COLORADO SPRINGS — On Monday, people in Southern Colorado joined the "All People's Breakfast" for the City of Colorado Springs, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the people who spoke at the virtual breakfast was State Representative Tony Exum.
News5 talked with Representative Exum about what Dr. King has meant to him as a black lawmaker. He represents HD 17, one of the most diverse communities in El Paso County - Southeast Colorado Springs.
Exum says the holiday is a day of celebration, but also a day of concern because of how far we still have to go as a country.
"The reflection is one of celebration and one of concern. This fight of equality for everyone is really sad to see in 2022. But it's necessary," said Exum. "Civil rights is also something we continue to fight for, and we have to pass along to our kids and grandkids so they can be involved in this fight."
However, before becoming a state lawmaker, he spent 36 years as a firefighter and battalion chief.
"I was never really accepted into the job. I always felt like I had to prove myself over and over again, because every time I got promoted from inspector, to paramedic, to lieutenant to battalion chief, someone would come up and say, 'The only reason you got the job is because you're black.' Those are the things I had to fight through."
Exum says, Dr. King opened doors for him to be a black firefighter and state lawmaker. Right now, he's also part of nationwide discussions on voter rights.
"It seems like we celebrate a lot of accomplishments that people have made over the year and decades, and yet we're up against these voter suppression laws. We can't get discouraged. With the help of constituents that put me in this office, we have to make sure everybody in the community, especially communities of color, have a voice," said Exum.
Exum said being a lawmaker is what he was meant to do, and Dr. King helped pave the way.
"I think this was God's assignment for me. Not only to be a firefighter but to become a legislator and to continue and represent and fight for those things that many people fought for and demonstrated and died for many years ago," said Exum.
When state lawmakers return to the capitol in Denver on Tuesday morning, they will be discussing a resolution to support the voting rights act. Exum is a sponsor of the resolution. He also sponsored a resolution last week, commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.