Thursday, October 4, 2018

--- Walking and art to connect ---

I remember "separate but equal".

The problem, of course, was that there was nothing "equal" about it and the scars still exist. Frankly, I'm partial to separate but mixed.

I've talked about diversity in past blogs. It's necessary for a healthy community, but diffusion is a thing, too. If you add milk to water carefully without mixing them, the two will just mix themselves without any help from outside. Cultures tend to do that over time also when they mix.

There has traditionally, in the United States, been a trend toward homogenization. The typical solution for the Black/Asian/Latin/Indian Problem has been acculturation - in other words, turn them into us. The idea is that the European culture is superior to all the others, so just make sure that only the European culture remains. Very Darwinian - the fittest survives.

Of course, all that from Europeans.

I'm not saying anything new. We all know about it.

But diversity. I enjoy the color, the foods, the music of language that isn't my own, folk wisdom, stories. I would feel bereft if we were a homogeneous culture. I like to "go to" others. To experience life through their eyes and mind.

The only way to do that is to conserve cultures, to, with clear intention, say, this is valuable and it will persevere.

I've talked about appreciation as an approach to life. We usually only hear about "art appreciation" but lifelong learning demands "life appreciation".

Understanding a culture - it's folkways and history - requires a conscious and prepared approach. Entering a culture as an outsider learner requires respect and an open mind.

"Get to know me. You might like me," the old PSA said and I find that to be true, whether it's a neighbor, another culture, or "raw nature".

"Walk2Connect is an innovative worker-owned cooperative working to create whole-health walking programs focused on connection to others, to the places we live, and to ourselves." (Walk2Connect website accessed 10/2/18) This organization sponsors walking tours to support connection between communities.

I see pedestrianism as a tool for learning, Walk2Connect sees pedestrianism as a means to build healthy community.

I lived in a mixed community where I was a member of the minority for 20 years and I mixed with impunity. I got along well with the other people in my community, I think, because I didn't  try to "blend in" and I appreciated the differences. I obviously enjoyed being around people that were different from me.

The Whittier neighborhood, named after the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier, according to the 2000 census was composed of 27% Hispanic whites, 26% Blacks, and 43% Latinos. Walking the streets now, I see a lot of Black and Hispanic families, but I also see a lot of White families from obvious European extraction and I see a few Asian. The Five Points district is nearby. Once called "The Harlem of the West", it looks like a cultural center and go-to for jazz and Southern and Caribbean food.

There have been several attempts to isolate this community. I first noticed the signs when I took the light rail to Downing Street Station in the Whittier neighborhood on a walking trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I noticed that many intersections in the area were broken with strip parks. For instance, traveling south on High Street from East 31st Avenue, the street takes an abrupt 90 degree turn to the west onto East 30th Avenue. Traveling on High Street north from 29th Avenue, the street takes an abrupt turn to the east onto East 30th Avenue. Between is the Madame C. J. Walker Park, which commemorates a  successful African American entrepreneur, the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire (1867-1919), a civil rights activist, and philanthropist.

I found the street design rather strange. It effectively cut traffic from east to west. And that was exactly what it was intended to do. Streets were cut to quell gang violence in this area of Denver. Of course, the measure was ineffective and simply served to further isolate this community.

In 1914, racist letters began circulating in the Whittier neighborhood telling African-American and Jewish residence that there was no room for them there. The neighborhood, all the neighborhood, all the races in the neighborhood, felt their last straw and responded in a response of solidarity by creating a half-mile loop across four alleys that presented a gallery of murals. Now, most of the murals are gone. Two remain at the Ford-Warren library, who hosted the Walk2Connect tour of the Whittier Neighborhood. Here they are:

                               [murals at the Ford-Warren branch of the Denver Public Library]

The walk focused on the parks of the Whittier neighborhood, most of which commemorate famous African-American people.

I took the light rail into Denver and, on the way, captured the Big Blue Bear which gazes perpetually into the Colorado Convention Center. his large bruin was created by Lawrence Argent, a teacher at the University of Denver School of Art and Art History in 1993, It was originally supposed to be "Denver colored" (I think I've called attention to the brown tones around town), but an accident in copying the plans for the work created a blue finished product. The actual name for the piece is "I See What You Mean."

                                                                   [Big Blue Bear]

The train in downtown Denver seems quaint, like the older trolley cars of other cities.

                                              [Light rail on California and Stout Streets]

The hexagonal Bee-Bridge mural pattern at Madame C. J. Walker Park is the work of artist Feile Case.


George Morrison was a famous jazz and classical violinist who lived for a time in the Denver area. He used his fame to help many black musicians get their start. George Morrison Sr. Park commemorates him.

                                                   [Statue at George Morrison Sr. Park]

Cole Middle School presents a monumental and strikingly beautiful piece of architecture in the Whittier Community.

                                                              [Cole Middle School]

On my trip back, I saw another stately piece of architecture, the Byron White United States Courthouse on Stout Street. It was a nice place to switch train lines.

                                                             [Byron White Courthouse]

Your community has a history and that history is preserved in local monuments, parks, and architecture. Look around and see what has happened in your town and how it has influenced the rest of the world.

A good article on the history of Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods is here, provided by the Denver Public Library ( accessed 10/2/18).

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