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Anshutz Foundation pledge may finally lift Holly Square up from the ashes

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Early on May 18, 2008, a car full of Crips drove into Park Hill. They were were young gangbangers who'd just beefed with some Bloods in LoDo, and they were still spoiling for a fight: Michael Asberry, co-founder of the Denver Crips, had been shot and killed in Aurora just a few hours before. Now it was time for payback: They were going to kill Holly Square.

Within minutes, the Holly Square Shopping Center at 34th Avenue and Holly Street -- once a bustling center of activities for the black community -- had been reduced to a smoldering wreck.

But from the ashes has grown incredible promise. Two years ago, Joel Warner detailed the story of Holly Square in his award-winning "Up From the Ashes." And yesterday, another chapter opened in the story of Holly Square: The Anschutz Foundation has pledged $5 million to help fund the construction of a Boys & Girls Club.

Mayor Michael Hancock was at the site to announce the pledge and the project it will make possible. "This is really a wonderful thing for this neighborhood -- for all of us," said Hancock, who grew up in Denver. "Three years ago, I don't know if anyone could say anything that would give these people hope."

But soon after the May 2008 blaze, hopeful signs had started emerging from the wreckage. The land was bought by the nonprofit Urban Land Conservancy the next year. And Terrance Roberts, founder of the Prodigal Son, organized a clean-up of the site, as well as the creation of a peace mural and the installation of basketball courts -- turning the area into a place where neighborhood kids could play together, rather than fight.

"If the Denver gang unit, with its sixty officers, can't solve the problem, if all the principals in the schools can't solve the problem, if all the parents and grandparents can't solve the problem, the Prodigal Son and the peace mural aren't going to solve the problem," he said at the time. "But it's a step in the healing process. It will bring more pride to the community. Now, all of a sudden, you're inspiring a whole lot more people to stake a claim to the community, to help out and really be proud of the community."

Roberts, who was at yesterday's ceremony, has real reason to be proud today.

Read the story of Michael Ansberry and other early Denver gang leaders in "The Transformers," our February 2007 cover story.

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