Guest Post: It’s time to change the name of Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood

The neighborhood is named for the old airport, which was named for former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton aka Member #1128 of the Ku Klux Klan

Street scene in Denver's Stapleton neighborhood. Residents have until July 31, 2019 to vote on whether to rename the neighborhood.
Street scene in Denver's Stapleton neighborhood. Residents have until July 31, 2019 to vote on whether to rename the neighborhood. (Photo by Matt' Johnson via Flickr: Creative Commons)

I live, work, and raise my family in Stapleton. And I strongly support renaming our community.

 My reasons for this are deeply personal: I am a mixed Filipino/Irish woman who grew up in a town that had almost no diversity. I lived on a street that considered itself close-knit, full of nice people who looked out for each other. But we seemed to live a separate existence from our neighbors. My family was not welcomed into their homes; to them, we were a large group of brown kids running around barefoot in the yard. My Filipino family members often stayed with us for long visits, speaking Tagalog, not English. 

 And then one day, a teenager spray-painted the word “gooks” on the street right in front of our house. That label made visible what I already felt — that we weren’t welcome, that we didn’t belong. 

 I was a sensitive kid, and I was watching. The vandalism was impossible to ignore, yet not a single neighbor reached out to my parents to express alarm or sympathy. Not a single neighbor offered to help clean it up. All these years later, it’s their silence that still shocks me more than the racist graffiti itself.

 Today, I live in Stapleton, a community whose foundational document states that “equity, diversity, and opportunity are fundamental objectives” of the community’s development. But our community name tells a different story: It comes from the old airport that was named to honor Benjamin F. Stapleton, former Denver mayor and Member #1128 of the Ku Klux Klan. During his tenure in the 1920s, he appointed Klansmen to positions of power, including the chief of police. The Klan used this power to control and terrorize Jews, Catholics, black people, and other ethnic groups in Denver.

 Each time the shameful history behind the name Stapleton has been raised, black people and others in our community—our neighbors—have described how hurtful the continued use of a Klansman’s name is to them. When I hear their pain, I understand that the name is like the vandalism outside my childhood home, a symbol of exclusion. And when I see others in our community dismiss these concerns — because it doesn’t affect them, because it’s always been this way, and don’t we already know what a nice, close-knit neighborhood this is — I’ve feared that the world has not changed much after all since I was a kid. Not really, and not nearly enough.

 But after a series of community Listening Sessions in December 2017, multiple organizations cared enough to discontinue the use of “Stapleton” in their names. And just last month, DSST students voted to rename their school DSST Montview. I feel a sense of hope: the silence is ending, and people are standing up for themselves and their neighbors. We can build on this momentum. This summer, we’ll have the opportunity to vote to rename our community.

 As parents, my husband and I are raising our kids to recognize that when we know better, we have to do better. When someone says that they’re hurt, we have to take them seriously. When we see someone being harmed, we have to ask how we can help. For me, these values go deep: I know in my bones what it feels like to not be welcomed and included in what is supposed to be my own community. I also know how much it hurts to have neighbors who stay silent when the decent thing to do is to speak up and help.

 So that’s why I’m speaking up. Let’s bravely face our history — even if we had nothing to do with it. 

 Names and symbols matter. Benjamin Stapleton’s membership in and embrace of the Ku Klux Klan disqualifies him from the honor of our community name. We know better, so now it’s time to do better. Join me in voting to rename Stapleton. Our children are watching.

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact tips@coloradoindependent.com or visit our submission page.

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