THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: After nearly four decades at Aurora City Hall, Barbara Shannon-Banister has retired

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Barbara Shannon-Banister is a woman of many monikers.

Honorary doctor, manager of the Aurora Community Relations Division, and “Bay Essay Bay” — the Spanish pronunciation of the nickname she uses to introduce herself on her purring city voicemail message — are just a few of her seemingly umpteen titles.

Barbara Shannon Bannister recently retired from her 36 year career with the City of Aurora, most recently as the head of the Community Relations Division.
Portrait by Philip B. Poston/The Sentinel

And in her some 36 years working in various roles at Aurora city hall, she’s heard them all — usually while quietly quelling some instance of racial bias or discrimination.

The list of examples runs long.

Following the L.A. riots in the early 1990s, she helped stem tempers after a group of local teenagers ransacked the Buckingham Square Mall across the street from the old city headquarters.

A few years later, she responded to racial insults targeted at her fellow black coworkers in city hall by braiding her hair in a display of solidarity. She hasn’t taken out the beaded tendrils since.

Then there was the time she unintentionally rode the city hall elevator with notorious neo-Nazi Shawn Slater as he was on his way to pick up a permit to protest the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade — an event which Shannon-Banister has long helped organize.

Those are just a few of the mile makers that stick out after a some 20-year career as head of the city’s community relations division — a career that ended with the most recent close of the calendar.

Shannon-Banister retired Dec. 31, capping a nearly four-decade career with the city of Aurora, first as a planner, later as an unaffected puppeteer of peace.

Shannon-Banister first came to Aurora in the late 1970s with her two young children after her husband, Gordie, got a local job with the Department of Labor. She’s lived on East Amherst Drive in the southeast corner of the city ever since.

“I was happy to come to Aurora,” said Shannon-Banister, who studied piano, violin and voice at Xavier University of Louisiana before receiving a degree in humanities from the University of Wyoming. “I didn’t want to move into Denver because I felt like they had an established culture, and I didn’t see that culture in Aurora as I drove around and saw people. I didn’t see that many different kinds of folks … I thought this would be an opportunity for me to be in a place on the ground floor to help do some things in this city — little did I know it would last as long as it did.”

Since starting her tenure in the community relations division, Shannon-Banister has launched a bevy of now deeply ingrained city entities intended to promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.

She helped form the Aurora Key Community Response Team, which meets once a month and works to assuage ire after testy, public events.

She established the International Cross Cultural Network of Aurora, which places translators across city platforms.

She was behind the Aurora Community of Faith, which aims to relay city events and policies to various religious communities throughout the region.

The list of groups, forums and commissions goes on.

But one of her proudest and most recent accomplishments, according to Shannon-Banister, was the Aurora City Council’s decision to dedicate funding to the Aurora Race Forum, which features regular discussions on the implications of race in the city.

“It’s not to say races are banging our heads together, but we have differences and we look at life differently,” she said. “So why can’t I understand what you like to eat, and where you like to party, and where you like to go, what church you go to, etc. … You get to know me and I get to know you, and you’re not afraid of me and I’m not afraid of you.”

Shannon-Banister, who along with her husband was also a founding member of the Aurora chapter of the NAACP, will continue to unplug from city hall until her official retirement party on Jan. 18. She’ll also help hire her replacement, she said.

In the meantime, she’s working to help produce a 12-part public access cable program focused on interviewing local creators and artists.

When asked what advice she would impart to the new community relations division czar, Shannon-Banister did not mince words.

“If you don’t have the passion for working with those who are disenfranchised and those who are excluded from the mainstream, this is not the job for you,” she said. “You’ve got to have the vision, you’ve got to have that love, you’ve got to have that gumption, you’ve got to have that get-up-and-go … and you will find people will embrace you and reach out to you.”