To spark your summer reading, the Wilkinson Public Library is currently giving away copies of “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood.” The book, written by Julian Rubinstein, investigates the events leading to anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts shooting a prominent gang member, weaving together a multi-generational tale of race and politics. “The Holly” is this year’s selection for the library’s annual Town Read in collaboration with Mountainfilm.
“Here at the library and at Mountainfilm, we’re about connecting people with a greater galaxy of ideas and movements,” Joanna Spindler, the library’s adult programs specialist, told the Daily Planet. “It’s a way for people in our semi-isolated community to connect their minds and hearts.”
Each year the library features a book in tandem with either a film or guest appearing at the festival. This year, Mountainfilm is premiering the film version of “The Holly.” Rubinstein directed the movie, signing big names Lana Garland, Adam McKay and Todd Schulman as executive producers.
Rubinstein worked on the book and the documentary simultaneously, but filming footage for the film required a different kind of access than written journalism.
“It was interesting as a process, reporting and producing in multiple formats because there’s different ways to tell a story,” Rubinstein told the Planet Tuesday.
The journalist grew up in Denver but had not spent time in The Holly neighborhood. Gaining access to the community took patience and hard work. Rubinstein usually only worked with one other cameraman to keep the team small, but it was “very challenging” to embed.
“There are many nuances and complexities to the neighborhood that took me a while to understand,” he said.
Both Rubinstein and Roberts will be in Telluride for Mountainfilm. The two are giving a “coffee talk” that is open to the public on May 28.
“It’s really important to connect our community with what is happening in the rest of the world,” Spindler said.
One evening in early fall 2013, five shots were fired in The Holly, a northeastern neighborhood in Denver that has long been home to African Americans escaping the Jim Crow South. The neighborhood has seen its share of gang violence, but the identity of the September 2013 shooter shook Denver. Roberts, an avowed anti-gang activist, had shot and injured Hasan Jones, a key gang figure and second-generation Blood.
Roberts’ activism was supported by local community members and Colorado politicians alike.
After years as a Blood gang member and a decade in prison for felony convictions, he transformed into a prominent activist, founding the Colorado Camo Movement.
But just moments before one of his peace rallies, Roberts was arrested for the shooting of Jones, rocking the local community and sending reverberations across the anti-gang violence movement.
In “The Holly,” Rubinstein, an award-winning journalist, investigates why Roberts shot Jones after nearly a decade fighting to clean up the streets that he had once run. Rubinstein weaves together decades of history to piece together the social, political and cultural elements that led to the September shooting.
Rubinstein slowly built up his relationship with Roberts, and the two have worked together for years now.
“I thank him for allowing me to ride alongside and let the world have a window into this,” Rubinstein said. “He’s a complicated person who’s had a traumatic past.”
The book travels from the Civil Rights era to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Rubinstein reveals how The Holly neighborhood became the target of aggressive policing, luxury real estate schemes and state surveillance, all of which contribute to structural racism.
“The more I started talking to people the more important I realized the story was and how symbolic Terrance was of the African American story,” Rubinstein said.
Moutainfilm will be a special opportunity for the local community to connect with Roberts, who recently announced his candidacy in the Denver mayoral race. As well as a prominent anti-gang activist, Roberts helped organize protests for justice for Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, who died in police custody after being put in a chokehold and given a powerful anesthetic in 2019. In September 2021, a Colorado grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics for McClain’s death.
“The Holly” is a New York Times “Editors’ Choice” and a Booklist Best Books of 2021 pick.
Spindler encouraged local residents to sign up for the book club as soon as possible. Copies of “The Holly” are going fast. But fear not, “The Holly” is also available to borrow from the library as an ebook or audiobook.
If Town Read books run out and locals want a hard copy, Between the Covers Bookstore has their shelves stocked. The paperback version of “The Holly” was recently released.
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