Behold a community raising a barn: the lifting of timbers, the reconnection with others, the offers of help by all for a common purpose. How can each of us set a positive example? How can we be of service in ways both big and small? What potential can be reached when we work together?
Roman Kozlov was raised to consider the value of supporting others by his Christian parents in his native Ukraine. Born before the country officially declared itself an independent state from the Soviet Union, the 37-year-old observed the negative effects of communism on his family and community. As a child in Kamianske, his small village near Zaporizhzhia, the boy watched his resourceful father fill the greenhouses on their property with cucumber starts, roses and other plants that, once mature, could be sold in early spring to support their family. The government allowed its citizens to grow and keep the profits from food because the country needed it.
His father, Yuriy, was his hero, Kozlov recalled: His mind and heart were fixed on the future and the needs of others. "To gain something, you had to be ready to give up a lot," he said he learned. "And that's how I grew up. You had to have an attitude of giving first. Even though the team is more important than one person, a team is only as strong as its members.
"I appreciate being self-sustaining, but you can achieve even more working together, lifting, motivating and encouraging one another."
Kozlov carries a humble heart to work at RTD, where he is one of 25 division supervisors who serve as the backbone of the agency’s three operating divisions: East Metro, in Aurora; Platte, in Denver; and Boulder. At any hour, any day of the year, Kozlov and his colleagues tend to the details that ensure RTD can execute 600 bus pullouts every day. The pace is exceptionally busy, he says, and “all of it has to have happened 10 minutes ago.”
But beyond the Tetris puzzle are opportunities for human connections. Bus operators talk with Kozlov, sharing their experiences and seeking his thoughts. He listens.
“I tell them, life is so beautiful,” Kozlov said. “You don't even know how many people you helped today. You don't know how your kind words, strength and smile can uplift 10 or 10,000 people who can uplift others, the drivers and the passengers. It multiplies.”
Kozlov understands operators’ perspectives because he began his career with RTD in 2013, mainly driving Platte-based routes but also helping at Boulder and East Metro. He knows the feeling of shouldering responsibility for a large bus and the people inside it while watching out for all the surrounding vehicles. The number of people an operator encounters every day seems endless, he said. “Even though some customers may be demanding,” Kozlov added, “the thousands of daily thank-yous helped me keep going.”
In a supervisory role, Kozlov feels a fatherly responsibility for his colleagues, whom he sees as his heroes, his family and his friends. “I believe in relationships down to my heart,” he said. “Find something great and illuminate that. Celebrate greatness, and people will believe and be great. I have seen the true potential of people coming together.”
Despite the political conflict occurring in the background, Kozlov’s childhood in the Ukrainian countryside was largely a happy one. He worked hard in school, loved reading books and cherished attending church on Sundays. Summertime was warm and green. He cared for chickens and rabbits and dragged a hose around the farm to water the plants. When the work was done, he swam in the family’s pool – dug over a two-year period with a shovel by his father. The first time Kozlov was given a banana – an unheard-of luxury before the Soviet Union collapsed – he savored it during a 3-plus-kilometer walk to school.
Kozlov knew that his family worked hard to support him and his siblings but didn't realize the extent to which the community valued them. At 9 years old, when his father died of leukemia, he grasped that love at the funeral. He had never seen a caravan of mourners so long.
When he was 12, Kozlov’s mother and new stepfather sought a new life – in America. Before leaving, they sold the family farm to their friends for almost nothing. Kozlov boarded a flight, his first, layered in T-shirts and socks, not knowing whether there would be clothes for him at his destination. Extended family met them at their new apartment in Sacramento. The kitchen counter held a bunch of bananas.
America was a dream he was sold, Kozlov said – and it is real. The United States is about abundance that can be achieved with hard work, perseverance and luck. He studied at Sacramento State University, went to work for a family business, and married Angela, his high school sweetheart, whom he calls "beautiful, solid, intelligent and wise," the part of life that makes him happiest.
Kozlov and his family decided to move to Colorado in 2013. Upon arriving in their new state, he needed to find work to support his family. Kozlov learned about RTD during a church visit in Brighton, when a parishioner approached to say he had heard Kozlov needed a job. RTD is hiring, he said. Kozlov applied the next day for work as a bus operator. He learned later that the churchgoer was Orlo Petersen, a manager with the agency.
“I was so excited that I got to operate these huge machines,” Kozlov said. As a college student, “I wanted to be part of the Air Force. I wore a brown uniform, which was the color of the Marines. Driving to the airport, I remember telling one of my passengers, ‘Look, I'm flying a few feet above the ground in a bus, and I'm the pilot.’”
Bus operators are true public servants, Kozlov says, the bloodline of our cities. The profession is a calling, and his colleagues work hard every day in ways the public will never see. But he knows – and because Kozlov knows, he is grateful to each of them. The highest reward, he said, is seeing past bus operators succeed at RTD whom he encouraged to pursue new positions. They are now division supervisors, street supervisors and dispatchers.
Kozlov became a U.S. citizen last year. What does it mean to be an American? The half Ukrainian, half Russian answers quickly: “I am grateful and honored to be a part of this great country and to serve the people through RTD, a public service organization that has real, far-reaching effects on the local community.”