On Wednesday, October 4, Mayor Michael Hancock announced an initiative called Denver Talks, a six-week-long series of events that aims to bring together Denverites for discussions around race and social justice.
With a passing reference to the NFL #TakeAKnee movement and President Donald Trump, Hancock said that Denver Talks is designed to facilitate tough conversations — “and we're going to go deep,” the mayor promised.
“We're asking the residents of our great city to help us come together to build a more inclusive and accepting community, one conversation at a time,” he continued.
To do that, Denver Talks is making available more than 1,200 free copies of the award-winning book Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, which addresses both overt racism and its more subtle variations, sometimes referred to as microaggressions.
Citizen will help guide the Denver Talks events, which are listed on a newly launched website. They include interactive discussions and art projects, and will culminate in two conversations between Hancock and Rankine at Boettcher Concert Hall on Wednesday, November 15, and at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus on Thursday, November 16. Rankine is a MacArthur Fellow and teaches at Yale University.
The Denver Talks program is being supported by a number of organizations, including Lighthouse Writers Workshop and the National Endowment for the Arts. Free copies of Citizen will be available at a kickoff event at the Clyfford Still Museum on October 7, as well as through the Denver Public Library, which is also handing out discussion materials for book clubs.
“It's important to challenge our community to really think outside the box,” said Hancock. “Not to just read this book and talk to somebody you know, but to read this book and talk to someone you don't know, who maybe doesn't look like you.”
He expressed hope that community groups from different neighborhoods – like Stapleton and Montbello, for instance – would come together on their own for discussions about the book.
“Why Citizen?” the mayor asked, rhetorically, about the book selection. “More than a dozen cities chose it as part of the NEA's Big Read Program. And we have chosen Citizen for its power to foster reflection and dialogue.”
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During Wednesday's press conference, Christine Marquez-Hudson, the CEO of the Denver Foundation (which is also supporting Denver Talks), called Denver Talks a first step toward tangible policy changes that achieve racial equality.
I asked Mayor Hancock what kind of actions or policy changes he thinks Denver Talks might inspire. Hancock gave an example of how Denver Police Chief Robert White has been hosting events at Denver-area high schools to foster interactions between students and police officers. Hancock said White's efforts have helped reduce misunderstanding about the police, since students' interactions with the police were happening in a context other than getting in trouble for something.
"That's an example," Hancock said.
To find out more about Denver Talks and its events, visit denvertalks.org