Rebels Remembered, a compelling chronicle of the civil-rights movement in Denver, overflows with heroes and heartbreak. The third installment, Our Neighborhood Schools, screens today at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. In a telling bit of footage from the latest chapter, Wilfred Keyes, an African-American chiropractor who was the chief plaintiff in a 1969 lawsuit aimed at desegregating Denver schools, talks about standing firm even though his house has just been bombed. In 1974, courts rewarded Keyes's resolve by ordering busing. But this attempt to remedy educational disparity spurred by deeply entrenched racism created a pile of additional problems -- among them violence, unrest, and bureaucratic maneuvering that undermined the spirit of integration. More than a quarter-century later, former Denver Public Schools superintendent Evie Dennis sees many of the same inequities that people like Keyes, who died in 1999, fought so hard to eliminate. As she says in the film, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Telling this tale was difficult for director Dick Alweis, who's devoted eight years to Rebels Remembered. "It was a terrible conflict to do a piece that ends where you don't want it to end," he says. Indeed, Our Neighborhood Schools ably demonstrates how the legal victory won by the Keyes contingent was eroded by prejudice and paranoia abetted by a range of powerful forces. In Alweis's view, sensationalized coverage by local TV stations "incited residents against desegregation." So, too, did real-estate agents, who used scare tactics to drum up business in Caucasian neighborhoods whenever African-American families moved nearby. "Blockbusting only benefited the realtors and the bankers," Alweis notes. "It worked against both communities -- the community as a whole, and also the African-American community."
Such lessons may soon be learned by a new generation of students. In conjunction with Massachusetts-based organization Facing History and Ourselves, Alweis and company have developed a program called "Remembering Our Future" that will be tested in DPS schools this year. Alweis hopes the Rebels Remembered films and other material will teach young people from every conceivable background that "differences between people aren't necessarily a problem. They can be an asset."
Our Neighborhood Schools and portions of the "Remembering Our Future" curricula will debut during a fundraiser beginning at 5 p.m. at the Blair-Caldwell library, 2401 Welton Street. For information, call 720-865-2401. -- Michael Roberts
Kids turn trash into treasure
Sometimes art can be total junk. Take, for instance, the Natural/Unnatural exhibit, opening today from 3 to 8 p.m. at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts, 1405 Florence Street in Aurora. Featuring over eighty artists ranging in age from seven to seventeen, the exhibit showcases sculptures, mobiles and even outdoor installations crafted from assorted castoffs and recycled materials -- everything from soda cans and cereal boxes to dead batteries and discarded refrigerators. The emphasis is on human beings and their relationship to their environment, which prompted the kids to examine and re-evaluate the social, economic and ecological aspects of their world. "This project made the students think a lot about what is around them and how important it is to find creative ways to recycle and reuse," says gallery manager Viviane Le Courtois. "In the long run, it's important for them to think about where they live and how they can help to keep their environment clean, whether it's around their neighborhood or on a larger scale."
The young contributors were all participants in summer programs this year at DAVA, a non-profit organization that promotes community and personal expression through art. As part of these offerings, they attended a workshop taught by noted Colorado artist Jon Rietfors, whose own work explores the inherent contradictions of commercialism, consumer culture and mass production.
Natural/Unnatural runs through November 18; call 303-367-5886 or go to www.davarts.org for information. -- Jason Heller
Crime Before Pay
In 1999, author "Mack" released his first-ever zine, Evasion, "a document of unemployment by any means necessary." A response to punk travel zines that Mack felt pointlessly glorified the hard life, the 108-page memoir was a straight-edged portrait of suburban defectors taking to the highway in search of freedom. Mack's tales of sleeping in ditches and loitering in gas stations went unnoticed, gathering dust in the living rooms of apathetic friends. One pal, though, whose house was a popular hangout for touring bands, kept Evasion in the john, where it was thumbed through by a member of the group Zegota. In a fateful turn of events, the caustic zine was stolen, copied a thousand times and taken on tour all over the world. A version fell into the hands of publisher Crimethinc, who in 2001 asked a stunned Mack to write an Evasion book. Now in its fourth printing, Evasion the book has sold 16,000 copies, allowing Mack to travel the country promoting it. He'll do that and more when he rolls into Left Hand Books (1200 Pearl Street, Boulder, 303-443-8252) tonight at 7 p.m. as part of the Dangerous Media Tour, a tumultuous mix of film and literature featuring the Steal This Film Fest, visual portrayals of DIY crime and filmmaker Kelly Jameson's animal-liberation documentary, All My Heroes Still Wear Masks. Cameras will be rolling for a documentary of the tour, so think bitter and witty and be sure to smile. -- Adam Cayton-Holland