"Ladies and gentlemen," a woman announces from the podium. "Thank you for coming."
Carnell and his wife, Sarah, drove six long hours to get here. And now that they've arrived, Carnell can't keep his eyes off the door.
"This is not the Academy Awards," the woman continues. "But we do have an Oscar winner with us here tonight."
Carnell swallows hard.
It's not the size of the audience that makes him squirm. There are only 35 people in the hotel ballroom on this Saturday. And it's not like he's surrounded by strangers, either. Some of the people here have known him for more than forty years. It's just that Carnell Green and his "no-nonsense self" are not accustomed to public recognition, even public recognition as overdue as this.
"We're very proud to honor a man who has touched so many lives."
This is his big night. The man is nervous.
A Few Words
Several days before the March 20 ceremony, Wilbur Reed sits at his kitchen table in Aurora. The top of the table is covered with a scattering of news clippings and a plaque from the U.S. Justice Department with Carnell Green's name on it. Reed is a retired mediator with the justice department. He knows Carnell very well. He has a few words he'd like to share. He places his big hands flat on the table and takes a deep breath. This is what he has to say:
"He is a fine fellow and a fine person. An outstanding example of a police officer. I've known him for 25 years. He is a leader and a role model. He fought long and hard to make things better for minority officers, especially African-Americans. Very few people would take the time to do what he did. He could have been out fishing on his days off, but instead he was heading up organizations to improve relationships between the African-American community and the police department. And Lord knows there have been problems historically.
"He was a force, but a quiet force. And quiet forces usually go unheard by us mortals. A lot of us, unless we make noise, are not seen or heard. He had the talent to be in the hierarchy of the police department, but for whatever reason, he never did. He always felt that certain things passed him by. He's an unsung hero. I guess you could put it that way.
"We decided a long time ago he should be recognized. I petitioned the committee in Washington to take an in-depth look at him for a special community-relations award. The next thing I know, they said, 'What do you want on the plaque?' He won hands down from more than a dozen nominees. But before we could have a ceremony, he left town. Then I got sick, and somewhere in there, we never connected. We never did celebrate his award or recognize him for his many outstanding works. He probably felt no one gave a damn, but there were people who did. They really did. But because of certain events, we just never got the chance. Until now."
A Brief History
Carnell Green was born February 17, 1926, in Bryan, Texas, the oldest of two sons and three daughters. His dad worked construction and served as church deacon. His mother stayed home and raised the kids. He moved to Denver in 1946 and worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, where he prepared snacks in the California Zephyr club car.
In 1957 he joined the Denver Police Department and worked in the traffic, juvenile, investigations, community relations, identification and career-service bureaus. He was the first leader of the black police officers' union, the first black officer to pass the sergeant's eligibility exam and the first black officer to lead his fraternity. He also developed strategies for minority recruitment and community relations that have been used around the country.
He served as an usher at Zion Baptist Church, sat on its board of directors, helped raise $25,000 for renovations and on Sundays read ordinances from the city's codebook.
He retired from the police department in 1983 and went on to supervise security at Denver Public Schools. Despite his passing the sergeant's exam, the DPD had never promoted him beyond the rank of patrolman. Still, when he left in 1997 for Green River, Wyoming, he packed his badge in a special place and took it with him.
Several days before the ceremony, Carnell Green sits in his Green River home and contemplates his career. He has a few stories he'd like to share. He switches the phone to another ear and takes a deep breath. This is what he has to say: