Amanda Gorman mesmerized our nation —article by Camila Sotela
100 Colorado Creatives are chosen by journalist and artist Susan Froyd for the Westword honor and published on their site (below). You can read the Executive Director of AfA’s thoughtful and often irreverant ideas on the state of the arts in Colorado and her personal motivations and inspiration for her work. Susan’s Facebook post is also linked below.
by Anna Ingraham
Anna: How did you first get involved with AfA?
Desmond: Well, that’s a funny, mysterious story. My friend and I were riding the H-train to 16th street downtown, when we noticed an RTD guy walking up the isle scanning train passes. We didn’t pay for passes! So we hurried and exited at the next stop, which happened to be 10th and Osage. I walked around for a little and was drawn in by the Art from Ashes poster. Then, I found out about the weekly art workshops, and have been popping up there ever since. I like to think the universe guided me there that day.
Anna: So it sounds like you’ve mostly been to the drop-in workshops. What has been your experience with those?
Desmond: Well, it’s really nice having a community of people to come spend time with. All of my family is back in Texas, so having a group of people to create with really helps me to not feel lonely. I love all of the different things we create! I have magnets and banners and paintings throughout my house now that all remind me of AfA. I try to go to both (the poetry and art workshops) as often as possible.
Anna: I’m glad it’s been such a good experience for you! Were you an artist and writer before AfA?
Desmond: I was an artist and writer before AfA. I was writing stories in English class and looking up words in the thesaurus to find words that better fit the picture I was trying to paint. This translated into my music skills later. Around my freshman year, a friend asked me to freestyle with him, and I found I was actually pretty good! So I went from story writing to eventually poetry and rapping and singing over beats I found on Soundcloud and Youtube. Being in choir and percussion taught me rhythm and helped me to find my distinct sound.
Anna: How has being a guest poet for AfA been for you?
Desmond: I really like the experience of being impactful to high school kids, because I remember when I was in high school, and I just know how influential a message can be. It’s very rare that people can be influential these days, and I know that I can be a positive impact. I want youth to know that they don’t have to give in to the social norm. It’s okay to love yourself! You can just be yourself, and everything’s going to be okay. You don’t have to fit in just to get more followers. When you don’t have a lot of followers because you’re being yourself, those who are following you are doing so because they genuinely like you and care about your work.
Anna: That is such an important message! Do you think that you’re going to continue being a guest poet?
Desmond: I definitely think that I will as long as I’m in Colorado. I really like the AfA community, and anything that I can do to be a part of it, I’m more than willing.
Anna: Do you feel like creating art, writing, and music has helped you embrace yourself more fully?
Desmond: I feel like creation is a way for us to see what our minds look like, and to hear what our thoughts sound like. You don’t have to try, everyone just exists in a different way. Creating is a very good way to find yourself as an individual.
Anna: What do you see yourself doing in the future?
Desmond: Eventually, I want to go to school to become a counselor of some sort. I think that I’m very good at talking to people and observing their problems objectively. I feel like I would be good at helpingkids to see what’s causing their problems. A lot of methods these days, instead of finding the root of the problem, kind of just suppress it. I want them to be aware that everything they experience has a reason behind it.
Anna: It sounds like you’re really passionate about this work. Do you think that the arts will continue to be a part of your life as you move towards a counseling career?
Desmond: I feel as if when I do help people with counseling, I’ll probably sing to them and help them to bring out their inner voice. I believe that everyone can sing, you just have to find out where your range is. I’ll help people to draw, because it’s not about if it looks cool, it’s about learning about yourself. I think I’ll be that kind of counselor and I really feel like I’ll effect peoples daily lives.
Anna: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! We are lucky to have you involved with us at AfA!
Recently I bought a synthesizer(basically a piano) and a looper pedal, and I’ve been practicing adding layers on eachother. Eventually I want to get to a point where I perform live with it. I hope you enjoy this recording I did on my phone of a song I’m in the works of orchestrating. Never forget to shine your light☀️
🕯 sʜɪɴᴇ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʟɪɢʜᴛ 🕯
Poem written by Desmond in three minutes:
A SPIRIT OF ONE
In this time day and age of a government suppression
many minds are confused, many people conjure questions
and though they tell you the answer’s simple, small, flat, and green
i’m here to share with you it’s not as simple as it seems
shoving products in your face to keep you always wanting more
keep you always wanting money, keep you knocking at their door
no it’s not a fucking want, its a motherfuckin’ NEED
their method of control is individuality and greed
and you think im fuckin’ crazy, don’t think i know just how i sound?
but if you look a little closer, then these words will be profound
there’s no need for feeling empty and no need for feeling down
everything possesses beauty if you take a look around
for the primary function of the universe is love
from the atoms made within us to the galaxies above
all the legs, fins, wings, plants, underneath the sun
all are infinite in unity, all a spirit of one
Spotlight: Interview with Hibaq Osman, Youth Extraordinaire
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!
Michael Keen hosts Powered By Art, a community outreach program of The Museum of Outdoor Arts. An aspect of this program is the podcast, which features new episodes with creative makers every week.
The Podcast is a 40-minute informal interview with Catherine O’Neill Thorn and Host Michael Keen. The goal of the interview is to explore the world through AfA’s eyes and tap into what inspires and motivates Catherine as a creator.
Powered By Art believes in the power of Art and Creativity to change the World…Inspiring us to greatness, defying our preconceptions and manifesting our dreams. We contribute to this by initiating conversations with inspiring, creative Makers.
Episodes are available through their website www.poweredbyart.org and iTunes.
Catherine and a youth poet will be featured on Colorado & Company, on Channel 9! Tune in for the youth performance!
Tune in to Channel 9 Colorado & Company on Dec 30th between 10 and 11 am and catch an interview with Art from Ashes Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn and youth poet and board representative Khalid El-Shabazz!