Poems, interviews, artwork and testimonials by youth participants, with some poems and testimonials written by adult participants.


Love Synesthesia

Love is the color gray, faded and old
But still strong
Love moves like a sloth Slow, without a care
Gently moving through life
Love is a sapling
Small and springy
Barely starting to grow

– Ryan Huitt, 14

The color of love is white
It’s a blank slate to
Be filled
With colors
Of every kind
To be written
Sweet little notes on
Love would be the treScreen Shot 2016-05-14 at 11.01.37 PMe trunk
You carve hearts in
With her name
Leaving a memory

– Savi Younker, 16

The color of love is a sunrise
Love moves like warm melted chocolate
Love is a vast, growing tree

– Megan Q, 16

The color of love is both black and white
Like a yin and yang symbol
Turning in one’s perspective and
The motion to see a bird fly
Loving the vast views of the world and
Feeling as if you can never wish to stop
Loving the beauty

– Yesina Hernandez, 15

The color of love is gray
If love moved it would move like a river
If love was a part of nature it would be a tree
Because it keeps growing

– Ryan Gemkow, 15


Spotlight: Interview with Hibaq Osman, Youth Extraordinaire

IMG_7622 by Beatriz Tamariz, Volunteer

I sat before a singular young lady. In fact I’d heard so many facilitators speak wonders about Hibaq, her presence made me nervous. We met at a coffee shop near her home in East Denver and quickly covered the basics. Hibaq is a 17 year old who not only exudes confidence but a strong sense of self. She informed me she attends Compassion Road Academy, an alternative school. Hibaq didn’t flinch when she told me she’d been kicked out of her former High School in 2014. Later, I would understand Art from Ashes taught her no flinching is necessary.

Hibaq became involved with Art from Ashes (AfA) in April 2015 after enrolling for the Phoenix Rising workshops at Compassion Road. “The Spoken Word workshop just seemed cool!” she said. Hibaq related she grew quite enamored with the program and the facilitators. Ashley was the lead facilitator for the workshop, and Franklin was there when Ashley wasn’t. Hibaq went on about how she loved everyone at Art from Ashes; Johnny, Morgan, Catherine, and so many other names I couldn’t keep up.  She stated Franklin has turned her on to Yoga. He encourages her to kick off her shoes and do spontaneous yoga stretches at the mention of a rough day. Hibaq stated Angela, another AfA facilitator, is currently coaching her on memorizing her poems. These are the people who helped her see what she was capable of accomplishing—who helped her see her full potential. Hibaq added she also has made a lot of friends her own age through AfA.

Hibaq unwaveringly continued telling me about her story. She said she has been in and out of treatment facilities for the past THREE YEARS. I tiptoed around sensitive issues but she, on the other hand, stood tall and told the truth. She is a recovering drug addict: cocaine, molly, acid, everything but what she referred to as “the hard stuff.” She would develop mental disorders due to her drug use as well as engage in self-harming behavior. I jotted down that she had been exceptionally abused by her uncle from the age of 4. Immediately after I wrote that, Hibaq noticed and corrected me: “sexually abused, not exceptionally abused.”

I was perplexed at her nonchalant demeanor. For a second I wondered how this SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD was so strong, so confident, so solid in her speech, and stature. She went on to explain that AfA was a major part in helping her see herself as a person.

“Art from Ashes made me feel like I could say things and be heard, as well as be happy without being high. I feel like my opinion is heard; like I matter.” AfA offers Hibaq guidance and shows her there are people who actually and genuinely care. Hibaq explained the program not only provides her with a support system but also offers a powerful coping tool: WRITING. Hibaq has always liked to write but wasn’t inclined to do so on a daily basis until she became involved with the agency.

“I turn to writing and everything feels better.”

Hibaq is compelled to use a pen rather than drugs these days. She told me AfA provides free journals to participants, and she fills them so quickly she requests one about every other week. She jokingly stated she was going to bankrupt the program because she writes all the time now. Hibaq writes about eating disorders, human rights, her traumatic past, drug addiction, self-harming behavior, women’s rights, unhealthy relationships, and just about anything she has an opinion on. She told me she is passionate about art, music, poetry, self-awareness, the universe, and what is going on in the world, and she attributes her self-awareness to what she’s learned at AfA. Hibaq touched on the writing prompts used and stated, “The brain is 2-dimensional but thoughts can be multi-dimensional. The concepts your brain comes up with are completely insane! The prompts trigger your brain, and have the power to change your perspective on things.”

