Gregory Diggs, one of Stapleton’s earliest residents, died suddenly and unexpectedly on February 24 at age 55.
Diggs was a founding member of SUN, the registered neighborhood association, and, in 2007, when the Front Porch requested that readers submit memories of the first five years at Stapleton, Greg wrote a poem that is printed at the end of this article.
Greg’s younger brother Brian says they grew up in a household in Maryland with parents deeply committed to civil rights issues—and Greg’s first cause came in middle school. The music being played at school dances was just white music. Diggs introduced the idea of mixing black and white music. By the time Brian came along two years later, mixed music was the norm.
In high school, Brian says Greg was the person trying to be sure all the different cliques and racial and socioeconomic groups were included in school functions. At Tennessee State University, Greg majored in psychology and joined Alpha Phi Alpha, an African American fraternity whose members had included many civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr.—and had as a goal to address social rights issues.
On his LinkedIn page, Greg wrote: “My passion is working in cultural diversity and equity initiatives.” In his most recent position at Denver Public Schools (DPS), Educational Support Specialist–Social and Emotional Learning, Greg worked to address the problem that a disproportionate number of children of color were being suspended from DPS schools. Greg had a Ph.D. in Research and Evaluation Methods and used those skills to assess the data on suspensions and create a plan to address the problem. Linking that with his background in psychology, Greg worked directly with school leaders to better understand and address the suspensions. And he mentored students having trouble in the classroom to help reduce their classroom issues. Greg’s supervisor Kim Price said, “Greg was able to create important connections with students and use his mental health/social work background to support students through challenging times.”
Terry Whitney, another of the earliest Stapleton residents, recalls attending a lottery to get a home before any had been built—and seeing a familiar face in the crowd. The families of Terry’s wife Jolene and Greg’s wife Allison had been longtime friends in Northern Colorado. “…as respective mixed race spouses and the parents of young daughters, we shared equal hopes and concerns for what Stapleton might offer our families… buying a house unseen and on a street grid yet to be constructed.” The fears of the unknown were relieved when the two families learned they both got a house and would be next door neighbors.
Bill Fulton also shared early memories of Greg. “With his big smile, easy laugh, and genuine spark for life, Greg was one of the first people I got to know on the block. I suspect that was true for many people…Greg was one of the friendliest. He embodied in so many ways what the community aspired to be-—welcoming, joyful, thoughtful, and committed to making a better place for everyone. As conflicts arose in the early years—be it over traffic, noise, affordable housing, or other heated topics, Greg would always put people at ease by reminding us that tough issues didn’t have to threaten strong relationships. I will miss him as a dear friend and an inspiring community leader.”
In the past two-and-a-half years, Greg was an outspoken proponent of renaming the community due to Mayor Ben Stapleton’s membership in the KKK.
Genevieve Swift met Greg two years ago as a the Northeast Denver Neighbors for Racial Justice group was forming. She says, “He was proud. He had hope. He was excited…He spent a lifetime bringing communities together and participating in and mastering the work in having difficult conversations about race…I’ve never known anyone like Greg. I’ll push on, because that is what he’d want. And I will carry him with me.”
Greg is survived by his two children, Langston Shupe Diggs, 18, who is studying at the University of Hawaii and his daughter Clarke Shupe, 22, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee.
STAPLETON: FIRST BLOCKS
By Gregory A. Diggs
In the beginning, there was wood and rock,
dirt, dust and nails;
A cacophony of construction
The memory of concrete runways fading.
The First Blocks: Roslyn, Syracuse, Spruce,Trenton
24th, 25th, 26th, 28th
Emerged as beacons of goodwill and fellowship.
Neighbors, filled porches, front yards and parks
Talking, laughing, visiting, playing and
Toddlers Running Everywhere.
In the beginning
Today, it is hard to remember those original days.
The New Urban Living has been well established.
Green and Vibrant and Lively.
The smells and sounds of life are pervasive,
almost as if
This is the way it had always been.
I walk or run or bike or drive
To the edge of the neighborhoods, to the Next Blocks.
There, I find the wood and rock, dirt, dust and nails;
A cacophony of construction and landscaping.
The familiar setting makes me nod and smile.
I dream of new beginnings and never-endings.
Happy Birthday Stapleton.
(printed in September 2007 Front Porch)