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Black students say school district is trying to ‘steal’ their podcast

The students are fighting Denver Public Schools for the rights to a racial justice podcast created after George Floyd was murdered

Four students are suing Denver Public Schools for trademark rights to the podcast name “Know Justice, Know Peace: The Take.” (Courtesy of Jeffrey Kass)

It was the summer of 2020. George Floyd had just been murdered by a White police officer. Protesters demanding racial justice were flooding city streets across America. A group of four Black students watching it all from their Denver school decided to start a racial justice podcast, realizing “that our generation is the future and injustices will forever be our reality unless we commence change NOW.”

The show would eventually be called “Know Justice, Know Peace: The Take.”

On Monday, the students sued Denver Public Schools in federal court, alleging that the district is trying to trademark and “steal” the “Know Justice, Know Peace” brand name they created more than two years ago. Records show that the district last month filed three applications to trademark the “Know Justice, Know Peace: The Take” brand, two with the federal government and one with the Colorado secretary of state.

Alana Mitchell, Jenelle Nangah and two minors not named in the lawsuit — all current or former students at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College — want the U.S. District Court for Colorado to order Denver Public Schools to withdraw the trademark applications they say it “fraudulently filed” and turn over all affiliated social media accounts.

Denver Public Schools told The Washington Post in an email that it’s looking forward to “clearing up any misinformation” in the lawsuit, which was filed by attorney Jeffrey Kass on behalf of the four students.

“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 district added.

An attorney representing Denver Public Schools wrote to Kass on Monday, saying the district is “the true owner” of the trademark. Describing the students’ claims as “vexatious” and “meritless” in the letter, attorney Tiffany Shimada said their former principal created the podcast in her role as a district employee and did so using school facilities and equipment. Jennifer Collins, another lawyer for the district, also said in an Aug. 24 letter that the district had paid the students for their work on the podcast. Kass provided a copy of both letters to The Post.

The students say the direct inspiration for the podcast was Floyd’s murder, but a more distant inspiration happened in October 2019 when Mitchell, Nangah and 15 other students visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. One of the students said going to the museum allowed her to see historical figures who looked like her and to “dig deeper” into Black history, which had been confined to February in her classrooms back in Denver.

“The aftermath of that trip was crazy,” Nangah said in a video published in October. “I mean, we were all so filled up. We had so many emotions. And I feel like that’s what really drove us to want to make a bigger impact.”

When they returned, the students pointed out to their principal that all the history teachers at their school were White, according to the video. Saying that “Black history is something that we lacked in our curriculum,” the students pushed the principal to send those teachers to the museum. Within two weeks, she’d done so.

The teachers came back and worked with the students to present their ideas to the school board. The curriculum changed. Then Floyd’s murder inspired the podcast. They launched the show less than six weeks later on July 4, 2020.

“The podcast was an instant hit and got the attention of the national news,” the lawsuit states.

In June 2022, the students formed a company with the name “Know Justice Know Peace; The Take LLC” so they could keep broadcasting the podcast, the suit states. The students had written scripts for 25 episodes and aired 15 of them since launching in 2020, Kass said. The last episode on their YouTube channel was posted in March.

But last month, Denver Public Schools did the “unthinkable,” the students said in their lawsuit, and decided the district would take “these courageous and excelling Black students’ podcast and their [Know Justice, Know Peace] name for their own, knowing full well the brand name was created by the students and that DPS had no right to it.”

The district has since changed the passwords and taken over all social media accounts tied to the brand, according to the suit.

On Aug. 29, the deputy superintendent allegedly hosted a “last-minute meeting” with the students and their parents to “attempt to coerce and bully [them] into admitting that DPS owns the trademark.”

In announcing the podcast’s launch back in 2020, the Black Student Alliance said it hoped the podcast would inspire students to push for change. That’s the “irony” of the district’s attempt to trademark “Know Justice, Know Peace,” the students’ lawsuit alleges. Denver Public Schools has “fallen way short on Black history, racial justice and education around these important issues” for years, a shortcoming that was partially remedied by its own students, the suit states.

Now, the students claim, it’s trying to take what they created.