Rosemary Lytle’s dedication to public service was born out of her grandparents’ struggles in Jim Crow’s Mississippi, their successes in Gary, Ind., and her family’s insistence to give back generously to the communities that embraced them.

Lytle’s life — both personal and professional — stemmed from lessons learned as part of a family who participated in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and sent their first member to college, Lytle herself.

“You could sum up my life with public service,” she said. “I got involved in journalism in seventh grade because I wanted to change the junior high school I attended. And I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Lytle moved to the Springs in the wake of a divorce and got a job at the Gazette, where she became the metro columnist. When she was laid off — along with two other columnists — that was a signal to change careers.

“My car just drove itself to the NAACP,” she said. “I started volunteering there and have been a volunteer ever since. It’s a labor of love for me.”

[su_note note_color=”#7db9ff”]Personal Mantra: “Each one, reach one. It’s an African proverb. It’s about the legacy of giving back, even if you don’t do it on a huge scale — pull someone up with you. Make sure the effort continues, everyone bringing someone else along. That’s what women should do, elders should do. And it’s how people who are not of color can stand up for racial justice. To see it happening — it’s so exciting.”[/su_note]

In addition to working with women’s groups and civil rights organizations, Lytle is now involved in social justice work. She’s the executive director of a fledgling nonprofit, Positive Impact Colorado, which helps people re-enter the community after serving prison terms.

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“I’ve always been guided by the legacy of being a daughter of the unjust Mississippi Delta,” she said. “My parents were in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, and I was the oldest granddaughter and the first college graduate in a family that had a legacy of both struggle and triumph. I have an obligation to my family who, despite brilliance, were denied education; despite creativity, were required to work hard at manual labor.”

And Lytle also absorbed leadership lessons along the way: She believes her efforts are only as good as the people who show up to help.

“I want to empower people around me to assume leadership, to give everyone an equitable voice at the table,” she said. “No matter where it is, no matter what day — people deserve that voice.”

And leaders make mistakes, she says.

“Never read the comments,” she said. “That’s one I live by. As soon as you start second-guessing yourself, you’re doomed. You’ll be scrutinized; you’ll be praised as well as criticized. And it doesn’t mean you don’t cry in your private time.”

Lytle is an untiring force for good in the community, says Kathleen Ricker, chairwoman of the El Paso County Democratic Party. Her efforts and dedication go beyond party lines, Ricker said.

“Where do you even start to talk about her achievements?” Ricker asked. “She’s been an activist for years — social justice, equal rights for all. She’s marched for the homeless; she’s aided in voting rights; she’s worked for the NAACP. She’s a voice for those who have been left out of society.”

Lytle’s strength lies in her determination, Ricker said.

“She never gets tired; she never gives up for the causes she believes in,” she said. “She’s so determined. And she’s very articulate. She’s a natural leader. She’s able to connect with people on many levels. She has a heart of gold for people.”

Lytle says it all comes down to one ideal she learned as a child: “To those who are given much, much is expected.”

— Amy Gillentine Sweet