From refugee to Colorado House representative
Naquetta Ricks’ path winds from Liberia to the Auraria Campus to the state Capitol. Now, she’s devoted to empowering the state's underserved and immigrant communities.
Naquetta Ricks was a young child when strangers stormed her house and held her family at gunpoint in their driveway. It was 1980, and the armed dissidents were part of a bloody military coup unfolding in her home country of Liberia.
They let Ricks’ family leave, but her mother’s fiancé, a legislative official, was detained; he was later tied to a light pole on a public beach and executed by firing squad, along with other members of the overthrown government.
“My sister and I watched for two hours, not knowing if these men were going to kill us,” Ricks recalled. “But by the grace of God, they left my mom standing there.”
Ricks’ family fled to the United States soon after and landed in Aurora, where today she is the Colorado state representative for House District 40. Her journey from Liberian refugee to being the first Black immigrant in the General Assembly was built on a successful career as a mortgage broker and a record of unwavering advocacy for Colorado immigrant communities.
“It took three other races and seven years to get to the Capitol,” she said, “but we busted that glass ceiling.”
Ricks credits her education for providing a foundation for her success. She graduated from Aurora Central High School, earned an accounting degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver and completed her executive MBA from the University of Colorado. Her work in business, advocacy and politics, she said, is predicated on one of her favorite quotes from late boxing champion Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
Ricks helped launch and served as president of the African Chamber of Commerce Colorado, which provides resources to more than 350 small businesses and organizations statewide.
As the pandemic rocked the state’s economy, the organization pivoted to help members access more than $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Disaster loans, she said.
“There are so many cultural barriers and challenges faced while trying to navigate the system,” she said. “These resources are critical to help mom-and-pop micro-businesses survive the pandemic.”
She also recently helped set up two pop-up vaccine clinics to help ensure equitable distribution of lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines in House District 40 and underserved immigrant communities.
Though she confessed that she never envisioned herself as a politician, Ricks said she’s now devoted to empowering the many community members who have been inspired to pursue public service by her own journey to the Capitol.
“Every time I go out,” she said, “I remind other immigrants that their voices matter and that all politics are local.”