Mill Valley resident Denzel Allen had a horrible, but unfortunately not shocking, start to his Friday last week.
As he got set to go to his martial arts practice in San Rafael, Allen, the owner of the Strength Den MV strength training facility on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley, got a voicemail from a Novato resident he’d never met.
The man had just seen an ad in the Marin Independent Journal promoting Allen’s business as part of the “We Are One Marin” campaign, a collaboration between the Marin Council of Chambers’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and the IJ, with support from the Marin Community Foundation.
Allen was disturbed enough by the voicemail that he reached out to the Mill Valley Police Department, who provided him with the caller’s information but let him know that since there was not a direct threat made against him, their options were limited to filing a report. Allen then reached out to the Mill Valley Chamber, which runs the Enjoy Mill Valley Blog.
Allen shared the voicemail with us. Here’s what the caller said in the voicemail, verbatim: “I’m sick of this America being divided by race. You people can go to hell. There’s no power and no strength in diversity. It’s a bunch of crap and I’m sick and tired of people like you promoting your Blackness to try to make us feel guilty as white people. Go to hell.”
Allen was sick to his stomach upon hearing the caller’s words, and scrambled to understand what he’d received. “I can’t really control what happens from here but I would like there to be a window open to some accountability,” says Allen, who played football at the University of Connecticut and opened his increasingly popular Strength Den in 2018 at the back of Pilates ProWorks at 360 Miller Avenue.
We’ve decided not to identify the caller, largely because it makes the story about him, and not the victim of racial hostility.
Most importantly, we want to bring this terrible incident to light and use it as an opportunity to celebrate innovative, creative business owners like Denzel who have persevered through the pandemic AND a long overdue racial reckoning in the past 17 months.
Allen has built an outstanding local fitness and strength training studio on Miller Avenue, navigating seemingly endless months of being unable to welcome his clients back into his space due to the COVID-19 crisis. Instead, he nimbly pivoted, constantly posting training regimens on Instagram and other platforms to keep his clients engaged.
The Mill Valley Chamber encourages you to support all Mill Valley businesses. But we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate our BIPOC-owned businesses. Joining Denzel in the We Are One Marin campaign are Marin Conservatory of Dance co-owners Melinda and Leliani Neal, Mojo Dojo Karate owner James Henry, Play Marin founder Paul Austin, and former Vitality Bowls’ owners Henry and Rene Kim, along with many more across the county.
The incident provides our community with two critically important reminders:
- The City of Mill Valley, and other municipalities in Marin and beyond, have made concerted efforts to focus on addressing systemic inequity, both past and present. That vigilance has a policy focus, particularly on issues like police reform and affordable housing, but there is still so much work ahead of us. MVFree, which is comprised of members of the City’s former Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force, continues to work outside the City’s structure to push for ongoing progress.
- Irrespective of our policy initiatives, organizations like the Mill Valley Chamber need to continue to make the case that comprehensive efforts to expand opportunity and address systemic inequity strengthen our community. Equity is not a threat – it is a challenge to make Mill Valley more resilient.
The incident serves as a reminder of the now twice vandalized “Perspectives: Past, Present and Future” art piece that was on the Depot Plaza and later placed outside the front entry to Tam High. The group project, led by artist Zoe Fry, features a trio of free-standing doors as a way to promote racial justice, with each door built around a timeline of racial inequity and systemic racism. The first door focuses on decades of historic racism in Southern Marin, with the second highlighting the BIPOC community’s experience with racism in present-day Marin. The third door seeks to chart a path to a racially equitable future.
The piece was first vandalized in June, and was subsequently damaged again on July 20, when Mill Valley police released a video showing a man using some sort of substance in an aerosol can to spray the public art piece over the words “present” and “equity” on the Black Lives Matter portion of the piece.
Mill Valley police say they are investigating this as a hate crime but have yet to identify the suspect.
Fry says she decided to take down “Perspectives” this week. “With the new school year starting, we don’t want to give a platform for hate knowing that this person still hasn’t been identified.”
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