The third annual Westwood National Night Out held Aug. 5 at Westwood Park was a colorful celebration of the neighborhood’s diverse cultural heritage and community spirit. It was part of the 31st National Night Out, sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. According to NATW’s website, the events are designed to promote police and community partnership and neighborhood camaraderie.
“National night out was a program that was started a number of years ago and the idea was to try to get people from the community to meet together and get to know each other,” said Denver Police Department District 4 Commander, William Nagle. “The community is generally safer if you know your neighbor.”
National Night Out is held on the first Tuesday in August. NATW says the events have grown to include more than 37 million people in more than 16,000 communities.
MSU Denver’s Journey Through Our Heritage’s Aztec dance group, Huitzilopotchtli (hummingbird on the left) opened the festivities and offered prayers in the four directions for the community, amid the insistent beating of drums and the rhythm of hueceras around the dancers ankles.
Dr. Reneé Fajardo, coordinator of JTOH, says the group is involved with all community in Denver and many of their students have roots in Southwest Denver, so the group donated its time to start off the celebration.
Before Huitzilopotchtli closed the four directions, they invited the entire community to join them in the friendship dance, where Vietnamese lion dancers joined hands with the Aztec dancers and others to celebrate the diversity of the community.
Members of the Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of Colorado’s youth group performed the lion dance, accompanied by drum and cymbals, and cheers from the crowd.
Kasandra Ornelas of Southwest Denver Coalition said their group helped coordinate many other community agencies, sponsors, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, as well as police resources to bring together the event.
Festivities included free food, games for kids, a soccer mini-camp with members of the Colorado Rapids, booths featuring community services, raptors from HawkQuest, the Denver Police Department Crime Lab and the Denver Fire Department.
Nonprofits including Gang Rescue And Support Project offered information on community services they provide. GRASP partners with organizations like the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver to help build strong communities.
GRID outreach worker, Joe Aragon, said in a beautiful city like Denver, many people may not be aware that gang strongholds exist. Aragon said GRID works to help young people get out of gangs, or if they don’t want to leave, to build productive lives.
“We want to help young people be productive, and to give back instead of just take away,” Aragon said. “That’s really what we’re about.”
The National Night Out event in Westwood was just one of many throughout Denver, and Nagle says it now coincides with Denver Days, which encourages residents to celebrate the spirit of the Mile High City in a range of events citywide.
“It’s a story not about the police, not about fire or anything,” Nagle said, “But it’s about the community – the communities coming together.”