RELEASE: Emerge Colorado Announces 2022 Signature Class

  • Dec 6, 2021
  • Emerge Colorado
  • Emerge Colorado

Monday, December 6, 2021
Contact: Lisa Calderón
(720) 505-4293

RELEASE: Emerge Colorado Announces 2022 Signature Class

Denver, CO (December 6, 2021) – After nearly doubling their applicant goals, Emerge Colorado, the state’s premier training organization for Democratic women seeking public office, announced 24 women who are joining its upcoming Signature Training Program. The lineup of powerful women includes business leaders, attorneys, community organizers, educators, policy experts and entrepreneurs—some who have already announced their candidacies for public office. They will be joining a network of over 60 Colorado alumnae in office and appointed positions, including 19 women at the state Capitol and in statewide office, and nearly 5,000 powerful Democratic women across the country. 

“Since joining Emerge, I have been traveling around Colorado talking with women about our vision of building a more representational democracy,” said Dr. Lisa Calderón, Emerge Colorado’s Executive Director since July of this year. “In selecting this year’s cohort, we incorporated those conversations from urban and rural women to create a bench of diverse Democratic women who will lead Colorado into the future. I believe we have succeeded with these 24 candidates.”

Calderón successfully recruited a diverse class reflecting the many unique communities of Colorado and expanded Emerge’s scholarship opportunities to reduce the barriers women face in participating in the program. “Thanks to our generous donors and our national organization, Emerge America, we have founded the Cynthia Brashears Scholarship Fund to provide stipends to assist with program costs such as travel and childcare. At the heart of our mission, Emerge Colorado strives to remove barriers for women running for public office to help them reach their political aspirations,” explained Calderón. The fund is named after an Emerge alumna who had planned to run for office prior to passing away from cancer earlier this year. “Cynthia was a personal friend who was dedicated to electing more women of color to public office,” said Calderón. “This fund will help achieve her goal and further her legacy.” 

The 2022 candidate cohort is one of the most diverse applicant pools in the organization’s history, and is reflective of the diverse constituencies across Colorado:

  • 71% are women of color
  • 17% are first-generation Americans
  • 13% identify as LGBTQAI+
  • 25% are from outside the Denver Metro area

Of the 24 women, 4 have already filed for office:

  • Elisabeth Epps, Denver County – Elisabeth Epps, JD, is an abolitionist, activist, and advocate running for Colorado State House, HD-6. She wants safe, healthy communities with abundant opportunity. A former deputy state public defender and a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Elisabeth serves as Founder/Convener of the Colorado Freedom Fund and Co-Lead of the Denver Justice Project. 
  • Wanda James, Denver County – Wanda is running to represent Denver County as CU Regent. Wanda is the founder and CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary in Denver. Along with her husband Scott Durrah, they became the first African Americans, legally licensed in America, to own a dispensary, a cultivation facility and an edible company. She is a proud CU Buff and is ready to bring an equity lens to the Regents board to help diversify CU in a culturally responsive way.
  • Sol Sandoval Tafoya, Pueblo County – Sol is currently running in CD3 to unseat Lauren Boebert. She has already shown an impressive swell of grassroots support from the district with fundraising numbers to match. As a Chicana Indigenous woman and First-Generation daughter of immigrants, she is a seasoned community leader who is looking to bring new representation from Colorado to the US Capitol.
  • Elizabeth Velasco, Garfield County – Elizabeth is a First-Generation American running for HD57. She is looking to change the narrative on the western slope and bring representation to an often unheard community. She is the CEO of Global Language Services (GLS). Her work includes interpretation services for governmental affairs, public involvement, focus groups, and community events. 

Along with these four women, there are 20 more exciting women coming from across Colorado to participate in hybrid in-person and virtual candidate training classes. 