Hibaq also worked for AfA as an intern from June to December of 2015. Her therapist let her know about the Governor’s Summer Program, which offers an opportunity to be employed and stay out of trouble for youth with criminal charges. AfA, in conjunction with the state-funded Governor’s Summer Program, made this possible. Hibaq enjoyed working for AfA, and said she is glad she was able to do so even through her recent relapse which saw her in rehab once again, because the people at AfA were there to support her recovery. Hibaq’s employment program with AfA has ended, but she still remains actively involved in the program.

Catherine O’Neill Thorn, Art from Ashes Executive Director, recently asked Hibaq to be a guest poet for the workshops as well as train to be a facilitator. Hibaq is exceptionally excited about being a facilitator because as she put it, she looks up to the facilitators, so to be one is something she has only dreamed of. Hibaq is also looking forward to joining the Board of Directors as a Youth Representative. Through this role she would be giving her opinion on behalf of the youth as it relates to the agency’s mission. Remember, this is a 17 year old we are talking about!

I recently saw Hibaq’s memorable performance at AfA’s 2015 Colorado Gives Annual Fundraiser where Hibaq, my son, and several other youth fearlessly and openly performed in front of a crowd of about 80 people. Hibaq has also performed for the Denver City Council as a result of being involved with AfA. Hibaq never would have done that if it weren’t for AfA.  She explained her family is Somalian. Culturally, women are expected to be meek and quiet. Hibaq stated she used to be shy about her opinions, but today she is compelled to share her views and feels empowered to do so.

The more we conversed I could see that Hibaq could not contain her enthusiasm and spark when she spoke about AfA. She erupted in excitement when she told me about Lily Fangz, a local rapper, who is one of the 30 or so guest poets at AfA. “She gives me hugs and she knows me now!” she said.

I asked Hibaq to describe the program in one word and her response was “EMPOWERING!” Hibaq stated AfA and its people are her EVERYTHING. She concluded, “They touched my heart.”

Hibaq is the true definition of Art from Ashes.

ADDENDUM: Because we met at a coffee shop, it was a public setting. One person asked what we were doing, since we seemed so passionate. We explained and he provided me with a business card and a sincere request for information about the program. Really, this is what Art from Ashes does to people!

Paper Moon
by Hibaq Osman, 17
Under the paper moon
She thinks she has the basics
But then a demon grabs her dreams
And makes a break for it
It’s a simple equation
Dreams and creation
I’m in love with the person I haven’t me
And that one place I’ve never lived
Please tell me how you can lead a life of 17 years and never live
Chained to a chain link fence
Woven by the hearts which you’ve torn from their place
It’s not a ‘whatever you think it is,’ darling It’s an arms race
And I swear, I scream at the top of my lungs
I swear
I will make a change to this world
I will change the voice of freedom
Bestow power amongst the girls
And I’ll make it to where color doesn’t matter
And race is just a four letter word
Where being queer is not weird
Where homophobia is absurd
Where society links arms with the misfit toys
And welcomes them to their island
Where the raped girl doesn’t cry when she sees her young boy
Because she wished his father’s actions didn’t define him
I swear
These faulty pieces do not define us
I swear the skies are so clear on the other side
I swear the sun will wake you up from this nightmare
And say “It’s okay honey, you don’t have to hide.
You’re absolutely fine right by my side”

In Their Words: Appearance

Youth in our programs explore many themes, ideas and perspectives in their poetry, art and creative workshopping, and they often have some remarkably profound insights. We thought we would share with you some of the most prevalent themes we see, and some of the beautiful and life-changing discoveries that come with them.

To start, here are some youth poems centered around the idea of appearance.

