Jenny Tarbox

The Esplanade at East High School in Denver in the Spring is a beautiful entrance into one of the most beautiful places in my hometown. There are trees, open spaces, active student gathering spaces, and the historic feel of the building itself that dominates the landscape at Colfax and Josephine. It is a picturesque tapestry. The Esplanade is both intimate and expansive when you are 16.

The nooks around the school’s exterior were so well known to me. I spent a lot of time at East High in the late 1980s in Drama Club and participating in sports. We had an open campus for lunch, so it was my habit to either picnic outside or wander to the nearest Greek, pizza, or sandwich shop with a group of friends. I usually ate a packed lunch on the steps out front of the building. Additionally, I was a neighborhood kid and walked every day the 10 blocks and back.

Trust me, Spring is the best season on the Esplanade.

The school’s main drag feeds directly into an entrance at City Park, and proximity to East Colfax encourages students to be exploring their new lives as adults. The first time I voted I was in the grand entrance inside East on a machine that had levers and a curtain.

I also remember the violent events that happened while I was there. I remember being on lock-down one day because fugitives were in the neighborhood. Police cars were everywhere. I remember a big gang fight involving many people right out in front of the E. I remember a brutal fight in the girl’s bathroom. Porcelain fixtures made for a bad, bad outcome. There were no guns that I saw, but everyone knew they were probably there. I am sure upon posting this, a few people will reach out to remind me about another crazy event I haven’t immediately remembered at school.

Violence as a way of communicating is not new. It has always been there. The choice to promote and use violence has always been there. But our response is what is missing. People don’t take action but numbly absorb and reflect our emotions instead and feel thankful it wasn’t them, this time.

Today, on this blustery winter day, I’m reading the news about a shooting that happened on the Esplanade and I can’t help but wonder why everyone is surprised. But the difference I feel is that even in the 80s people took action and tried to make a difference. Living in proximity to East Colfax in the 1980s provided me many opportunities to see what societal responses to violence might look like. I remember there was at least an attempt at discussion and motion on social issues catalyzing violence as modus operandi in our city’s social contracts. Mayors initiated and strengthened responses to neighborhood violence and reached out to their communities encouraging parks and recreation instead of gangs. The Guardian Angels were people who actually walked up and down Colfax and made their physical presence known to help improve safety for people living in the neighborhoods. Police were more respected and used persuasion and authority to exert power before using tasers and guns.

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We are shocked and saddened, until we are not, by the violence on college campuses, grocery stores, elementary schools, movie theaters. Those headlines are so ubiquitous they become background chatter in between the incidentals of our individual lives. The violence has always been there but our response is lacking.

I am a teacher. I’m trying to do my part in affecting change by telling the hundreds or thousands of students I work with over my long career that people matter, kindness is perpetual, gratitude is the best way to cope with trauma. Violence is a human emotion we all have a choice to either feed, starve, or extinguish in ourselves. This is the rite of passage to adulthood for children in America, how to live with violence, and it is my part in my small sphere to prepare children for this rite of passage. On my resume it says I teach Math and Science, but that’s not really my job. That’s extra credit.

We have idly raised too many generations of people who now expect to be shot or see someone shot, just by virtue of making it to adulthood, in the normal course of their day. The gun debate is the greatest show, but guns are everywhere.

I don’t know what anyone else’s part is, but I think everyone should ask themselves how they can own a part of the discussion about violence and to behave within a framework that hedges against our violent tendencies. It is not a problem of that other neighborhood, that other school, that other city, and it never was. Something some of you might consider in the future: I’ll tell you that deciding to teach children is not for the faint of heart, but is a wounded profession with a deep need for good people who want to help raise a better society. Consider a few years of service as a teacher, aide, paraprofessional, or board member or someone working for a public school. Show smaller humans how to be nice to others. Consider it a national opportunity for civility to interrupt this perpetual human aggression toward other humans that dominates us.

Something that everyone can do in the near future: Denver and Colorado Springs will finally elect new Mayors this Spring. Go vote. People matter. Leadership matters.

Jennifer Tarbox is a Denver native and East High Graduate, and is currently a Middle School teacher in District 11 in Colorado Springs.

Jennifer Tarbox is a Denver native and East High Graduate, and is currently a Middle School teacher in District 11 in Colorado Springs.