Two days after filing a lawsuit alleging that Denver Public Schools unlawfully tried to trademark the name of a student-run racial justice podcast, two current students and a recent graduate said Wednesday that the district’s actions made them feel wronged.
Kaliah Yizar, a senior at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College, said the district’s attempt to trademark the podcast name — “Know Justice, Know Peace” — is contradictory to its claim that it supports racial equity and students taking initiative. Denver Public Schools filed the trademark applications after the students decided they wanted to make their podcast independently.
“I feel like it shows an example of performative support of student activism,” Yizar said of the district’s trademark. “It’s just showing an example to students everywhere, especially in DPS, that you can do what you want — but don’t go too far. And what is really too far when it comes to changing the future and changing the lives of not only ourselves but other students?”
Yizar and three other young Black women — student Dahni Austin, and graduates Jenelle Nangah and Alana Mitchell — sued Denver Public Schools in U.S. District Court Monday for trademark infringement, alleging that they created the podcast name and own it. On Wednesday, Yizar, Nangah, and Austin held a press conference to discuss the lawsuit.
Denver Public Schools declined to comment Monday but released a statement Wednesday in which it claimed that the young women’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kass, “misrepresented the facts.”
“Denver Public Schools looks forward to the legal process and clearing up any misinformation that is in the complaint,” the statement says. “Serving more than 90,000 students, DPS must maintain the integrity of our educational programs and intellectual property.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Kass has misrepresented the facts and law in an attempt to push the narrative that DPS did anything other than assert its rights through the legal process. We are disappointed that we were unable to come to a mutually agreeable resolution with these students, and we remain open to further discussions.”
The podcast has been successful by several measures. Started in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it attracted widespread media attention, including an appearance by the students on The Today Show. The students’ advocacy spurred the Denver school board to order the district to diversify its curriculum to include Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous history. The students also participated virtually in a White House summit on educational equity.
The podcast has been on hold since the spring, but the young women said they hope to continue working on it together even as some go on to postsecondary education. In June, the former principal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College, Kimberly Grayson, registered a business with the state called Know Justice, Know Peace: The Take LLC, reflecting the podcast’s full name. Nangah is now the registered agent for the LLC.
At the livestreamed press conference, the students appeared with their lawyer in a room full of community members and spoke about how the podcast helped them personally. Nangah, who graduated from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College in 2021, said calling out racial injustice and discussing ways to address it boosted her self-esteem and mental health.
“It empowered me so much and it carried me through a lot of difficult times,” Nangah said.
Austin said she joined the podcast to learn more about Black history. In the first episode, students talked about the history of the Fourth of July and Juneteenth holidays.
“This is all quite upsetting what DPS is doing now because it’s just showing that when we try to learn our history, there’s so much backlash,” said Austin, a senior.
Yizar agreed. She said that while the district is concerned with intellectual property and trademarks, the podcast means more to her and the other students. Speaking to her peers about issues of racial justice has been emotionally healing, she said.
“It’s almost ironic how us as Black students, learning about our history, learning about how as Black people, oftentimes our ideas are stolen, our history is stolen, all of our things are watered down,” she said, “that now we’re in a situation where our name and our brand and this work that we’ve continually built up is potentially being taken away.”
Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.