“I Seem To Be…But Really I Am”


I seem to be a troublemaker
But really I am a peacemaker
I seem to be a failure
But really I am a success story

But really my future is bigger and brighter
Than you think



I seem to be a thug
But really I’m a good kid
I seem to be a Dad
But really I’m a father
I seem to like sports
But really I’m a baller
I seem to be a Raiders fan
But really I’m a Broncos fan


The way the world sees me as an animal
The world sees me as a devil
The world sees me a demon
The world sees me as a devil’s favorite child

The way I see myself is I’m a baller
I see myself as a care giver
I see myself as a successful man
I see myself as a positive guy
I see myself as a positive role model



I seem to be a bitch
But really I am not willing to trust everyone
And let them in
I seem to be white
But really I don’t have color
Because my heart is more than that
I seem to be a mother
But really I am not perfect
Nor is any parent
I seem to be the class clown
But really I am hurting deep down


Natalie T.

Most people look in a mirror
And see what they don’t want
Someone who is ugly and disgusting
Like the person who told you what you were
The image holds power and meaning
Interpreted by yourself
Because each reflection is different
Each negative thought is different
But you are different
And that’s what makes you powerful
And that’s why it’s significant



Zee’s Transformation

“I don’t get poetry, and I don’t like it,” she said. 

The young woman, new to our drop-in poetry and spoken word workshop looked around the group with tears in her eyes. “But I’m here because my best friend loved it, so I’m doing this for her.” Zee shared that her best friend had committed suicide while the two were talking on the phone—and that not only did others blame her for her friend’s death, but she blamed herself, as well.

Weeks passed, and Zee began showing up more regularly. With each workshop, she blossomed a bit more—cracked a small smile, lent a listening ear to another participant, and shared her poetry with the group.

This heartbroken 16-year-old wrote of fear and loss, of determination and misperception, and slowly a light began to flicker within her.

She had stoked the flame of self-discovery, ignited by the safety of a creative space in which to share her struggles and learn of her promise.

Today, Zee throws back her head and laughs along with the others who attend the workshops. She has been here every week for months and has sustained friendships with the drop-in youth who have shared their own stories of triumph, sorrow, and hope. She has performed for the agency at First Friday events and plans to continue to represent our programs in the community.

Even though Zee began coming to Art from Ashes to honor her friend and will always remember that is why she attends, she has embraced her own voice, as well as her creativity and her potential.


Here is some selected poetry from our Positive Alternatives Through Home Services (PATHS) youth.

I Seem to Be… But Really I Am
by Christian, age 17

I seem to be in a lost world that I can’t find a way out
I’m the only one who understands me
People see me as a monster
But really I am a good kid who made a bad decision
I was at the wrong place at the wrong time
I try to stay out of trouble
But somehow it keeps finding me
It has me trapped
Every time I get up
It knocks me down
I am a bright young man
I try not to judge
In order to not be judged
I choose to be the kid that everyone has
Something nice to say all the time
The person that people look up to
Most importantly
The person my brother wants to look up to

Upside Down to Right Side Up
by Tay, 17

Something goes wrong
Then something gets fixed

Went from fucking and smoking weed
To becoming pregnant and drug-free

Went from ditching school and fighting
To making the honor roll
And receiving more friends than enemies

Went from getting cussed out and put out
To becoming stable and settled

Never giving up has brought me thus far
Being hard headed has opened my eyes

I Remember
by Gloria, 19

I remember when everyone doubted me
They said I was never going to get my son back
I remember when my mom disowned me
She said she should have aborted me when she had the chance
I remember when my dad almost killed my brother
He beat him so bad his face was a bucket of blood
I remember when I almost killed myself
Everything was reminding me of why I needed to be dead
I remember when I lost it all because of drugs
I thought they would take my pain but it added more
I remember when I had my son that day
I had never seen a baby angel before
I remember when my brother lost everything
He said I am a worthwhile sister who deserves it all
I remember when my son said I love you
He just made me feel so important
I remember when my mom said I love you while she was sober
She almost made my wish come true

by Harmony S

My dad was never in my life
But because of that
My big brother raised me
And I’d never change that for the world
I am who I am today
Thanks to my brother
I am strong because of all the things I’ve lost in life
My brother always taught me
No matter hard it is
You need to move on from the past
And it can’t hold you back
I can smile like I do today
Because of the hurt in my past

What I Would Say To You If Only
by Gloria, 19

I cannot be perfect so please just accept me
I feel so lost at this point
I feel like I am not even me anymore
I am too busy trying to be a person I am not
Who I don’t know if she exists
Please just understand I am not a perfect person
I know it is said God gives
The hardest battles to his strongest soldiers
But I am not that strong
I need a break

