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”

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


Boulder International Film Festival

Art from Ashes has been selected as the first Nonprofit Partner in the Call 2 Action program of the Boulder International Film Festival 2015!

C2A circle logo_shadowA collaboration of Boulder International Film Festival, Philanthropiece Foundation, the Twisted Foundation, and committed local leaders, Call 2 Action offers concrete ways for filmgoers to take the energy and passion inspired by film and move from concern to action.

Because of AfA’s connection with the Jimmy Santiago Baca film “A Place to Stand,” Art from Ashes has been provided a platform “to raise awareness for the incredible service that [you] provide for our community by introducing the power of poetry and art to transform lives.”

Art from Ashes Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn will introduce the film at 10am on Sunday, followed by the screening. Tickets are $8 and $10: buy them here!

Post-screening, there will be a TalkBack (panel discussion) in the “TalkBack Cafe” just across the street from the Boulder Theater on the Pearl Street Mall. The TalkBack is open to anyone who wishes to find out more about the film and our work with youth, and will feature Jimmy Santiago Baca, Art from Ashes Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn, and Art from Ashes youth poet Prinjastin Sykes.

Download the program here. (we’re on pages 15 and 35 :D)


A Place to Stand


At the Inkwell Poetry Reading

It’s February and love and poetry are floating like bits of annoying flotsam and jetsam in the atmosphere. But not for this event. At The Inkwell Denver returns February 16th to the Book Bar (and bar bar!) and kicks off 2019 with only the best in poetry and all its raw, honest darkness. Organized and hosted by Hillary Leftwich! At the Inkwell

Featured Readers Include:

Two youth poets from the Phoenix Rising program at Art from Ashes, plus AfA’s founding director and CEO Catherine O’Neill Thorn. Catherine has conducted poetry and spoken word workshops for youth and adults since 1992. She established and ran weekly poetry sessions for three years for Columbine students and the aftermath of the Columbine shooting and in 2000, produced Screams Aren’t Enough, a compilation of Columbine student poetry, which won the Colorado Book Award. She is a published poet, writer and journalist and was the proprietor of O’Neill Publishing. She served as a poetry judge for both the 1994 Colorado Book Award and the 2007 Poetry Out Loud national competition among high school students. She was the editor and publisher Inner 303, an arts and poetry magazine for Denver’s urban youth, from 1997 to 2001, and the inspirational book/journal for youth Why Keep Tryin’? Voices from the Street. 

Ashley Cornelius is a performance poet in Colorado. She graduated with a master’s in International Disaster Psychology from DU. She focuses on providing creative therapy for adolescents through poetry therapy and is currently working as a therapist in Denver and lives in Colorado Springs. Her poems reflect her personal struggles and journey as a young black woman navigating the changing world. She aims to inspire, empower, and tell a story of truth and depth. She has won four Hear Here Poetry Slams in Colorado Springs. She was the Women of the World Poetry Slam Colorado Springs Representative and competed in Dallas at Nationals in March 2018. Ashley is an organizer with Poetry 719 and has planned multiple community events in Colorado Springs included the Poetry 719 festival. Ashley was nominated for two 2018 Pikes Peak Art Council (PPAC) awards and won best recurring poetry event. Ashley is committed to using poetry as a platform to speak up and out for marginalized groups and be a voice for those who have been silenced.


Robert Kloss self-published his two most recent books. He is currently writing about murder.








Jay Halsey’s poems, prose, and photos have been published in several online and print journals and a handful of anthologies. Most recently, his hybrid piece “Predator and Prey” was nominated for Best of the Net by Menacing Hedge, and his short story “Hard and Harder” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Cowboy Jamboree. His photography has been used as cover art for poetry collections and novels, featured in fundraising campaigns for the Rocky Mountain Land Library in Fairplay, Colorado, and was part of a touring exhibit featured at libraries and bookstores throughout France to represent Editions Gallmeister’s American authors. He was born and raised in Dayton, OH and has lived on the Colorado Front Range for the past 12 years.




Ben River is a Denver local non-binary latinx who also lives part time in New Mexico. They do work as a writer/poet/activist/painter working mostly in immigration, story telling, and gender bending.

Running of the Gays 2019

Running of the Gays: Hoofin’ it in Heels for LGBTQ+ Youth

Come out and join Denver’s LGBTQIA community and Allies as we run toward a better future for youth at the 10TH ANNUAL Running of the Gays!

Get yer heels (and ankles!) ready to roll… or strut, or hop, or stumble in a 3-block “marathon” in heels to fund creative empowerment programs for queer youth in the Denver community. The event is organized by Art from Ashes, Denver’s LGBTQIA* community and Allies. Each year runners are asked to raise money through sponsorships to trot 3 blocks down 17th Avenue in heels, starting at Ace Eat Serve patio next to Steuben’s Food Service followed by an all ages (until 1.30 pm) after party at X Bar!

