Paul Stewart, founder of the Black American West Museum, shares the forgotten story of the African American cowboy with visitors who stop in at the Museum’s Five Points Denver neighborhood location.
Credit: David Falconer for the Denver Metro CVB
When the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it also blew away any hope Rhonda Davis and her planning committee had for their upcoming family reunion the following July in New Orleans. William and Norris Davis Family Reunion planning committee members quickly did some preliminary research and agreed to head west. Nearly 100 family members will be venturing to sunny Denver, Colorado.
“Several aspects about Denver really appealed to us,” notes Davis. “Denver’s central location, its image as a clean, safe and friendly city and its ease for getting around greatly influenced our decision.” Davis adds that, “None of our family members live in Denver, so this is a new adventure for everyone.”
Rhonda contacted the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB). “They sent a very impressive packet about the city. I began working with Shannon Hahn, who has been a huge help and a wonderful resource. She holds your hand and guides you through the planning process.” Davis’s reunion team’s hotel selection was the Radisson Hotel in Denver’s booming Stapleton neighborhood. The Radisson offered affordable suites with free shuttle rides to Denver International Airport, easy access to public transportation along with on-site banquet and catering for their family events. Davis developed an activities schedule that includes cultural sites and entertainment of interest to her African American family members.
The Davis clan might want to steal a few ideas from Ron Young, a Denver resident who hosted the 95 attendees of the Saxton Family Reunion. Young took two years to thoughtfully plan his family reunion, carefully filling the schedule with something special for everyone.
Members of the Saxton family are spread all over the US, with the largest contingent from Alabama. Young knew few of his family had ever ventured west and Denver would be a brand new experience. In speaking of his guests, Young says, “I knew the majority perceived Denver as a small, white person’s town. They discovered this vibrant big city with an array of experiences to offer the African American visitor. Denver has it all.”
Young realized that family members traveling from homes at sea level, particularly seniors, adjusting to Denver’s “mile high” altitude could present health risks. So, at every opportunity he emphasized the need to stay hydrated and provided water bottles at each event. Like most reunion planners, Young needed to identify activities for a family reflecting many interests across all age groups.
Young decided that downtown was the “place to be” for the reunion home base. They chose an excellent location for the group to enjoy walks on the city’s mile-long downtown 16th Street Mall promenade or rides on the Mall’s free shuttle bus to more than 300 restaurants, shops, the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the State Capitol Building and the Denver Art Museum.
The 16th Street Mall Shuttle route also extends to LoDo, Denver’s 25-square-block hip, historic district in Lower Downtown, where century-old warehouses have been converted to art galleries, coffee houses, sports bars and jazz cafes. As Young puts it, “The free Mall Shuttle, with the access it offers to various historical sites, night life and light rail connections to other parts of the city, was my godsend!”
For major trips, Young chose Sid Wilson’s A Private Guide (www.aprivateguide.com), an African American-owned company specializing in tours for convention and reunion visitors. “I can’t say enough about Sid Wilson and what a true pleasure it was to work with him. His company’s superior service made my job as a planner a whole lot easier,” admits Young.
Saxtons packed a lot of fun into their four days in Denver. They visited INVESCO Field, home of the Denver Broncos, the Broncos Training Center, Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies Baseball Team, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Six Flags Elitch Gardens and Genesee Park, where herds of bison roam freely amidst breathtaking mountain top views of Denver. They also enjoyed gambling in an old mining town and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. African American cultural sites included the Five Points Neighborhood, the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center, which tells the forgotten story of African American cowboys, and the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, where the history of African Americans in the west can be explored.
The bronze statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., located in Denver’s grand City Park, stands as one of the nation's most spectacular memorial tributes to the “drum major of peace.” This striking replica features Dr. King majestically standing atop a three-layer pedestal, with bronze representations of Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Mahatma Gandhi below.
The Saxtons’ visit to Denver stands as their largest reunion turnout, with 25% of family members arriving early or staying late to enjoy more of the city.
Even though it’s been almost a year, when you listen to Ron Young recalling the gathering, you can hear the warmth in his voice—as if it just happened yesterday. “I have some wonderful images in my mind, such as seeing the excitement in the eyes of my family members as they stood close by, watching the big buffalo roaming around Genesee Park. These are memories that I won’t soon forget,” reflects Young.
Contact the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-880-9059; www.denver.org.
About the author
Susan Burks is a communications consultant living in Denver, Colorado.