A Love Letter To My Neighborhood

In honor of this month’s federal holiday, Juneteenth, I am writing a love letter to my
neighborhood of Park Hill in Denver, to remember its treasured roots.
Dear Park Hill,
I remember falling in love with you in 2003, twenty years ago, when Eric and I were intentionally searching for neighborhoods in Denver that had both a rich culture of racial diversity and an engaged and active commitment to true inclusivity. As we drove down your streets, we felt it right away – your friendliness and joyful curiosity about people of all colors and socio-economic classes. We saw it in the library, the coffee-shop and bakery, at pre-school, at our beloved “turtle park”, and out on the neighborhood streets as we first walked our dog, and then strolled with our babies. We greeted each other, stepped across the street or parkway to get to know one another, had block parties, and alley parties with music and food that everyone brought out to share. The longer I lived here, the more deeply I fell in love with you because I felt as if I belonged.
We had three opportunities to leave, each time when we outgrew our home as our family grew from two to four. And yet, although we knew that we could get a bigger house that was completely renovated with truly usable basement and attached garage etc. etc. we just couldn’t leave you because of your charm, your “homey-ness”, and your “real-ness”.
Today, as I look ahead to being an empty nester in three short years, I wonder whether our time together has run its course. All relationships end, and although it breaks my heart, I do wonder whether ours has too. We have lived in our current home for 12 years. Being on Monaco Parkway may not be everyone’s cup of tea but we have loved it! We would sit out with wine as the kids played in the front yard, wave at friends driving down the road, and chat with neighbors over the fence. When I missed the lush greenery of my home country, I would look out the window at the gorgeous parkway and 100+ year old trees and breathe a little deeper.
Over the years, the “face” of this neighborhood has changed. A study done in 2010 by the Piton Foundation found that South Park Hill was 84% white and not even 1% black. North Park Hill was 50% white and 39% black. I would venture to guess that today, these numbers are even more skewed as home prices have risen dramatically over the last 13 years. Many generations of families that grew up here are moving away because of rising prices and costs of improving these gorgeous historic homes. Rather than seeing if our older neighbors could use our help, I notice that these homes get snatched up by developers the moment the estate sale is finished, or get sold off market because “someone knew someone etc.”
As I walk along the tree-lined streets today, I see no people of color. That is not an exaggeration. I have grown to not expect to see people who look like me, where I live. The very air in this now whitewashed neighborhood has become thick with white privilege. The world around me does not reflect me or my kids. I do not enjoy the subconscious comfort of seeing a world that sees me as the “norm”. The occurrences of being “othered” are too many to count over the 20 years of living here and range from being mistaken for the only other person of color at a party to examples of implicit bias and white privilege exhibited by neighbors who by-pass even interviewing me about selling their home, even though we have chatted over the fence about their plans to downsize for many years.
So how can you do better, my beloved neighborhood? I believe it starts with acknowledging that you have a problem, a HUGE blind spot that makes you think that being an ally or anti-racist simply means putting a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard. It starts with looking inside your heart and your circles to see if you have more than a token black or brown friend, and then figuring out what to do about that. It starts with opening your doors and your thoughts to people of color whenever you can – in hiring, in finding play dates for your kids, and in inviting to your book clubs, bridge clubs or pickle ball teams. It starts with acknowledging when your actions have offended or hurt a person of color and apologizing when they have the courage to tell you when you have done them wrong. It starts with considering how your everyday actions and interactions uphold the underlying biases, behaviors and thought patterns that reinforce white privilege.
There are many amazing resources out there for anyone who is truly interested in changing the way they walk through this world, in ALL its colors. Park Hill, today, I ask that you begin with honesty and acceptance of how you have changed and decide whether you will honor your past and no longer remain silent in the face of racial bias. My beautiful first-born daughter shared her “radical freedom dream” with a group of young leaders at the Cities of America Conference last month. It was to live in a world where “diverse representation is a norm rather than a surprise”. Let’s work together to make her dream a reality, just like our neighbors Helen Wolcott and Anna Jo Haynes did in the 1960’s and 1970’s when they fought for integration at all levels in Denver. Let’s have block parties, dinners on our porches and real conversations about our implicit bias, and let’s invite people who don’t look like us to these gatherings. Let’s do better. Together.

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