provocative. There are hard truths to sort through. Recent discussions have highlighted the recovery from last year’s brutal election; Denver’s current racial justice landscape; and reports from last summer’s White Privilege conference in Kansas City.

Harold was also the national training director for a 2008 PBS documentary about the most prominent slave trading family in America, called Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. Another national initiative he helped launch, “Coming to the Table,” brings together descendants of former slaves and slave owners, for conversation and reconciliation.

For the past four years he has served on the board of the Denver Foundation, chairing the committee that oversees grants relating to basic human needs, education, economic opportunity, and leadership and equity.

One way he views his work creating networks to promote social justice is this: “I see things from a systems perspective. Someone has to be the research and development arm of humanity.”

Here’s another angle: “I spent 30 years working in high tech. Now I’m engaging in high touch.”

‘There was Harold’

Harold’s first marriage ended in divorce. Years passed. He and Claudia knew each other from their common networks, where they sometimes worked side by side. For years, they sang spirituals in the same community choir. They were dating other people. “But,” Claudia says, “every time I turned around, there was Harold.”

The couple has been together now for 10 years, six of them in marriage. The late Dr. Vincent Harding officiated their spur-of-the-moment wedding. Harding was a historian, author, activist, and an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also their mentor, the faith leader they confided to about what is possible – in Park Hill and beyond – in the intersection of race, equality and social responsibility.

Last November’s election of Donald Trump and the rise of white nationalism has reinforced the couple’s resolve, to continue to build strong networks across the country, filled with people who are working toward social justice and socioeconomic and racial equality.

“That is what we are both trying to do, engage in a radical transformation of values,” Claudia says.

Watching the near-instant transformation from having a son of a black man and a white woman in the White House to a president that openly displays racism, misogyny, the bullying of immigrants and the disabled, has been painful.

“The racist, white supremacist stuff that is happening now is not unfamiliar to me,” Harold says. “I fear that we are leaving our kids in a worse world, and that’s not right.”

‘We can make different decisions’

The Fields balance unavoidable pessimism with the hope that people are being awakened from a colorblind slumber. “We’re living with the decisions we’ve made,” Claudia says. “But we can make different decisions.

“I would rather we focus on building our local community.”

And yes, Harold and Claudia have a current to-do list: Stop violence in the community. Reinstall civility. Stop the displacement of people of color by gentrification – including and increasingly in Park Hill. Figure out ways to renovate and improve the neighborhood for people who are already living here, as well as those who are moving here.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Claudia says.


Harold Fields receives his award from Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado. Photo courtesy ACLU of Colorado

‘I Am A Person Through Other People’

Thoughts On The Struggle For A Democratic Society

By Harold Fields

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Harold Fields’ speech accepting the Carle Whitehead Memorial Award during the ACLU of Colorado’s annual Bill of Rights Dinner on Sept. 28.

A few weeks ago I heard Gov. John Hickenlooper say that if you take all the surfaces in Colorado, and flatten all of the mountain terrain, then Colorado would be larger than Texas. Think about how the landscape controls where water flows, where rivers form, where people gather to build communities, where food can be grown. The terrain impacts how resources are made available to some and are sparse to others.

In a similar way the contours of our economic and social systems control how resources are distributed, whether we live together or separately. Unlike the mountains, these are decisions we have made over a relatively short period of time. And we can make different decisions so that different results are achieved.

I want to thank the ACLU for its constant role in fighting to make space for those who are pushed to the margins, no matter who they are. There have been times when I could not easily accept an ACLU position that fought for protections for someone I felt opposed me. But the truth is, we all need each other. There is nobody who should be pushed outside the Circle of Human Concern. Maybe they shouldn’t be President, but are still part of the human circle.

This is why I call on an important concept from African cultures: Ubuntu. It is at the foundation of the radical revolution of values called for by Dr. King. It means I am a person through other people. Whatever happens to the individual happens to the whole group, and whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say, “I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.”

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.



Countless Hours For Kids Of Park Hill

Claudia Fields Receives Babbs Award

By Lynn Kalinauskas

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, Oct. 5, Claudia Fields was honored as the recipient of the 2017 Babbs Award during the annual meeting of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Lynn Kalinauskas, last year’s recipient, provided the following comments.

It’s my honor to announce the recipient of the 2017 Babbs Award, which was created to honor the legacy of former Park Hill United Methodist Pastor and founding member of the Park Hill Action Committee, Dr. J. Carlton Babbs.

Babbs was a minister at the Church from 1955 until his death in 1978. He helped organize the Park Hill Action Committee and was a key supporter of integration in Park Hill.

The Park Hill Action Committee, organized and sponsored by Park Hill churches, subsequently became Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. (GPHC). Historically, GPHC’s impact on integration, zoning, schools, justice and legislation for the community has been widely recognized. At the time of Dr. Babbs’ death, the clergy of Park Hill met and decided that a community service award in his memory would be a fitting tribute to one of the neighborhood’s outstanding leaders.

So with gratitude and admiration, I am pleased to announce that the recipient of this year’s Babb’s award is someone who has put in countless hours working for the children of Park Hill, Claudia Fields. Claudia is the backbone of our Weekend Food Program, which she co-founded in 2014, ensuring that kids attending schools in our neighborhood are adequately fed.

Claudia arrives before any other volunteer, and leaves after all others have left. She ensures each student receives a variety of kid-friendly foods, managing a sizable number of donations and rotating stock in and out so that the children are supported by the program.

Claudia researched and helped GPHC secure a partnership with the Food Bank of the Rockies Totes of Hope Program, which provides the bulk of our food for the program. We are in our third year of serving the Boys & Girls Club, Roots and Smith Elementary, and our first year of serving Park Hill Elementary.

Claudia brings people together. Her work on the program has increased the teachers’ and staff’ involvement because of the difference being fed makes in the lives of the students. Currently we have 185 children participating in the program.

Claudia, for all that you do, thank you.

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