Change the Name: Words Matter

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This guest blog is brought to you by Marisa Vasquez

This is my son, Mateo. He is four years-old. He’s running with his father, Brian, who is 40. Brian is black and white. Mateo is black, white, and Latino. We have lived in Stapleton since 2016. 

Although we love our neighborhood, I cringe every time I say where I live when someone asks. I try to avoid using the name Stapleton. “I-70 and Quebec area,” I stutter.. “You know, the Northfield area...of Stapleton.” Why the cringe? Why does this name matter? It matters because at some point, I’m going to need to explain to my black, white, Latinx children (our daughter Mia is two), that Mommy and Daddy wanted to live in a neighborhood that was very family-friendly, with great schools, pools, sidewalks, outdoor concerts, and parks for them to play in and explore. I will also need to explain that our neighborhood happens to be named for a notorious member of the KKK - an organization that represents hatred for race-mingling such as the kind that two generations of our families represent.

I grew up in central Denver in the 1980s. I experienced a strong sense of embarrassment related to my Latina side of the family. I learned quickly in school to say that I was “half white” and to forgive the constant Anglo-pronounciation of my name. When I was accepted to an Ivy League school, my high school counselor was quick to point out that my luck was connected to my last name, and sadly I believed her. My husband grew up in a suburb of Denver in the 1980s. His white mother and black father’s marriage was consistently questioned by friends, local police, neighbors, and even the school system. He was not allowed to register for school until his parents picked “black” or “white” on the registration card. On the playground, he learned to be tough and hit back when kids crowded around him shouting “nigger” or chased him home making fun of his hair and skin color. He learned quickly to say to the police, who stopped such a suspicious-looking nine-year old that he was “half white.” 

In the 1980s, Brian received careful instruction from his parents about how to address the police, should he encounter them. In the 2020s, we will give Mateo the exact same instructions in order to give him the best chance of preserving his life. This is just a fact. We have come a long way in America, but only 150 years ago, black people were enslaved. 

The name change seems to be a low-hanging fruit in the name of equity. I see a multitude of signs posted in the neighborhood about accepting all people and supporting equity, and I would appreciate some action consistent with those messages. I’m not really sure how the Stapleton name was picked to begin with, but it is unimaginative. Look at the DSST high schoolers who came together to assign a more positive name to their high school. Our youth should inspire us all.  Please believe me, a mother and wife in a mixed-race family when I say, “The name is offensive. I don’t want to live or raise my family in a neighborhood named after a famous racist.” As a community, let’s come together to walk the walk of inclusivity and equity. It’s easy to talk about these ideals in platitudes. Now let’s act in a way that demonstrates these values.

Marisa Vasquez - June 29, 2019



The Brave Coalition Supports Community Name Change

The following is Brave’s official position statement concerning the name of our Northeast Denver community. Also see this CBS news piece highlighting our position.

The Brave Coalition is a Northeast Denver-based non-profit formed by women in the community following a hate graffiti incident at Isabella Bird Community School in 2016. Our mission is to build more inclusive communities where all people can live their fullest lives regardless of identity or circumstance.

According to History Colorado, former mayor Benjamin Stapleton was a high-ranking KKK member who used his position to promote Klan interests during his time in office (1923-31 and 1935-47). Contrary to popular reports, there is no documentation of him recanting his membership or white supremacist views. Nevertheless, when the time came to turn the airport named to honor Stapleton into a neighborhood, the Stapleton name was carried over. 

The Brave Coalition supports changing the name of this community as an important step to making our neighborhood a welcoming, diverse, and safe place for all. Here’s why:

  1. History matters and impacts the present. We believe that this issue should be viewed in its context: our city’s history of systemic racism, antisemitism, and homophobia designed to exclude certain people from the most “desirable” neighborhoods. From outright bans, to discriminatory loan programs, to more subtle messages, let’s end the cycle of unwelcome. This is as important now as ever, as incidents of hate are still prevalent in Denver.

  2. Symbols matter and impact hearts and minds. A name change is not equity or inclusiveness, and it should not be a substitute for those goals. But symbols do help to build the environment in which we decide who will be valued, heard, and honored. The environment in which we decide who “we” are. We love our community, and we agree with many community members that the name should reflect our positive vision for the future.

  3. People matter. We believe those who say that they are harmed by the Stapleton name, and that the community should come together and take the steps necessary to end that harm. As the proverb goes, while the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time is right now. Moreover, the claimed financial sacrifice is not at all clear and shouldn’t deter people from choosing to re-name our community. While property owners are being asked to vote to pay for a name change, the truth is no one has outlined what the public costs would be, how those costs would be allocated, and why they would have to be incurred all at once.    

Recognizing that not everyone will agree with our position, we believe all can agree that property owners should be aware of the process and vote on the issue. Developers like Forest City have a powerful role in our neighborhood community association (MCA) voting, as they also pay into the MCA. However, they have commercial incentives to oppose a name change and they are not long-term community members. We shouldn’t stand on the side while decisions are made about where we live.

Changing the World, One Conversation at a Time

This guest blog is brought to you by Sara Blanchard

“You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change.” - Tim Cook

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My best friend and I have a new endeavor that is brought to you because of passion.  Passion to do our part in leaving behind a world that will love my best friend’s children as much as they love my own.

Because, you see, despite the fact that they’re both born of half-white, half-Japanese mothers, they’re very, very different.

Sure, her children show up as boys and mine show up as girls.  That’s a big difference.

But even more striking than that, is the difference in the shade of their skin.

To be fair, we are all spectrums of brown - with people who think they’re white simply having less of the brown than those who are thought of as being black in the United States.

Yet because my best friend married a black man from the south, while I married a white man from Canada, our children will have very different experiences walking through our country.

Already, her kids’ hair is touched without permission.  Already, she’s talking with them about how to respond respectfully to police officers.  Already, though we are both terrified about the safety of our children - as all parents are - the stats back up the fact that black children in this country are subject to more homicide - and more recently, suicide - than the rest of the population.  In fact, for children ages 15-24, unintentional injury is the leading cause of death.  For white children, the second leading cause is death by suicide; for black children, it’s homicide.  Yes, both are horrifying.  We need to talk about this stuff, because without understanding each other’s perspectives, there is no way to make meaningful, lasting change.

We decided to take the conversations we were having behind the scenes - conversations informed through law, history (her strengths), and psychology, human thriving (my strengths) - and blow them up into something that could be shared with you. Because conversations are a way to connect, to learn, to feel meaning in our lives, and conversations bring us together - so that we can understand each other and the different narratives that make up this nation.

We come to these conversations with preparation to tackle the topics that are in the news, topics that are happening in our lives, topics that intrigue us as we go.  There are interviews with some incredible people too - because there are some insanely cool experts out there with experiences we can’t claim to have ourselves, and want to learn about.  

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Once we know better, we can do better.  

We want to be the pebble.

Our belief is that we can learn, grow, and change, one conversation at a time.  

We call it, the Dear White Women podcast.

Won’t you come join us?  

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE