On a sunny March day, Welton Street women gathered for a photo.
The 20 women who stood out in their bright dresses – sharp reds, sunny yellows, bright greens, and hot pinks – stood there with confidence. Hands on hips. Shoulders in the square. Big smile.
The women, all professionals in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver, came to make a statement: We are there for one another, and we are here to stay.
But they had no idea how the photo would become a symbol of joy, strength, and hope in the entire neighborhood. Comments on social media posts have “Nice!”, “So nice to see my home”, and “That’s all!”
“It brings back the spirit of who the people here are,” said Terry Nelson, a librarian in the picture. “It enriches what we have missed. The wonderful warmth of being here. “
To say the least, last year was tough for everyone, but even more difficult for blacks. The novel coronavirus made them sicker and brought higher death rates than whites or Latinos. Minority-owned companies have struggled to obtain government-sponsored pandemic loans to help them make a living. And then there were the racial justice protests sparked by the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.
Stack all of this on a rapidly changing historic neighborhood in Denver and the weight of the world felt crushing.
During the summer, during the height of the racial justice protests, Fathima Dickerson, whose family owns the Welton Street Cafe, formed the Women of Welton Street group thinking she and the other women could lean on each other to get through the tough times.
Gathering for a group photo was her idea, but she had no idea how powerful the moment would be.
For Welton Street Cafe, the pandemic brought a sudden move to a restaurant where generations have eaten hot wings, catfish, and Jamaican pate. When schools and businesses closed and the lunchtime rush suddenly stalled, Dickerson said she felt empty, especially when she was walking down Welton Street.
“I didn’t feel any cars. I didn’t feel any people. I didn’t feel anything, ”said Dickerson. “I felt like I lost all my breath. I couldn’t breathe, I thought, ‘Oh my god, what do we do now?’ ”
Welton Street Cafe has been converted into a take-away restaurant where something can be cooked for everyone at any time. And Dickerson even started selling the best candy bars in the world, usually sold by school kids as a fundraiser to make ends meet.
Across the street, Rise Jones kept TeaLee’s Tea Company in business with skill and creativity. It found community grants, made a big push at Christmas, and opened with reduced capacity. However, during the darkest months of the pandemic, she felt disconnected from the community.
So the picture day felt like a renewal, she said.
“It was a bad moment, going up and down Welton to confirm who we are and confirm our story,” she said. “We need to connect with people we haven’t seen every day. It’s the community and the bond. “
Nelson and Jameka Lewis, both research librarians at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, have already declared the photo historic and are filing it in the library’s archives. You’ve documented the neighborhood once known as the Harlem of the West and watched developers build tall apartment buildings and open white-owned businesses.
The change in the past five years has been so significant that some are wondering if blacks are still living in Five Points, Lewis said.
“People come and say, ‘Black people are still here? ‘and we say, “Yeah, we’re still here,” she said. “None of us was surprised by the feedback. It is important that people understand the history of this area and the culture of this area is black. It’s rooted in the blackness. Black excellence. “
For Chermetra Keys, the photographer who took the picture, the moment confirmed her decision to quit a permanent job to start a photo business. And it re-established the connection to a community where her family has close ties.
Keys’ great-grandmother Zona Moore died three days before the admission at the age of 95. Moore owned Zonas Tamales, which the locals fondly known as “pig ear stands” for their cooked pig ear sandwiches. Moore was a household name in the neighborhood, but Keys didn’t really know many of the women she wanted to photograph.
“Being there at that moment was so cool. I didn’t know all these women existed down here, ”she said. “Whatever I can do, I want to get into the five points and be surrounded by these women.”
On that day, the women were walking around the neighborhood and posing for photos in front of shops. While they were together, they shared stories about the past and discussed future plans. Several women described the moment as inspiring.
For Jones, it reminded her of how special Five Points are and how important women entrepreneurs are. And she felt energized keeping her shop, which specializes in loose-leaf tea and African American books, open.
“If you can get through this, there is an opportunity not only to survive but to thrive,” she said. “One of the nice parts of our story is that we can do anything. It’s more than just survival. “