Updated: Feb 17, 2021
There are some people who accept the world for what it is and there are others who strive to make it better. Marie Greenwood has always resisted the status quo and put herself at the center of a fight for educational equity and excellence in Denver. As the first Black educator to be hired after integration, Marie taught students and community that when you resist, and then you persist, you can challenge unequal systems. Today would have been her 107th birthday and her fight for equity feels more important than ever.
“Aim for the stars and at least you’ll hit the treetops,” Marie Greenwood once said, recalling her college years. This was more than true for Greenwood who devoted her life to fighting systematic oppression and racism in Denver Public Schools
It was this tenacity that followed her through her life and career. Greenwood took her father’s advice, consistently reminding herself that she was as good as everybody else and that if she worked hard enough, she could be even better. Despite being unable to join any sports or clubs, and even being told by an administrator that she shouldn’t bother attending college because she’d only end up cleaning houses, Greenwood ended up graduating 3rd in her class of 357 students from Denver’s West High School.
With the help of a scholarship that she won, Greenwood attended Colorado’s Teacher College in Greeley. Once again, discrimination loomed alongside, preventing her from living on campus or even joining any student organizations. Nevertheless, she proceeded to graduate, and in 1935 was hired by Denver Public schools as a first-grade teacher at Whittier Elementary for $1,200 a year. Three years later Greenwood went on to become the first teacher of color in Denver to get tenure. From then on, Greenwood described her position as, “more than just my job, it was opening the door for others too.”
Her insistence didn’t stop there. In 1955 Greenwood became the first black teacher at an all-white school. Then on, it may have seemed a standard Colorado-life for Greenwood, raising her family, skiing frequently, and camping the West, but she continually fought for equality in education. From serving as a member of a DPS committee in the 1960’s that studied racial inequalities in school funding and staffing, to volunteering for early learning programs late into her retirement, Greenwood never let her love for education fade.
Today, Greenwood’s accomplishments not only proudly illustrate the strides that can and should be made but also exemplify the urgency in which we must fight to ensure every student has access to a high-quality education. Denver has some of the highest access and opportunity gaps in the country. We must be insistent that every child is brilliant. Greenwood made this clear not just in her 2007 book, Every Child Can Learn, but through her career, family, and life. Her legacy will continue to ripple through the soul of Denver. Days ago, the Members of the Denver Board of Education voted unanimously on a memorial proclamation in her honor. A statue of Greenwood reading a book will be placed in the garden at Greenwood Elementary. It will be an interactive art piece designed to encourage kids to climb up and sit with her, because as board member Happy Haynes said, “the world stopped when Mrs. Greenwood was in the building. The kids gathered around her like there was no rockstar on the planet that got more attention and adulation than her”. Today, and every day, we honor Marie Greenwood by fighting to ensure excellence in every school, for every student.
“Every child can learn. Every Child. At every teacher, at every school, there should be equality.” - Marie Greenwood (November 24, 1912 - November 15, 2019)