Proceeds contribute to continuing transformational creative programs for local youth who identify as LGBTQ+. While the event is silly, the statistics for our LGBTQ+ young people are decidedly unfunny: gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youths, and 30% of all completed youth suicides are related to the issue of sexual identity; 45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians surveyed reported having experienced verbal harassment and/or physical violence during high school as a result of their sexual orientation; 26% of gays and lesbian youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts with their families over sexual identity. Art from Ashes provides creative programs with proven results that improve self-perception and increase involvement with and connection to the community.

Run a 3-block marathon in heels to help fund creative empowerment workshops for the queer youth in our community! You’ll be able to register with a $35 donation ($40 after Aug 15th).


The fee entitles runners to the ROTG “I brought the gay” t-shirt, a goodie bag, a free Mimosa courtesy of Steuben’s, and a foot massage!
Runners are asked to seek sponsorships from friends and family to raise money for the youth programs.

Donate through ColoradoGives:
Donate through Paypal GIving Fund (100% goes to AfA!):
If you are sponsoring a specific runner, please enter their name in the Special Instructions field or by writing their name on your check. Please send checks to 1310 West 10th Ave, Denver CO 80204.

So many thanks to our wonderful annual business sponsors. Some have been sponsoring Running of the Gays since 2010! If you’re interested in supporting our youth programs, please download our ROTG Sponsor Menu for levels of sponsorship and associated benefits. We love to support community businesses that support creative empowerment programs for queer youth! 

Runners gather at the bullpen at Ace Eat Serve/Steuben’s at 11 am to sign in, stretch and enjoy the street show. After Party, foot massages, drag show and silent auction will be held at X Bar from noon to 1.30 pm!

See on our ROTG Facebook page to see the photos from previous years, as well as find out more information.

Thank you to our business sponsors who make the whole thing possible!

Ace Eat Serve




X Bar

Pizzeria Locale

Fleur Salon

Out Front Magazine :: Payroll Vault :: The Bank of Denver :: Queen City Collective Coffee

Thank you to all those who have “come out” in the past. Re-live the fun here:

First Friday Youth Workshop


All youth ages 12 to 24 are invited to join us at Art from Ashes every First Friday of the month at 4.30 pm for a FREE one-hour Phoenix Rising poetry and spoken word workshop, followed at 5.30 by a FREE 45-minute performance workshop, featuring a performance poet. All youth are welcome; free pizza provided.

You don’t need to already write poetry/spoken word, because you ARE poetry!


Workshops are at our location just off the 10th and Osage light rail station. Just DROP IN!

The first 10 youth willing to perform their workshop poems will receive $10!

Contact Sarah Lanzarotta at Art from Ashes, for more information.

First Friday Performance


Log in to listen to the voices of young creative geniuses and a featured guest LIVE on Instagram at 4pm!

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, our monthly First Friday workshops and performances have been temporarily suspended in favour of a virtual performance on Instagram. For those of you unfamiliar with Instagram, easy instructions are below.

This event features youth spoken word performances by young people ages 12 to 24 tell their stories in metaphor through poems written in only 3 minutes. A guest poet from the community will join the youth to provide encouragement and to promote access to the arts.

Contact our email hidden; JavaScript is required

For Instagram novitiates! How to watch Instagram live:
Use a smartphone (not a tablet or desktop!)
If you haven’t set up your own Instagram account, do that
and if you have, log in and search for @afaphoenix 
Click on our profile (If you’re not already following us, please hit follow!)
If our logo has circles around it, that means we are LIVE; Click on the logo. (You don’t have to hold it down to watch.)
You can also leave us comments (or poems email hidden; JavaScript is required" alt=":heart:" aria-label="heart emoji" data-stringify-type="emoji" data-stringify-emoji=":heart:" />) while in our page!

Pastries and Poetry

Pastries and Poetry Part Deux

Pastries and Poetry

In a different kind of workshop, our second Pastries and Poetry virtual event will be held Tuesday, November 24th from 7 to 8:30pm. (For those who donated to a previous invitation, you don’t need to reserve another spot.) We’ll once again feature Brian Smith, Pastry Chef with FNG, and our very own, Laura Peña. Brian has more than 15 years experience in the pastry and restaurant biz and is donating his time to provide an entertaining spin on how to bake a PECAN PIE right in your own home. There will be youth performances during baking time, and you’ll get to learn a little more about what Art from Ashes does.

A $35 donation gets you a spot to join in the fun. A Zoom link will be sent to you in your confirmation email after signing up. A list of ingredients you will need on hand is under Details.

Please let us know when you RSVP if you have dietary restrictions and/or preferences so that we can work with you to accommodate them.

