Message of march resonates for good Black neighborhoods seem changed by event


DENVER -- After a 3-year-old boy was killed in a drive-by shooting in December, 100 black men fanned out through a black neighborhood here. They knocked on doors until leads resulted in three arrests several days later.

After rival gangs firebombed four houses in the same northeast Denver neighborhood in January, more than 1,000 men turned out for a five-hour protest rally, the All Black Men Conference. The firebombings stopped.

It has been nearly six months since the Million Man March, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of black men in Washington in October organized by the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan. Far from fading away, the march's messages of moral renewal and personal responsibility have found particularly fertile ground among the 100,000 blacks in the Denver area, the largest such community in the Rocky Mountain West. Denver's black neighborhoods seem changed by the event, in ways tangible and intangible.

"Men are getting more involved on their blocks; traditionally, it was only the women," said Alvertis Simmons, who is organizing a local follow-up rally to the Million Man March to be held here next month.

Recalling his efforts to set up anti-crime groups three years ago, he said: "Before, there were hardly any men in the neighborhood watch groups. Last week, I heard of a black man setting up one on his block."

The march has inspired a similar level of activity in other black neighborhoods around the nation. At Northeast High School in Kansas City, Mo., for example, several dozen are volunteering as tutors, counselors and cafeteria monitors in a program to provide a positive male image for teen-agers. In Chicago, a similar mentor program has attracted about 100 black men, many of whom took part in the Washington march. And in Detroit and Los Angeles, agencies that help in the adoption of black children are reporting a surge of interest.

About 350 communities now have Million Man March organizing committees, said the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., national director of the Million Man March Organizing Committee, which is based in Washington.

In Atlanta, he said, march organizers have registered 28,000 people to vote and have directed a campaign that increased deposits in black-owned banks by $2 million, Mr. Chavis said in a telephone interview.

His said Denver was "typical of what is happening in numerous areas around the country."

Although blacks account for only 5 percent of the 2 million people who live in the Denver metropolitan area, the city's mayor, Wellington E. Webb, is black, as is the president of the school board, Aaron Gray.

Hardly ghettos, Denver's black neighborhoods include low-rise housing projects, working-class bungalows and suburban ranch homes.

"Denver has so many good things going for it -- we've elected a black mayor and re-elected a black mayor," said the Rev. James Peters, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church. "The gangs are not representative of black people in Denver. You've had retired people from the military, working two jobs and buying nice homes here."

"Denver's like a comfort zone," warned Jamal Muhammad, a local Nation of Islam minister, who was sent here last year from Los Angeles by Minister Farrakhan. "A lot of black people, and a lot of white people, come here to get away from urban problems."

But he noted that the Crips and the Bloods, two national street gangs, had recruited here and warned that "Denver could end up like L.A."

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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