Tayer: The heroes we had were the heroes we needed

A year of emotional and economic trials from the COVID pandemic weighing on our collective heads . . . and then comes the unspeakable tragedy of the shooting at King Soopers. In the aftermath of the suffering we’ve witnessed, we need to acknowledge the pain for those we’ve lost and of the loved ones they left behind. And yet, as is often the case, we’ve also found heroes who have risen to meet the crises and in whom we can take some solace as they remind us of the best of our community.

Just a few days before the horrific shooting, the Boulder Chamber hosted its annual Celebration of Leadership event. It was a chance to recognize some of the heroes who confronted the COVID-19 threats and helped address broader social justice issues. I found their stories even more poignant than usual, given the broader context of this past year’s challenges. Ironically, the March 9 celebration marked the year anniversary since we recognized the full threat COVID-19 posed. Since that time:

  • 248 fellow Boulder County citizens had died of COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Boulder’s annual sales tax revenue dropped nearly 9%, representing so much suffering by our businesses.
  • Unemployment increased 5.1%.
  • In addition to those raw numbers, we saw huge inequities in the pandemic’s impacts.

Many of us knew someone who succumbed to COVID-19, suffered significant health impacts or were caught in the pandemic’s destructive economic forces. We also saw businesses closing or laying off employees. We grieved that night for these terrible consequences of a rampant deadly virus. Nonetheless, we also celebrated our heroes — because we needed to recognize people and organizations exemplifying the best of us as a guiding light toward our resilience and brighter days ahead. People and businesses like:

  • Katrina Miller, founder of Blackat Video Productions, as our Rising Star of the Year, for truly inspirational work in addressing issues of racial justice and inequity in the Boulder community.
  • Innovative Business Leaders of the Year, David Brown and David Cohen of Techstars, for supporting so many noteworthy, cutting edge entrepreneurial startups.
  • Black Cat and Bramble & Hare Farm-Table-Bistro owners Eric and Jill Skokan as the Virginia Patterson Business of the Year, for their exemplary resilience in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy and the COVID-19 business convulsions.
  • The Boulder County Public Health Response Network, with which the Boulder Chamber worked to help navigate the crisis, and represented by the county’s Public Health Director Jeff Zayach.
  • The Boulder Business Response and Recovery Alliance of local business support organizations that collaborated to meet the needs of our businesses and economy with information, advocacy, creative programs and financial support, accepted by Yvette Bowden, Boulder’s assistant city manager.
  • And in recognition of a lifetime of achievement, Peter Salas, who helped found the Latino Chamber and spent a career championing the rights of Latino residents and businesses.

And then came the dark day of yet another mass shooting. This time it was in our own community, at my King Soopers, where people going about their normal business were savagely cut down. But even in the midst of that emergency, heroes again came forth. Ordinary people helping strangers get to safety, and tragically, a dedicated police officer who rushed into danger and paid the ultimate price for his heroism. It is, in the words of District Attorney Michael Dougherty, “[A] tragedy and nightmare.” Yet, as we have demonstrated our metal in the face of COVID-19, so too will we demonstrate our resiliency in the face of this horrific event.

I am proud of Boulder’s response to the pandemic, and that the Boulder Chamber has been a partner in fashioning solutions to the dire needs of our citizens and our businesses. It’s not over yet — there still is work to do, and we have to remain vigilant. But with light at the end of the tunnel in sight, we can take some time to celebrate our victories and our heroes while lamenting the devastating impacts. And even as we absorb the shock and grief in the wake of last Monday’s incident, I find some peace in seeing how our community comes together, giving each other comfort and helping those who suffered unimaginable loss. 

We don’t know exactly how the post-pandemic world will look. And it will take a long time to heal from the horror of yet another mass shooting. Amid these uncertainties and grief, we can be thankful that in challenging times, heroes came forth. Because we needed them.

John Tayer is CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.