Colfax on MLK Day

In the entire country, this is the longest continuous thoroughfare through a major metropolitan area. Its collection of every type of store, from spiritual arts to adults only to tattoo artists and nail salons, from record and book shops that beckon a bygone era, to liquor stores on almost every block, Laundromats, and gift shops, makes it more unique than any other street in Denver. But its difference does not stop there: it boasts a combination of modern brick apartment buildings intermingled with renovated Victorian mansions, stone masonry churches and the most architecturally magnificent high school in Colorado. It holds a variety of restaurants that range from Ethiopian to American to Greek, some dating back decades and others replacing old favorites with food served with a twist of contemporary and old-fashioned décor. The small theatres that line up like square building blocks along the north side of the street host up-and-coming bands from around the world. And all along its light-at-every-block corridor on any given day, you will see every kind of person you can imagine, from heavily pierced young artists to conservatively dressed Catholics to families pushing their strollers with young children. And you will also see, at all times of the day and night, endless traffic—people pouring out of the many bars and night clubs and into the multitude of 24/7 restaurants, people piercing and tattooing themselves at two in the morning, people streaming in and out of downtown.

This is Colfax, the simultaneously famous and infamous Denver street, the route to Civic Center Park, Lakewood, and Aurora, the path that leads to everywhere you want to go if you are heading somewhere in the city. And for every hour of almost every day of the year, you can drive on it. But not today, when the nation’s largest crowd gathers for a Marade, a combination of march and parade, to celebrate the glorious leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you go, you will stand for hours in City Park, and it will probably be sunny, as it always is in Denver. You will probably hear speeches from the mayor, the governor, perhaps a state senator, maybe even a U.S. senator. There will be a rally at the end with poetry and more speeches. There will be people holding up signs to say that we need to end the war, that you should join their church, that gays and lesbians should have equal rights, that American Indians are the first founding fathers, that the United States should have a Department of Peace. There will be drums of various tones and sizes, some individuals and some small groups, to set the beat for your six-mile-round trip walk.

But what you will really see and hear, as you take one slow step at a time, is a rainbow of people who, despite the varying signs they hold, despite the buses, cars old and new, and other methods of arrival to this point in place and time, have all come here with a common goal: to let loose the burdens of all that hang over our current society, to celebrate an amazing man who led so many thousands of people to a peaceful change, to come together with strangers and treat them as friends, and, with the strength and courage that drives us all to take pride in our country, to stop traffic on Colfax Avenue.