Thank you for supporting the work that Art from Ashes is doing for their community. We’ll see you in your kitchen soon! Register here!

Strawberry Cheesecake

Pastries and Poetry part 3

Did someone say strawberry cheesecake? You bet!

Laura Pena and Chef BrianIt’s the third event in our Pastries and Poetry series presented by Chef Brian Smith, coming to you just in time for Valentine’s Day. Click the link to reserve your spot for Monday, February 8th at 6pm MST and treat yourself to this first taste of spring with a [suggested] $35 donation that goes directly to our youth empowerment programs. You’ll hear some incredible youth poets perform as you create your very own edible art. We are berry excited, and hope you are too!

A suggested $35 donation gets you a spot to join in the fun. But if you can’t donate that much, please choose your amount and join us to support the youth poets by listening to their voices!

See below for a list of ingredients.

Please let us know when you RSVP if you have dietary restrictions and/or preferences so that we can work with you to accommodate them.

Thank you for supporting the work that Art from Ashes is doing for their community. We’ll see you in your kitchen soon!

Tools you’ll need:

10-inch Cake Pan
Kitchenmaid Mixer or Hand Mixer
Rubber Spatula
Small/Medium Pot
Sheet Pan/Cookie Sheet big enough to hold cake pan
Pan Spray

Graham Cracker Crust
12 oz (1.5 cups) graham cracker crumbs
3 oz (1/2 cups) melted butter
6 oz (3/4 cups) sugar
½ tsp Salt
Cheesecake Filling
1 pound (4 cups) cream cheese, room temp
5 oz (10 tbsp) Sugar
3 eggs
12 oz (1.5 cup) sour cream
2 oz (6 tbsp) flour
Strawberry Compote
1 pound strawberries
12 oz (1.5 cups) water
2 oz (4 tbsp) sugar
½ oz (2 tsp) cornstarch


Strawberry Cheesecake

First Friday

First Friday Youth Phoenix Rising Workshop

FOR YOUTH (12 to 24)

YOU ARE A CREATIVE GENIUS! Come share your voice with us and others every first friday of the month at the First Friday spoken word & poetry workshops, now happening virtually.

Prior to April of last year, First Fridays were celebrated in person at Art from Ashes in Denver. Due to the pandemic we’ve had to move online, but that means we’ve been able to have young people attend from all over the globe!

ALSO you get to hear one of our amazing performance poets from the community do a piece just for you!

Join us from wherever you are every First Friday and let your voice be heard!

Contact the Director of Programs here.

Did we mention we pay our youth poets when you perform? See you on Friday! 🙋🏼‍♀️

Poetry Prowl


Ever wanted to just cut loose and let your inner creativity go wild? Now’s your chance with Art from Ashes, the award-winning nonprofit devoted to youth empowerment through creativity!

We invite you to celebrate National Poetry Month with an online POETRY PROWL, a poetic, photographic version of a stay-at-home-inspired scavenger(ish) hunt.

This event is for anyone and everyone of all ages and as always, young people up to age 24 are invited to participate for FREE! RSVP between now and April 25:

Here’s an overview

• Respond to any or all of our poetry prompts
• Scavenge your world for inspiration, with your phone/camera, paper and pen, your besties, family, or solo
• Share your discoveries on any social media platform and tag us using #artfromashes #poetryprowl
• Win entries for door prizes if you donate, or whenever you tag AfA on social media, or if you complete the list
• Show off your creative genius, win a door prize, meet other participants, listen to youth poets, and salute National Poetry Month’s 25th Anniversary at 3 PM April 25 at our Poetry Prowl Palooza on Zoom! (link will be sent to all who register)

The Prowl and the Party are online events, however prompts encourage discovery at home, and some involve visiting outdoor locations. Youth ages 12 – 24 who RSVP get a “ticket stub” by email to bring to our Wednesday poetry and spoken word workshop to receive a FREE writing kit.

Youth who bring a friend with you to the workshop, and you’ll both get an *extra* gift!

For more information, contact email hidden; JavaScript is required or call Celeste at the office: 303.837.1550

First Friday Youth Poetry Performance

Laura and Daniella First Friday on Instagram

Laura Peña and youth poet Daniella First Friday on Instagram


Join us every First Friday for youth spoken word performances via Instagram @afaphoenix between 6 and 6.30 pm.

Show support for the young people who participate in our Phoenix Rising youth empowerment program. Listen as youth poets ages 12 to 24 tell their stories in metaphor through poems written in only 3 minutes.

Much more than a public performance, youth gather through a Zoom workshop at 5pm for a FREE one-hour Phoenix Rising writing and performance workshop, featuring a local performance poet. All youth are welcome.

Go here for more details or contact Director of Programs email hidden; JavaScript is required for more information.

Unfamiliar with Instagram? Here’s our handy dandy cheat sheet:

How to Instagram