Linda Block has lived in her home in Whitter for over 25 years. She’ll admit she’s not very creative, but Block knew the blank canvas on the side of her garage was crying out for some artistic attention. Now if you take a stroll down 24th Ave between Gilpin and Williams, you’ll notice the city’s newest edition to its collection of diverse murals.
“I had been thinking about it for several months especially since the racial upheavals of last summer and just the division in this country,” Block said.
The wavy rainbow paneling unfurling outward from a black inner circle reading ‘EQUALLITY’ – with an emphasis on ‘ALL’ – was designed and painted by graphic designer and muralist Adam Raiola. Block reached out to Raiola after seeing his work on another mural across the street. She told Raiola that she wanted the mural to reflect what the neighborhood and larger community had gone through recently while still remaining positive. As luck would have it, Raiola already had a perfect design for Block from a previous project that fell through.
“I took one look at it, and it didn’t take a nanosecond,” Block said. ‘That’s it. That’s exactly the message I want to convey.’”
“It touched on her message and my message as well,” Raiola said. “And I think this landed at such a good time… 2020 I think, if nothing else, it has shown everyone that we need equality now more than ever.”
Block dedicated the mural to Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in August of 2019 after police in Aurora restrained him with a chokehold that has since been banned.
“It made me start to question the fact that somebody, some anonymous person, called him in as suspicious because he was walking down the street with a head scarf slash wrap on,” Block said. “There was nothing suspicious about it… it really made me stop and think about how I look at people and what I would consider suspicious.”
It is also dedicated to Dorsey Cherry, a 78-year-old Black man and former Whittier resident who lived directly across the street from Block before he died of cancer in 2017. And while Cherry’s story might not be as well known as McClain’s, it is even closer to Block’s heart.
“I’m an old white woman from Nebraska… our childhoods had nothing in common, but we just became very good friends and looked out for each other,” Block said. “I still miss him terribly.”
She wanted to keep Cherry’s name in the neighborhood because he had lived there for over 30 years. Despite being quiet and unassuming, Cherry was known by most everyone in his community. He drove a garbage truck for Denver Waste Management and managed to keep with his early wake-up calls to shovel the neighbors’ driveways, even after he retired. Block really stood by his side during his later years.
“He was a real integral part of this neighborhood,” Block said. “I just really wanted him to be remembered.”
Doctors found a mass in Cherry’s chest in September of 2017. It wasn’t until that December that he was contacted about further appointments. Block drove him to his appointment in December, but they did not further investigate the mass in his chest because they said he needed to see a dietician first regarding his diabetes. Block was irate. She didn’t think he was getting the right care. Cherry graciously accepted her offer to advocate for him. Block marched back to the hospital saying to “tell his doctor I want to get a call.”
“It just is almost stunningly neglectful,” Block said. “I think the quality of care for Black people, or people of color… they don’t get the same level of concern.”
Cherry died of cancer in March of 2017. Up until that point, Block and other neighbors were taking care of him in between hospice visits. “This corner just came together and, really out of love and respect for Dorsey, took care of him,” Block said.
To this day, Block still holds his memory close to her heart. Every year on his birthday, Block brought fried green tomatoes over to his house to celebrate. She has continued the tradition by visiting his burial site at Fort Logan every August 18th and bringing some unfried green tomatoes to leave by his name.
Block hopes the mural will be an uplifting sight during the daily passerby’s commute. She wants the story behind the mural to remind people of the lingering legacy of Elijah McClain and especially Dorsey Cherry in hopes they’ll embrace justice and get to know their neighbors.