Risë • Owner, TeaLee’s Teahouse

Risë, the owner of TeaLee’s Teahouse in Five Points, was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. She attended Manual High School, grew up in the Park Hill neighborhood and remembers belonging to a close-knit and supportive Black community.

Her teahouse and bookstore, which opened two years ago, is cute, quaint, serves high tea, sells gifts, and offers Black literature from an Encyclopedia of Black Artists to classics like Roots: The Saga of an American Family and I Know Why Caged Bird Sings.

Risë is also a warrior, a part of her identity that is symbolic to her in so many ways. In 2011, she was diagnosed with cancer, which she fought and won. Last year, she lost her husband, and like many small business owners, she’s taking a hit from the pandemic. However, despite her struggles, she’s always working and pushing forward.

As a Black business owner, Risë feels a great deal of responsibility to make it work, to be an engine of employment, and profitable in Denver. And as much as she grovels on what was, she’s excited about the changes taking place in the Mile High City. When I asked Risë to describe Denver in one word, she replied, “dynamic.” Here’s what it means to be her, here.

Who are you?

I am a person of the sun, the warmth of being. I am a loved person, and that love comes from multiple sources: grandmothers, uncles, daughters, all of that. So I feel loved, and when you feel love, it is like having a lot of money, and when you think you can’t give, you can still give. I think in our community, we have lots of struggles, but through that there’s love. There’s struggle; there’s love; there’s struggle. I’m a beneficiary of lots of knowledge and love and opportunity.

What does it mean to be you?

Great expectations. Oh my God, yeah. When you are the firstborn, you are always the example. If you reach for the moon, you may hit the stars, so I think I always have a high expectation of myself, which can feel like a lot of pressure.

What does it mean to you to be Black in Denver?

A stakeholder, which means I’m not ready to retire and say that it’s over or done. I feel a great deal of responsibility here because we’ve had so many people who have supported us in so many ways. It’s incredible. I think wrapped up in TeaLee’s is a legacy that I wanna leave, but I wanna leave that legacy in the way that I’ve been taught.

What do you love most about living in Denver?

It is a beautiful place, and some days I just look up at the sky, that crystal clear blue sky, and most of the time clean air. But it’s a city right now full of reality with homelessness, in particular. It’s in your face, like every single day, and it’s a reminder that those are humans out there, that’s humanity there. And we are so busy – and it’s true, those are people without homes, they are homeless, but because you’re homeless doesn’t take away your humanity.

How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?

It is the neighborhood, the pride, the people, the things that people do here. This has become a very progressive city. Last year, I got to participate in Denver Startup Week – Denver is the number one place in North America for entrepreneurship and startup! That is phenomenal. We’re not sitting here talking about mail-in voting – I mean, since 2013, it’s what we do.

I think as somebody who’s lived here all my life, I tend to grovel too much on what was. I’m a Sankofa person. You talk about those things because you know what was here so that you can go forward. But if I don’t know these things, it’s really hard to go forward. But the forwardness of the city right now is exciting.