Raverro Stinnett’s life changed drastically in the spring of 2018. The artist, who was waiting for a ride home on public transportation at Union Station after attending a gala at RedLine gallery, was profiled, beaten and left with permanent brain damage by security guards with Allied Universal Security Services, the firm that contracts with the Regional Transportation District to keep the peace at the station.
Stinnett wasn't identified in early coverage of the incident, nor when the guards pleaded guilty in December 2018. But that changed earlier this year when he filed a lawsuit against Allied and RTD. Not long after that, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer blew the lid off the simmering Black Lives Matter movement. That’s all it took for Stinnett’s story to go nationwide.
Yet with the exception of boardmember Shontel Lewis, the RTD board has voted to continue working with Allied.
In June, Jeff Campbell, an actor, activist and Emancipation Theater creative, formed the grassroots organization From Allies to Abolitionists to take up Stinnett's cause, joining with the Justice for Raverro movement on the shared mission of amplifying and overcoming social justice issues and systemic racism.
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“From Allies to Abolitionists came into being in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident,” Campbell explains. “People were suddenly coming out of the woodwork, asking for guidance on how to get involved in racial justice. The idea was to take people who identified as allies and transform them into abolitionists who were active in dismantling racism.”
At a July 4 press conference, the groups introduced "a petition for folks to support our list of demands to pay Raverro Stinnett and support Shontel to fire Allied," Campbell recalls. "We formed an oversight committee and went outside of the box to work with playwrights and theater producers.
“As far as a campaign is concerned, I feel good about what we were able to accomplish in the past ninety days,” he continues. “We started with a public service announcement, and we’ve been able to collect 3,000 signatures to support Shontel and draw 40,000 views of that announcement.”
On October 2, Campbell will move the cause from petition to play during a live and streamed performance of I Am Raverro, a theatrical presentation based on Stinnett’s story that Campbell wrote as a capstone for that ninety-day push. Because it will be filmed for posterity, he notes, “we end with a performance piece that will be live forever on video. We hope to continue to campaign and tell his story by hosting screenings.”
I Am Raverro, Campbell explains, is “based on his story, through a series of monologues and visual montages, with a soundtrack created by composer Conrad Kehn of the Playground Ensemble. All of our folks are volunteering their time and talent to support Raverro: Fronzo Gilkey from the Black Actors Guild is playing Raverro, and Meghan Frank of Theatre Artibus will tell her story about her real friendship with him. We also have Sam Gilstrap as a security guard, Laura Chavez as the voice of RTD, Angie Rivera as the board chair. Marion Johnson is providing vocal talent, and Shontel Lewis will be there live to state her position as a dissenting RTD boardmember.
“I'm really excited about telling the story in this way and keeping the story out in the public sphere,” Campbell says. “I hope to have some screenings in other venues, where we can show the video and do talkbacks just to keep the conversation going and help people get involved in fighting for Raverro. That’s our job. We’re storytellers."
The story’s not over, either. Nor is the fight, Campbell says.
“We began to galvanize supporters in the group to be active in the RTD board meetings,” he explains. “Because they attended virtually, they dominated public comment.”
Campbell and cohorts want to see citizens on an RTD oversight committee. “If someone is elected to oversee the matter, my pushback is: If you were really concerned, you would not allow the general manager of RTD to renew Allied’s contract a year after Raverro’s case,” he explains. “The office you hold doesn't mean anything to citizens if any law-abiding person like Raverro — someone who does not break the law or bother anyone — can be at risk. We want to stay in dialogue until our demands are fully met.”
From Allies to Abolitionists is now moving into fortuitous collaborations with national and international groups such as the Business and Human Rights Resources Centre in New York, the Colorado Working Families Party and the Center for Popular Democracy. The next ninety-day campaign will include partnerships with the Reciprocity Collective and the Denver Voice to extend the group’s mission to include homeless stories — “storytelling for the folks left out," says Campbell.
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“Raverro was profiled as homeless,” Campbell notes. “In a guard’s confession, he told the court he’d been instructed to target people who identify as homeless to deter loitering. In addition to that, Allied was given millions from Mayor Hancock to oversee the Denver Coliseum’s makeshift homeless shelter in the wake of COVID. Allied’s been paid to be hired thugs without body cams, with little oversight on behalf of the government, which gave them the authority to be the law. RTD outsourced liability and allowed a private company to do the dirty work.
“This is the kind of story that’s best for community theater to tell,” Campbell concludes.
See I Am Raverro virtually or at a limited live screening at 7 p.m. Friday, October 2. Find information and tickets, from $12 to $150 VIP, on Facebook.
I Am Raverro will also stream with a post-screening discussion on MCA Denver’s YouTube channel from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 28; learn more and register for the free event at Eventbrite.