By Makenzie O'Keefe

DENVER (CBS4) – A park in the Stapleton area was tagged with racial slurs last week. Now, neighbors are standing together to send the message that hate will not be tolerated in their community.

(credit: CBS)

“My initial reaction was just heartbreak,” explained Marissa Mwendwa, who has lived in the Stapleton neighborhood for three years. “I can’t imagine the pain that would cause someone.”

Mwendwa told CBS4 she first saw the graffiti when her friend and neighbor posted photos online. The graffiti showed expletives and derogatory words.

(credit: CBS)

“My friend, who is a woman of color, talked about how heartbreaking it was for her to be riding past it with her young son and how thankful she was that he couldn’t read,” she said.

Feeling helpless and frustrated, Mwendwa took matters into her own hands. With a spray bottle, she scrubbed the walls to remove the hurtful words that left a mark on her community. She says while it may have only been chalk, those phrases have a lasting effect.

“Surreal is a good word,” she explained. “Cleaning it up was something I could do immediately. It’s harder to clean that up out of people.”

(credit: CBS)

Mwendwa said once word spread about the graffiti, many neighbors felt uneasy.

“They’re scared of retaliation. They’re scared of their neighborhood,” she said.

In an effort to change the narrative, some neighbors came together to show strength and love are what defines their neighborhood. In place of the hateful messages, neighbors used chalk to write thinks like “be kind” and “we love all of our neighbors.”

(credit: CBS)

“People went down and wrote messages of support, talking about hate has no home here,” Mwendwa said. “I would hope that would continue in other parts of their lives. If they hear racism or see racism, I hope they confront it.”

Mwendwa showed CBS4 a letter from the Denver Police Department addressing the issue. In the letter, DPD said they were aware that derogatory bias-motivated language can cause fear and anxiety and offered resources to help those impacted.

Makenzie O'Keefe

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