  • Jo Acker, Adams County – Affective Needs teacher, instructional leader, union member, and disability rights advocate who trains parents and educators. 
  • Olu’Kemi (Kemi) Akeju-Chavez, Arapahoe County – Campaign manager and marketing strategist creating successful branding, communication and sales programs in the financial service, legal, publishing and nonprofit industries. 
  • Mary Anciso-Chavez, Pueblo County – College student and community organizer involved with veterans rights, criminal legal system reform, racial justice, Indigenous sovereignty and women’s rights.
  • Taishya Adams, Boulder County – National Policy Director for Outdoor Afro and Colorado Co-Lead, educational equity consultant, and the first African American woman appointed to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
  • Candice Bailey, Arapahoe County – Former Aurora City Council candidate and justice reform “actionist” who made history by successfully challenging the city charter’s prohibition on people with felonies holding elected office.
  • Isabel Cruz, Jefferson County – A Yale graduate, policy expert and consumer health advocate for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative working to reduce barriers for more access to housing, food, and health care. 
  • Charlene Emory, Denver County – Digital platforms and technology manager, senior business analyst, and Asian-American Pacific Islander executive committee member for the Colorado Democratic Party. 
  • Leora Joseph, Denver County – General counsel and chief administrative officer at the Auraria Higher Education Center and former managing chief deputy district attorney for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
  • Shannon Hoffman, Denver County – Assistant Project Manager of FreshLo for food access in Montbello, former Denver Public Schools Career & College Success Navigator, former Project Manager for Emancipation Theater’s from Allies to Abolitionists, and podcast host.
  • Melanie Kesner, Denver County – Public Policy Director for the Interfaith Alliance, organizer with Reimagining Policing Task Force, former field organizer for New Era Colorado and former legislative aide.
  • Felicia Malone-Flowers, Adams County – Pastor, owner and mortician in charge of Shannon & Malone Chapel of Peace Funeral Home, and member of Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s Diverse Minority and Small Business Board.
  • Stacey Nell, Summit County – Chief Deputy Clerk and Recorder, former tourism information supervisor and youth mentor.
  • Madelyn Percy (PhD), Denver County – Award-winning scholar, mentor and educator in the STEM fields, focusing on equity for high school students from diverse populations.
  • Wafa Saeed, Denver County – Coordinator for the Colorado Trust, CEO of the Sudanese American Public Affairs Association and former administrator for the Center for African American Health.
  • Justine Sandoval, Denver County – Community and organizing manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado and former chair of the Denver Young Democrats.
  • Suzie Schuckman, Arapahoe County – Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce administrator, former legislative assistant and former Arvada City Council candidate.
  • Susmita Saha, Broomfield County – Public policy expert and former legislative analyst, University of Colorado Boulder academic advisor and educator and Vice Chair of the Asian-American Pacific Islander Colorado Democrats committee.
  • Asmeret Tesfay, Denver County – Denver Public Library Outreach Coordinator and Peer Navigator addressessing homeless services, cultural inclusivity, and food access, and advisor to the Colorado Mental Wellness Network and Council District 9.
  • Leslie Twarogowski, Denver County – Executive Director of the Federal Boulevard Business Improvement District, former President of the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and public relations, marketing and communications expert.
  • Rebecca Zimmerman, Denver County – Adjunct professor and social worker focusing on restorative justice program and training development for the Conflict Center and the Denver District Attorney’s Office, and legislative policy advisor for family leave and Violence Free Colorado.

Emerge Colorado is not only committed to women running for elected office, but is also committed to building the infrastructure for them to succeed. “We do a disservice when we do not have the support structure in place for the women we train to run,” said Dr. Calderón. “That is why we are building the infrastructure with partners to support our graduates on the campaign trail and while they serve in office. Women deserve investment at every stage of their leadership.” 

For more information about Emerge Colorado, visit 




Emerge Colorado is the state’s premier organization for recruiting and training Democratic women who are interested in running for public office. Emerge Colorado is a state affiliate of Emerge, which was founded in 2005, and has 27 affiliates across the country. In June, Emerge Colorado graduated its ninth class of women from the organization’s intensive training program. Currently, 60 Emerge Colorado alumnae serve in office and 10 alumnae won their elections on the local ballot this November.