With protests reflecting increased awareness and outrage about racism, leaders of four entities came together in early June in response to community sentiment and set in motion a process to change the Stapleton name. What played out in 2019 as four separate responses to a proposed name change, in 2020 became a shared view that the right time is now. Each of the four entities plays an essential role in implementing this change: The Master Community Association; Stapleton United Neighbors (represented by President Amanda Allshouse); Brookfield (Stapleton’s master developer); and the City of Denver, represented by Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilman Chris Herndon.
Concerns about the name Stapleton were raised before development began in 2000 and have come to the forefront periodically since then. With a plan to have a new name by August, what some may see as a sudden change, others see as a change decades in the making.
Seeing the massive change in community awareness of racism after George Floyd’s death, representatives of neighborhood groups and the city quickly started on the path toward a new name for the Stapleton neighborhood. At the same time, individuals in the community, through rallies and yard signs, are showing their support for the protests and for Black lives.
Voices in the community
“I just felt compelled—especially as I thought about my own kids and the kind of people I want to raise them to be, to show our outrage at police brutality, systemic oppression, and White supremacy,” Leah Peters says of her Facebook post that she and her young children would march in Central Park. She wanted an event in her own neighborhood that parents would feel comfortable taking their small children to, believing strongly that it is incumbent on White people “to stand up where they are…and be vocal about racial justice.” She welcomed others to join in and prepared for backlash or silence. Instead, on June 6, an estimated 300 to 400 people showed up to march and rally in Central Park.
As a White woman, Peters admitted she had misgivings about organizing a march. But she reached out to Denver activists who countered her caution with “Who do you think should be organizing people in Stapleton if not you?”
Jazmine Pace, a rising senior at East High School who lives in Conservatory Green, was among the event speakers. “Fighting for what I believe in, fighting for my rights and other people’s rights, and fighting for equality and justice for people who look like me has always been a passion of mine.” She says it’s essential that White people understand their complicity with systemic racism as well as their ability to change those systems. “I’ve been dealing with racism my entire life…White people in particular need to know that their voices are much louder than mine in this issue, unfortunately, and that everyone needs to become aware of what is happening to minorities and Black people in particular. They need to stand up for what is right because they have the most power in this country, unfortunately.”
Pace also attended a student-centered protest with peers from East High School and says, “That was really incredible to see: all my classmates and everyone who was joining together to make a change…one of my classmates said when she was speaking at one of the rallies, ‘We were born tired,’ and that really resonated with me because we’ve been fighting against injustices our entire lives.”
Rename St*apleton for All worked for years to change the community’s name, says Board Chair Liz Stalnaker, but its petition stalled at 572 signatories in 2017. Renewed interest in the issue, however, led to almost 11,000 new signatures in June 2020. “When we downloaded the petition data, the number of Denver signatories surpasses the number of total votes in the entire 2019 referendum,” says Stalnaker. For those who believe the name change has come about suddenly, she points to decades of activism by Juju Nkrumah and others. “This is an issue that’s bigger than just one community; the values of the Green Book were that we were supposed to be seamlessly integrated with our surrounding communities, which are mostly communities of color…it’s time.”
Rename’s future steps include supporting organizations like MCA and SUN as well as small businesses that wish to transition to the new name. Fireside, a marketing company, has offered free assistance with rebranding. Businesses can visit https://meetfireside.com/newname/. To sign the Rename petition or participate in their upcoming events visit renameforall.com.
Click to link to the video of these events.
What about the community’s vote on the name in 2019?
The legal name “Stapleton” appears in the covenants that govern the master-developed community. Although a change to the covenants requires a quorum (50% plus one) of property owners to be binding, one clause—the name of the community—can be changed by a majority vote of the community association (MCA) board. The covenants, based on state law, establish a system of elected delegates who can recommend such a change to the board.
Last year, a majority of the delegates felt a name-change decision should be made by a vote of the community, not by the board. Ballots, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope were sent to all property owners. One ballot question asked if the name Stapleton should be removed (with a name yet to be selected if the vote were in favor). With 33% of possible voters responding, the vote was 65.2% to keep the name and 34.8% to change it.
A separate question asked if the covenants should be amended so any future name change could only be made by a vote of the owners (not by a vote of the board). That question, with 31.4% responding, did not meet the quorum, so the MCA board retained the authority to recommend a name change.
Ultimately, removal of the name would have required a replacement name that the delegates could recommend to the board and the board could recommend to the master developer, which has the final say about the name for the first 20 years of the development (until October 2021).
In 2018, the registered neighborhood organization, Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN), also held a vote on changing their name and 58% were in favor but it did not meet the bylaws requirement of 66% to change the name.
After years of discussion and the recent votes, most residents, regardless of their views on making the change, have learned why the name is troubling and why the subject has resurfaced—Mayor Ben Stapleton was a member of the KKK.
What’s different this year?
“The place where we were as a society last year compared to now is a totally different place,” says Councilman Chris Herndon, who did not support the name change a year ago. “This is an awakening that is happening and the community has spoken… I don’t believe anyone can argue with all the things that have happened in the past month. With Facebook groups changing their names, that beautiful march in our neighborhood, you just know that it’s right to have a more inclusive name of this community.”
Herndon asked Mayor Hancock to remove the name Stapleton from the City’s systems—and Hancock has said the City will accept input on potentially renaming landmarks and public places associated with racist groups or ideologies.
SUN President Amanda Allshouse echoed Herndon’s sentiments. She and other SUN board members observed numerous groups removing Stapleton from their names and heard concerns about the community having a divisive name. The SUN board met in the first week of June and agreed an inclusive process for finding a new name was needed. “We saw that need and that’s what we set out to fill.
“It’s always been important for me that SUN support where the community is on issues,” says Allshouse. She adds that the board has numerous conversations to decide if they need to pause and gather evidence or whether they can just take a position because it’s their best judgment that their action is something the community would support. “This is a big thing, but it seems like there’s resounding community evidence of support for this. It is different than in the past where we have been collecting feedback first. It just feels different.”
Herndon and MCA Executive Director Keven Burnett both point to the long history of concern about the name Stapleton that started even before construction began. The name ended up in the community’s covenants as a “by-product” of the decision by the city and the developer to refer to the community as Stapleton, says Burnett.
MCA delegates including Christie Spilsted, Josh Nicholas, and Hope Miller reflected powerfully on their own shift in thinking over the past year during the discussion prior to the MCA delegates voting unanimously to move forward with a name change.
“This is the first step,” says Herndon. “There’s much more work that needs to be done. Let’s not suddenly come up with a name and then we go back to our way of life before. I want to challenge us to look at our systems, to look at our behaviors, to see what we are doing to break down these barriers to create a society that I want my daughter and my son to be proud of—that they don’t have to go through what I did growing up as a kid.”
March and rally photos by Christie Gosch. Zoom meeting and sign photos by Steve Larson.