By Dr. Carroll Ali
Denver is my home. After being away for a while, I returned to Denver as a single mother with young children in 1971. I wanted my children to experience the community life that had nurtured me and my siblings. So, I settled my family in the neighborhood that is now known as Northeast Park Hill, which was just considered Park Hill back then. Yet, there were clear boundaries in greater Park Hill demarking areas where primarily the affluent whites lived.
As my children were growing up, we moved from Northeast Park Hill to North Park Hill, but we never made it past 26th street. Life was good. My children thrived in a diverse, majority Black neighborhood, where there were schools within walking distance, numerous Black-owned businesses, many houses of faith, and parks within walking distance.
Notably, as of 1970, the racial makeup of Northeast Park Hill was: White 10.7%, Black 88.0%, Latinx 0.0%. North Park Hill was: White 32.98%, Black 49.74%, Latinx 7.24%. As of 2017, the racial makeup of Northeast Park Hill was: White 45.01%, Black 42.66%, Latinx 26.3%; and in North Park Hill it was: White 61.58%, Black 26.47%, Latinx 11.71%. South Park Hill has remained predominantly White. The fact that the Black population has decreased significantly, as the White population has increased, is no accident. It exemplifies the systemic and structural racism that has served to determine neighborhood outcomes and land use to protect the status quo of White privilege and affluence.
Today, amid an ensuing controversy around how the 155 acres of land at Park Hill Golf Course located in Northeast Park Hill will be utilized in the future, racism is apparent. This is despite elaborate schemes to distort the issues and create the illusion that anything other than racism is occurring. The latest tactic is to illicit the aid of a council person from outside our jurisdiction to request a ballot initiative for a citywide vote on the land in November. This ploy is designed to drown out the voices of the neighborhood people because special interests realize they are not winning the minds of those who know the history, firsthand. As it is, the community sentiments captured during meetings facilitated by Clayton College which favored multi-use of land over leaving it as open space have been ignored.
No matter how the issues are distorted, it is still racism. Just as we acknowledge the structural racism in policing that values property over Black people, what we are witnessing in the political dynamics of a special interest group named “Save Our Open Spaces “ (SOS) and its political allies in high places, is not different in concept.
We are witnessing the antics of the privileged and the powerful class as SOS determines to protect a land space that has been historically considered “white space” for the most part. Thus, the fight is to preserve the aesthetics of “open-space land” and its legacy over the prospect of multiple uses of the land to better serve the needs of a diverse surrounding community. Their signs say, “Save Park Hill,” and “Trees Over Concrete,” without mention of the “People.” What about the people? There it is —property over people!
As a Black woman, who directs a nonprofit located in Northeast Park Hill that has served this community for over 20 plus years, the outcome matters to me as it does to many others whose stories are untold. As I consider these 155 acres, they symbolize the 155 years since Black people began celebrating Juneteenth —a day commemorating that the word had arrived in Texas and this part of the country that slaves had been freed.
Hopefully now, this City Council will act to empower the people in the local neighborhood to engage in small area planning instead of business as usual that tends to manipulate and disenfranchise voters. At least, it would be a symbolic gesture to do the right thing by the people they represent going forward.