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Denver district relinquishes ‘Know Justice, Know Peace’ podcast trademark, asks lawsuit be dismissed

Three young women stand in front of microphones at a press conference.

From left, Kaliah Yizar, Jenelle Nangah, and Dahni Austin speak in September about a lawsuit they filed against Denver Public Schools.

Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat

Two months after four young Black women sued Denver Public Schools for trying to trademark the name of a racial justice podcast they started, the district said it is relinquishing the trademark.

In a court document filed Friday, the district said it “renounces any claim of ownership over the trademark Know Justice, Know Peace for a podcast” and “any efforts to monetize” the name. Denver Public Schools asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit against it.

If a judge agrees, it will end a high-profile dispute that attracted national media attention and earned Denver Public Schools — a district whose superintendent has said he wants to dismantle racist systems — significant criticism from local community members who accused the district of asserting ownership over something Black students created.

“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, 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,” Kaliah Yizar, one of the students who founded the podcast, said at a press conference in September.

In a statement Monday, the district said its trademark attempt was an effort to ensure the podcast could continue in Denver Public Schools.

“From the beginning, we have repeatedly stated that our efforts were about protecting this important educational tool for our scholars,” district spokesperson Will Jones said in a statement. “Now that these young ladies are in a position to actually own this intellectual property on their own, we are thrilled that it will soon be theirs.”

Yizar and three other students at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College high school started the podcast, called “Know Justice, Know Peace: The Take,” in the summer of 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd. They had support from educators at the school, including then-Principal Kimberly Grayson, and were eventually paid by the district as apprentices.

The podcast was successful. The students appeared on the “Today Show” and participated virtually in a White House summit on educational equity. Their advocacy also spurred the district to pledge to diversify its curriculum to include Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous history.

After their former principal, Grayson, left the school last spring, the students decided they wanted to continue their podcast independently. They said they asked Grayson for help. In June, she filed paperwork to form a business called Know Justice, Know Peace: The Take LLC.

When Denver Public Schools learned of the LLC, it filed state and federal trademark applications for the podcast name in August. 

“Our concern has never been with any of our students,” Jones said in a statement. “It has always been with this former employee trying to obtain this intellectual property.”

But the students, two of whom are now graduated, didn’t see it that way. In an August meeting, they told district officials that the podcast was theirs, with one student describing it as “our faces, who we are.” And in September, they sued Denver Public Schools for trademark infringement.

In its motion to dismiss Friday, the district attached copies of documents its lawyers filed to withdraw its state and federal trademark applications. In a statement, Jones said the district recently learned that Grayson signed over the LLC to one of the former students, who can now “file for and receive this intellectual property as their own.”

The district isn’t letting go of the podcast idea, though. It plans to expand the opportunity for students to make a racial justice podcast, Jones said, and will hold a naming contest soon.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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