October was the third month of community discussions about the name Stapleton. In the prior two months, the conversations were dominated by those who favored changing the name and representatives of five Stapleton organizations listened to those views. This month brought an emphasis on having a community conversation in which all voices would be heard, making a decision in an orderly, respectful manner, and moving the community forward in a positive way.
A leader in the name change group, Genevieve Swift, opened the conversation at the Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN) meeting. “The most important thing is all of the conversations are happening. Let’s move together and make this a positive thing and listen to our neighbors … it’s a symbolic change that we’re asking for. It’s like taking down a ‘Do Not Enter Sign’ and saying welcome.”
Multiple members of Stapleton’s organizations voiced their concern that residents who favor keeping the name now feel uncomfortable speaking out in public. Longtime Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN) board member Bryan Penny proposed setting up a means for residents to provide SUN with anonymous input to be sure SUN gets the full range of opinions on keeping or changing the name. Councilman Herndon added, “I really appreciate this expanded time so that we actually have conversations. I hope we can do so in a manner…that people can express themselves without being demonized. I’ve talked to residents who are saying, ‘I feel a certain way, but I don’t want to be labeled racist because I believe that.’ Bryan is not racist if he chooses to say I’m comfortable with the name Stapleton. I can’t be racist if I choose that, ‘Hey, I’m comfortable as an African-American with the name.’ Let’s not personalize this.”
Gregory Diggs, an outspoken supporter of the name change responded, “What we’re talking about is racism. What we’re talking about is white supremacy. What we’re talking about is the legacy of gentrification… currently going on in Stapleton now. We’re going to use those terms where they come up. No, we’re not going to have the safe forum where these terms are not used. I actually agree with your end point, but in order to do that, well, we’re going to have to have conversations that are uncomfortable and that are personal.”
A SUN board member voiced agreement with Councilman Herndon, saying the biggest message he has heard is, “’I don’t want to come out and be public about it, but I don’t want to change the name.’ Whatever the discussion is, yes, I think there needs to be an end point. We need to make sure that there’s a coming together.”
But heartfelt statements were a reminder that the conversations won’t be easy. A woman from Conservatory Green said emotionally, “My neighbors of color are getting followed home by white men, told that they don’t belong here—they need to go home.”
Sixteen-year-old Cora Galpern, a junior at George Washington High School said when the word Stapleton is spoken, “…people do not think good things. People send rants about the name…how it’s just white, white, white, White Peopleton. I don’t care that they say that because I agree with them.” She says her friends say change the name to Entitleton. “My generation, the people who live in Stapleton, don’t view it in a diverse and inclusive way…I really just don’t think a bunch of white people should get to make this decision.”
Councilman Herndon spoke of his children. “Talk about racial injustice. I have a white daughter and a biracial son. My wife’s white daughter and my biracial son are going to have two totally different lives. That bothers me to my core. How can I help change that?”
Following that SUN meeting, representatives of multiple Stapleton organizations met to make a plan for a community conversation with a facilitator skilled in talking about a very emotional, contentious subject like race and diversity. Such a meeting, and its goal to create a community conversation where no one would be demonized, was discussed extensively at the October Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) meeting.
New SUN Board member, Jeff Ederer, a recently retired professor said, “For most of the time I’ve lived here, it’s been about a great place to live. It’s been the new urbanism. What’s happened, though, is a small group, mostly well-meaning, I think, has taken control of the name Stapleton. Can’t we take the power of the name Stapleton back? It doesn’t mean you ignore what’s happened. Whether the name Stapleton is changed or not, there’s still going to be this open sore of the past.” Ederer called this an opportunity. ”It [Stapleton] used to mean these other things, but now this is what Stapleton is. There is absolutely privilege that exists in Stapleton. We need to acknowledge that. That’s how you’re going to heal the wound that’s been opened—through this current public dialogue.”
Landri Taylor, president of the Stapleton Foundation, said he organized the five-group meeting, at least in part, to “take control of the conversation and not let us be managed by entities that really, in my opinion, don’t have as deep a stakeholder interest in the name and Stapleton. At the same time, we want to acknowledge that this conversation needs to be had and needs to, in some of our opinions, be deprioritized and get back to the conversations of those things that really make a sustainable impact on the lives of this… and other communities…
Speaking for CAB, chair Jim Wagenlander said, “This is an opportunity to continue to address housing and community diversity. Whatever the outcome is, we want it to continue to support what we have been striving for, which is a more diverse community in Stapleton.”
A date has not yet been set for the community conversation with a facilitator. When the date is announced, it will be communicated via email from SUN and the MCA. The Front Porch will post it on Facebook and on our website.