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Pastor Ralph Beechum's church borders Martin Luther King Boulevard. He believes King "brought on a cultural revolution that is still going on."

Denver: Like the man it is named for, the boulevard is about people in their myriad connections

Denver Post Staff Writer

Eighteen years ago this month, Denver took a broad, four-mile stretch of pavement - pragmatically if unpoetically dubbed 31st Avenue - and renamed it Martin Luther King Boulevard.

For most of the year, a street named after the civil rights leader might not register that much with the people who drive and live along it, no matter how dedicated they are to the man's vision.

But at a time when Denver is coming off a string of hate crimes - a handful of murders and assaults perpetrated by skinheads in late autumn - a street named after a slain, Nobel Peace Prize-winner takes on added resonance.

"To have that street renamed for Martin Luther King, I think that speaks volumes about the community and how it felt about the process of change," says the Rev. Ralph Beechum, pastor of the House of Joy Miracle Deliverance Church, which sits beside the boulevard. "MLK brought on a cultural revolution that is still going on."

The boulevard is almost entirely given over to residential homes, rather wilted at the western end closest to the downtown, but modest and well-kept in the broad swath to the east, where the road is split by a grassy median.

More than a dozen churches are scattered along the boulevard. They range from storefront congregations to sprawling complexes. The Clayton Center for Children and Youth sits on the old Clayton College campus at Colorado Boulevard; it is one of a handful of community outreach organizations on the boulevard.

Most commercial activity is clustered near the road's terminus at Stapleton International Airport, which is being converted to an industrial park now that Denver International Airport has opened east of the city. Community leaders wonder if they'll see any economic benefits. "We're not worried about property values declining, but we do wonder if we'll see an enhancement," Beechum says. "Will they remain stable or really take off?"

Like the man it is named after, the boulevard is about people in their myriad connections: individuals, families, community.

"From our perspective, having a boulevard named after Dr. King is quite important," says the Rev. Terrance Carroll, youth pastor at the 1,800-member Macedonia Baptist Church. "At least in a symbolic way it shows Denver's cognizance of his contribution."

Macedonia sits at the corner of Adams Street, close to the boulevard's midpoint. "That means quite a bit to us, because we pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of history in our community as far as effecting social change," Carroll says. And having a street named after King is a good way to keep the man's name in front of up-and-coming generations, for whom the 1960s are something encountered in history books or grainy TV footage.

On a recent afternoon, Dejon Metters sat at a bus stop on MLK Boulevard and pondered the looming holiday's meaning. At 16, he is much too young for memories of the civil-rights leader.

But Metters appreciates King's legacy, thanks in part to his father, who owns a sense of history and has tried to impart it to his son.

"The day means freedom to me," he says. "It stands for all the things the black people went through, the slavery and everything. And it makes me think of all the things I can do now that my ancestors couldn't do, like get an education."

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