So please stop pushing me to be something
And just please accept who I am for once
Who knows you might start to like me better
If I may get my chance up a bit more
You might find out what a best friend just means
So please understand I am not perfect
So just please just stop
And give me a break

Give me a chance to show you
I am not just another Mexican girl
And learn that I can be more
Than just the person you want me to be
Please don’t torture me any more
With the things that happened way before
Learn that it’s good to just be you
And that I am fine just the way I dream to be

I just want you to understand
I am not perfect
I don’t want to be perfect
I never was perfect I will never be perfect
And this is exactly what I would say to you
If I could only get you to listen to me

Poetry of June 2015

Enjoy some of our favorite poetry from June 2015!

Lyrical Miracle
By Kevin, 17

I am a lyrical miracle
Diving in through my words
Like a swimming pool
A criminal, snatching meanings
And dissecting them to a minimal
I am a scattered brain
That has no pain
And feels no shame
No regrets, place your bets,
Write down my name,
So you don’t forget

By Jodi, 12


Drawing on Air artwork by Solomon

Shy wears boring colors
Blending in with the crowd.
Shy lives in a house
Like the others around it.
Shy only talks around the people
She trusts.
Friends, family
Sometimes even pets.
She eats plain food
Nothing too fancy
She wants people to see her
But in a way they move on
After a few seconds
Being the center of attention
Makes her uncomfortable
So she hides whenever she can

By Jose, 10

Happy would wear regular clothes
A t-shirt, a yellow t-shirt
And pants with sneakers with strings
Happy lives in a house
With small dogs
And toys
Happy works as a baker
Making cakes for birthdays
And cookies

By Gabriel, 11

Love is the color of
Red like roses
Cool careful
And loving so it won’t die
Love is never ending

Love is the sound of
Wind chimes wind going
Threw and crystal like sounds

Love taste like warm huggs
In front of the fireplace

Love feels like everyone
In the family cares about you
And it like and oversized
Stuffed teddy bear

Love moves like a
Slow hugging and feeling
Like a million bucks

By Jesus, 12

I am a tree poet
I live in the ground
The tree grows seeds first
My poems the roots come out
Of the tree
The rain comes out
Then the branches come out

I am a snow poet
I fall out of the sky with clouds
The snow is white and on the floor
My poems do fall freeze then on
The floor then it gets big and bigger
Until the ground is full of snow

I am a flower poet
I am a flower and the flowers come
Out of a seed
My poem’s a seed
And seeds and water
Grow and the water
Makes flowers grow

I am a grass poet
I need water to grow and dirt
To make roots
My poems are making dirt and water
I need seeds and water
And I need dirt

By Matthew, 8

I am a dragon poet
I like dragons and they are cool
And they breath fire
My poems hunt
Be the best dragon

I Seem To Be
By Shada, 16

I seem to be smart
But really I am genius
I seem to be happy
But really I am super duper happy
I seem to be capable
But really I am able to do anything I want

Poets of Emily Griffith

CPT at Emily Griffith

Click here for a video clip.

Art from Ashes has partnered with Colorado Public Television to provide Phoenix Rising wordshops for youth at the Emily Griffith Technical College. Below are some of the 3-minute poems produced and a couple of videos!

Rant, written April 6, 2015
by Walter, 18

From the time I could remember
I’ve wanted to die not because I was sad but because I’m tired of living
The one thing stopping me is the fact people will always need art
And the one reason I’m still here is a faulty round or bad firing pin
Or something told me or compelled me to puke up the pills I took
People make me sick honestly
I know firsthand with my brother raping and killing one of his own cousins
Or a father not calling me until I’m 14 to sell drugs for him
My art is not out of anger
But it is of the good in my life
And the good times
Honestly I’m not ready to die
But I’m sick of living

Walter-imageWithout Fear, written May 18, 2015
by Walter, 18

My life would be easier
I’d be able to wake up
And say I’m happy
How about yourself?
If I were given the chance
I’d always wake up fearless
With the ability to love my fellow man
And he would be able to say
I love this planet
And everything on it
Including you
It is a nice dream to keep

