Walking the Path and Doing the Work

Kwon Atlas (B.A., ’16) is always looking out to bring more people in. It’s been that way since he first arrived on the Colorado State University campus and he’s used this philosophy to live out his passion of creating equity, leading change, and building the community up.

“I think passion finds you, whether you like it or not, and it will keep coming back to you. All you have to do is say ‘yes’ to it,” Atlas said. “I immediately knew CSU was the spot, and I’m really grateful for the mix of experiences I got there. I hope CSU remains committed to kids like myself, so they can also go on to chase their dreams. My experience there really set my life down a great path.”

Kwon Atlas posing against a newspaper box in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver.
Much like his academic ventures, Kwon Atlas’ professional ventures blend economics, business, and politics.

Academically, Atlas’ path wasn’t exactly certain after saying yes to CSU. He was undeclared until his junior year, eventually majoring in economics with a double minor in business and political science. But he did quickly discover his “passion path” when he joined the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ACSCU), the University’s student government.

“Having a voice and the opportunity to lead to create equity and make the campus better in all facets was what I quickly realized I wanted to do,” Atlas said.

After a quick scan of the ACSCU space showed Atlas to be the only Black Senator in the room and one of only a few people of color, he realized creating equity and giving a voice to all campus students wasn’t just an ideal, it was a necessity.

“My philosophy at the time was to look at things structurally and how they were set up,” Atlas explained. “What I noticed was the students of color who were aspiring to be leaders were choosing to serve in the diversity offices [cultural centers] rather than in the student government because they felt they could make a bigger impact.”

Atlas wanted to change that, and his idea was simple: have an elected student representative for the cultural centers. But politics, he learned, is rarely so straightforward. Following a three-year circuitous journey of his bill being presented, voted down, amended, watered down, and revised, in 2015 Atlas’ legislation finally passed.

“It was a transformative life experience because I thought everybody would agree with it. Seeing how much work it took showed me the political process. Things take a long time to change, but the more folks you get involved the more they understand the issue and then you can eventually move the needle,” Atlas said. “It was an amazing accomplishment. It created diversity in the student government and you can still see it. Many of the students who sat in those seats have gone on to get involved in politics after graduating.”

Atlas himself is one of those students. In 2016 he was inspired to run for Mayor of Fort Collins. Even though his campaign was unsuccessful, it was another good lesson in how politics operates and helped reaffirm his passion for public service.

“It just took me further down my path,” he said. “It led me to getting my first job as a canvas director where I really learned how to run a campaign and helped me get involved in the Central Committee of the Democratic Party. None of that would have happened if I had become a banker out of college.”

Atlas has stayed close to politics. He’s worked in all three branches of government at the local, state, and federal levels, and he’s currently running for the Denver City Council to represent District 9. His philosophy is still the same as it was during his time at CSU – lead, create, build – and that’s why he’s stayed even closer to the community he wishes to serve.

Kwon Atlas poses with his son while they are both wearing Rams gear.
Atlas is thankful for his time at CSU and the way the University helped him find his passion. He hopes the University stays committed to the next generation, like his son KJ.

He is the founder and chief editor of the Five Points Atlas – a free newspaper focused on the Five Points neighborhood of Denver – and he helped develop an incubator space in the Montbello neighborhood, where he grew up, to help prospective entrepreneurs start and run a successful small business. Both of those ventures, he says, makes the neighborhood more communal.

“[Five Points Atlas] was a way to be able to highlight the community, have folks see themselves, and create that neighborhood feel,” he said. “And when we own our own businesses we own our work and there’s that sense of ownership over the whole community.”

Atlas is hopeful (rare for a politician these days) and doesn’t see himself as the lone figure who can fix it all himself (rarer still). It’s a multi-generational effort, and Atlas is just the most recent one to walk the path and do the work of leading, creating, and building.

“The work is hard, but it gets easier when you have a more accepting, inclusive, and educated society. That’s how folks can understand the importance of this work and why we’re so passionate about it,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how much more inclusive Colorado has become over the past 10 years. I’m excited about the next 10 years.”