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Denver nonprofit empowers youth to find their voice and power through spoken word poetry
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Briannah Hill (left) and Astin Lopez (right). Hill and Lopez are the co-executive directors of Sacred Voices, a Sacred Voices, a Denver-based, BIPOC+, youth-focused organization that was founded in 2004. 
Photo courtesy of Briannah Hill

DENVER “I think that people underestimate the youth a lot when it comes to poetry,” Astin Lopez said. “Some of our best poets that have gone up have been still in high school or college.”

Lopez and Briannah Hill are the co-executive directors of Sacred Voices, a Denver-based BIPOC+, youth-focused organization founded in 2004 that was originally known as Cafe Cultura. 

The organization provides poetry workshops at schools and open mic nights. This year, Sacred Voices started a summer program for young people to write poems while getting mental health support as well. 

Hill, a performer and poet, remembered feeling frustrated and ostracized among the poetry communities in Boulder.

“I was finding that it was very white dominant – very racist. People just didn’t understand the art that I was bringing to the mic," Hill said. 

Then, a friend invited Hill to attend an open mic at Sacred Voices. 

“It was full of people of color," Hill said. "It was full of my friends that I haven't seen in a very long time."

Sacred Voices hosts open mic nights the first and second Friday of every month. Photo courtesy of Briannah Hill.

When Hill and Lopez became the co-executive directors of the organization in 2020, they wanted to continue building a community where young people could find their voice, particularly youth of color. 

According to Hill, Sacred Voices mentors encourage young people to explore poetry freely. They also encourage students to think about poetry with a culturally responsive lens. They discuss topics like justice and equity.

“Sometimes young people are like, ‘Are you just a random adult trying to make you feel better?’ Or sometimes they’re like, ‘Oh, do you actually believe in me? Let me see how far I can go with this support,” Hill said.

Hill believes that many young people have imposter syndrome and aren’t sure of what they can and can’t do – especially young people that feel like their teachers don’t believe in them. 

From January 2022 to May 2022, Hill estimates that Sacred Voices have had over 500 people attend open mic nights, which are held the first Friday of every month at the Tonantzin Casa De Cafe and the second Friday of every month at the Buell Public Media Center in partnership with Denver Community Media.

“A lot of our performers are first time performers,” Hill said. “They’re like, ‘I’ve never performed in person before. I’ve never shared my poetry with anyone before.’ Then they leave with this new sense of gratitude and confidence.”

Lopez added that Sacred Voices is open to everyone.

“If you've got something in you that you haven't been able to find a way to get out, maybe that way is through art and maybe is through spoken art,” Lopez said. “We'll help you along the way.”


Theresa Ho is the RMPBS Kids digital content producer. You can reach her at theresaho@rmpbs.org.

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