By Esteban Gómez, Assistant Professor, Anthropology
During the Summer of 2019, Professor Esteban Gómez (Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology), Dr. Cara DiEnno (Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning), and students from the University of Denver partnered with staff from The GrowHaus to develop a Creative Youth Voice Project that would allow high school students to use the arts to creatively explore social justice issues in the city of Denver. The GrowHaus is a non-profit indoor farm, marketplace and educational center in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. The Creative Youth Voice Project formed a part of their Seed2Seed Program, a summer leadership program for incoming 9th – 11th graders. Approximately, 30 students participate in the program.
During the summer program, students were introduced to three different art forms: spoken word poetry, photovoice, and street art. The spoken word workshops were facilitated by MC and B-boy Mike Wird and Hip-Hop artist Michael Acuña (aka Acuña Black). Dr. DiEnno provided workshops on photovoice, and the street art workshops were facilitated by Robin Ruston and Devin Urioste, from Youth on Record. At the end of the creative workshops, participant works were exhibited and performed at the Seed2Seed graduation. Dr. Gómez is currently in the process of producing a short video that documents the summer program. When it was possible, Dr. Gómez has also instructed students in the program on the basics of filmmaking.
The workshops were designed to teach students how the arts can be used to address issues related to social justice in their own neighborhoods. The project was concerned with critical thinking, democratic engagement, and youth empowerment. Visual stories, when informed by poetry and music, have the power to educate communities, stimulate a response, change opinions, and inspire people to act.
Denver’s young people are important stakeholders in the future of their city and region and should have a seat at the table in conversations about development, affordable housing, and community preservation. On October 6, 2019, The GrowHaus hosted a Youth Leaders Dinner that featured the works produced by the students over the summer. Students also spoke of the importance of the program, and the changes they would like to see in their own communities. More importantly, these concerns were expressed to decision-makers, as well as former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.