Video of Esther, 19

What I Would Say to You if Only You Would Listen
by Tamara, 20

I’m talking to the cord or am I really talking to myself
I feel empty my heart is out of beats
I fake my last breath of life and say
God forgive me for my sins
I’m not perfect, you know
Maybe it was the pain that made me come in rage
Where were you mom no one can explain
I still respect you and love you
Because in the end I am a product of you
But then again that’s not true
I’m Tamara let me say that again
I don’t drink because of you
All the time I got alcohol abused they wanted me
To follow your footsteps
But I refused to be something
That I could never even like
You hated me but I loved you
I know you were hurt
Has a kid who could ever know

Video of Darrian, 19

Affirmation Poem
by Lilly, 17

I love and approve of myself.
I accept the difference between us
Between you and me
And not only do I accept you
Most of all I accept me
I am the raging wind carrying the shadows over a raven’s wing
Never stopping to ask, just knowing that it is
I am the blood in your veins working you alive
Working us alive and you never give me a second thought
I know what I do is worth it
I know I matter
Without the sound on your tongue


Jessie Hernandez

Jessica Hernandez in a photo provided by the family. Photo provided by familyJessie was killed Jan. 26, 2015, by Denver police in an alley between the 2500 blocks of Niagara and Newport streets in the Park Hill neighborhood. Jessie and four other teens inside the stolen Honda sedan had refused to get out. The Denver Police Department said officers opened fire on Jessie when she drove a stolen car toward them, but the autopsy performed by Denver Chief Medical Examiner James Caruso shows Jessie was shot two times in the left side of her torso. Two more gunshot wounds in her pelvis and right thigh may have resulted from the same bullet, according to the autopsy. The bullets fatally wounded Jessie’s heart and both lungs.

“There was no evidence of close range discharge of a firearm associated with any of the entrance wounds,” Denver Chief Medical Examiner James Caruso said in the report.

The family’s lawyer Qusair Mohamedbhai said in a statement that the autopsy doesn’t indicate that Jessie was driving toward the officers who shot her since since the bullet wounds entered her body from the driver’s side of the car and were not fired at close range. He told NBC News on Saturday that the left-to-right wound path and trajectory of the bullets that struck Jessie “undermine the version of the events put forth by the Denver Police Department.”

Denver Post article
NBC News article

video of Jessie’s parents

3-Minute Poems written by Jessie during Art from Ashes workshops over two years:

I am love
Jessie Hernandez, 15

I am a brand new baby
I am sweet and smooth
I can get crunchy,
but that sweet taste never disappears
I am a baby’s laughter
I am warm—pink or red
I am quick
but have my slow paces

I seem to be, but really I am
Jessie Hernandez, 15

I seem to be reckless
But really I am more caring
I seem to be an asshole
But really I am nice
I seem to be loud and obnoxious
But really I am chill and hardly talk
I seem to be dumb and stupid
But really I am the smartest kid out there
I seem to be a non-smoker
But really I’m basically a stoner
I seem to be like a kid who doesn’t need drugs to be happy
But really I do need them because of the shit I have going on

I want to know…
Jessie Hernandez, 15

I want to know how you could go days without trying to get ahold of someone
I want to know how you are, but with no message I know nothing
I want to know the purpose of life
I want to know why they push us so hard
I want to know why people gotta lie about rules and stuff they say
I want to know why we die and just get buried 6 feet deep
I want to know why we have to do so much
Just to die in the end

I choose to be
Jessie Hernandez, 16

I am going to be a successful woman
I am going to be a plane driver
I am going to be a nurse
After surgery I am going to be a boy
I am going to be something all my haters won’t be
I am going to be a good wealthy—well maybe not too wealthy
But I will be someone I can be
I am going to be a billionaire


The Colors My Mother Taught Me
My mother taught me yellow and red
She taught me the right words
My manners
How to be generous
And how to be happy
How to smile at worse times
She taught me all I know now
But she also taught me to be patient
And not to hurt others
If they’re not hurting me
But there’s one thing she taught me the most
Is how to look joyful and to respect things
That are not mine

The Dance I Danced With My Father
The dance my father taught me was some type of dance
He taught me how to stomp my feet with combos
And how to keep his tradition going
He taught me all the kicks he did
I learned them
And now I could probably knock someone out
With a kick
Because he got me working on my legs