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

“E Pluribus Unum – From Many We Are One”

This guest blog is brought to you by Rabbi Mendel Popack.

It’s a blessing to live in the USA.  

We are different. We look different. We dress differently. We speak different languages. We worship differently. We eat different foods, have different social interests and congregate in different centers. But we are all American.

American culture has been created and enriched by the thriving diversity of ethnic cultures and minority communities that have contributed so much, each in its own way, both materially and spiritually, to American life.

More importantly, we are all human beings, endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And yet, in this blessed country, the voices of anti-Semitism, bigotry and prejudice are still present, very openly, trying to frighten and intimidate us.

Where does this prejudice come from? Does it perhaps come from a sense, held by some, that because someone is different, they are less?  Can someone be less human?  Is someone’s soul less precious because they worship differently?

It’s time to focus on what makes us all the same, not what makes us different. We are all created by the same G-d, who endowed us each with a soul. We are all brothers and sisters, and at that level, no one is better or worse.

As a spiritual leader in the Jewish community, I’ve been asked, “Rabbi, how does your local community feel about the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh?” My response is, “There is no such thing as a local Jewish community. We are one community.   One people. Those were our bubbies and zaidys, our fathers and mothers, our sisters and brothers that were murdered in cold blood, sanctifying G-d’s name, just because they were Jewish.”

Dear friends, that we are one people can also be said about the USA, and indeed about the whole world.

We are one country, one human race, one people, under one G-d.
Prejudice starts when one person, or one community, or one segment of the population is singled out and discriminated against because they are different. 

The motto “E Pluribus Unum” celebrates our differences, and we should celebrate them, too. While at the core, we cherish our commonality - that which brings us together- humanity is a tapestry of many colors, and our colors - our differences - are what makes the tapestry beautiful.

According to the Bible, when Noah and his wife Naamah, the father and mother of all mankind, exited the Ark, G-d gave them a code of civil conduct for mankind, with seven pillars: Believe in G-d, Do not curse G-d or G-d’s Name, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not commit adultery, Do not eat a limb off a living animal, and Establish a judicial system to uphold this code. A central theme of these Seven Pillars is respect for all the creations in this world, which includes respect for every other person’s life and property, because we are all created by G-d.

The Jewish community recently celebrated Chanukah. The Chanukah menorah is lit at night, when it is dark outside, and outdoors in public. The public menorah has become a universal symbol of freedom and liberty for people of all minorities and faith traditions. Like in the Chanukah story, some people try to spread darkness, hatred and bigotry. The menorah declares, in the face of darkness, that hatred and bigotry will not stop us. We will continue to shine light proudly and openly, to respond to evil and darkness by adding more light, more goodness and more kindness. A little light can push away a lot of darkness.

LIghting the Stapleton Public Menorah.jpg
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Just as we are endowed with inalienable rights, we are given unavoidable responsibilities, responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, and to all of civilization. We must realize that our actions matter. Let us all recommit to connecting with the people that are different from us by seeking out that which makes us similar.

Add another act of goodness and kindness every day.

Reach out to your neighbor. 

Volunteer to help a struggling community.

Welcome your classmate that just immigrated from another country.

Smile at a stranger, and say hi.

You might be surprised how similar we all really are.