Rachel Stovall

Only the second month of the year and I am done with chaos and ridiculous racial and political commentary of our day. To hell with Critical Race Theory.

But that is another entire column.

Where is the positive sense of culture or celebration for Coloradans? Do all our racial interactions have to devolve into conflict? Or is there a better way?

Lately, I have been having thoughts of “safe space”. Stop laughing … sometimes I just long for a return to a sense of peace, common unity, and the simple pleasures of yesteryear.

I miss safely walking on city streets where I can look up and see the stars at night. I yearn for the sound of live music, the laughter of people, and the beautiful attire that marked “going out.”

Like many, I long for the sense of glamour and elegance that used to be downtown nightlife.

Just in time to offer respite from this cold and hard racial landscape in Colorado, the famous Cotton Club founded by Fannie Mae Duncan is being recreated in the building of The Gold Room at 18 S. Nevada Avenue.

Gold Room owner, Evan Hooton, has plans to open in June. Staying true to the genres of the original Cotton Club there will be an outreach of jazz, comedy, and enough warmth to melt cold hearts via fire pits on the roof.

For those of you who do not know, local Civil Rights icon Fannie Mae Duncan started her business the Cotton Club with a mandate to make everyone comfortable. Fannie Mae also brought national entertainment luminaries like Etta James, Sammy Davis Jr., and Duke Ellington to our region on a regular basis.

Shirley Martinez, vice president of the Pikes Peak Diversity Council shares the history saying, “It (The Cotton Club) opened the doors for people to come in, celebrate, sing, and enjoy different cultures.”

A simple sign adorned the window of the establishment, “Everybody Welcome.” The Cotton Club stance to uphold the Constitutional rights of all patrons regardless of race, changed our region.

Others followed her example. As we look back, we see the power of one person to make a difference.

The power that you have.

In the Cotton Club, we see in Fannie Mae, our own ability to make racial and political change from a place of empowerment, not powerlessness. No protest in the street here.

A woman of privilege, Fannie Mae’s style of engagement pushed class and race boundaries out of her way. Ahead of her time, she refused to take on any of the expected black submissiveness or to enforce any type of segregation in her businesses.

In keeping with the message of “Everybody Welcome” at the Cotton Club Fannie Mae ran the club her way, dressed in her signature glamorous attire. She employed a multi-racial staff to make guests from every social class, race, and country as comfortable as possible.

Colorado Springs learned to deal with Fannie Mae Duncan on terms of equality. Nothing else was tolerated.

The founder of the Cotton Club was also a philanthropist — sharing widely in the community as one of the founders of the 400 Club — which provided money, food, and clothing for the underprivileged. Fannie Mae Duncan also used her own money to fund scholarships for disadvantaged youth and started the local Sickle Cell Anemia Association. She did this by buying a 43-room mansion and running it as a hotel for black travelers, rooms to rent for locals and those artists who performed at the Cotton Club.

As Duncan herself told The Gazette in 1989 (years after closing the club), “If the Cotton Club helped bring people together, that’s good.”

Indeed.

Seeing the famous Cotton Club coming back to life down-town gives hope that perhaps Coloradans will dare to follow the example set by this legend.

We can innovate to keep our businesses alive, and care for our families. With dignity we can use earned income or profits to help each other and uphold equality at the same time.

Fannie Mae, we hear you even in 2021. “Everybody Welcome.”

Rachel Stovall is a long-standing community advocate and grassroots organizer in the Pikes Peak region.

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