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Friday, December 24, 2021

POETRY FRIDAY- OUR SACRED COMMUNITY

 

I haven't posted much recently. Ok, actually I haven't opened up my blog in six months. However, it looks like possibly I am going to have a little more time in my life, so maybe I will dabble in poetry again. Today, I'm stopping in to make you aware of a new poetry book published by students at North High School, which is the feeder school where many of my students attend.

I teach in North Denver. When I started working there, ten years ago, the neighborhood was like many others I had worked in before-- working class families crowded into tiny houses, some more than one hundred years. At least once a month, someone would get evicted and we would watch as the neighbors dug through possessions piled on the front lawn. For several years, we watched as one little house slid, inches at a time, off its foundation until finally it was condemned. The school where I taught was about 95% free and reduced lunch. 

That has all changed in the past decade. About twenty years ago, they built Coors Field, the stadium where the Colorado Rockies play, about a mile away across the highway from where I teach. The neighborhood around the stadium changed rapidly, from a land of factories and railroad tracks to upscale lofts and restaurants. LoDo/Rhino, as it was called, became a hipster neighborhood where everyone wanted to live. 

When the developers ran out of room, they went across the highway, into the neighborhood where my school is located, tore down all of the little houses, and built what I call saltine-cracker structures. I call them that because of their shape- tall and narrow, like a saltine-cracker box standing on one end. The roofs are flat, with patios or decks that are advertised as having a city view. Most of the structures are duplexes, which sell for upwards of $800,000 apiece. People can walk or bike across the 20th Street Overpass into downtown.

Sadly, the families who lived in that area, many of them for generations, can no longer afford housing in their own neighborhood. They've been pushed north ten miles to Federal Heights or east to Aurora. Enrollment at my school has dropped dramatically. I doubt that we will even be open in another five or so years-- the people who currently  live in the neighborhood don't, as a general rule, even have children. 

Recently, students at the local high school, created a poetry book around the gentrification of our neighborhood. Each student in a Latinx Leadership Class was asked to take a picture of the neighborhood and write a poem to go with it. Their work, our sacred community, is stunning.




You can read the whole book here.

It was also featured in The Denver Post last weekend. 

And in an article on the local news

Check it out. These kids have something to say. 

Buffy Silverman is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

7 comments:

Mary Lee said...

Wow. What an amazing project. What voice and vision these students have. What a tragedy that their neighborhood has to be colonized, that they have to live through the echoes of history, in order to access their art. Thank you so much for sharing. These words stung most of all: "Why should society/be allowed to make this world/impossible for us to live in?"

Buffy Silverman said...

Wow--these students' words about the loss of their homes and community is so powerful. And makes the impact of gentrification so personal, so heart-wrenching. Thank you for sharing their words.

Bridget Magee said...

I got goosebumps reading these students' words. Thank you for sharing this book and all that it means to your students. :)

Michelle Kogan said...

Thanks for sharing this powerful poetry book by the high school students, I hope it reaches many readers inside and beyond the community. The images and words paint a bold statement of their life and the loss gentrification brings.

Janice Scully said...

This is a heart breaking story, so many affected by gentrification and loss of a neighborhood. I sent it to my cousin who was a librarian south of Denver. The photos and poems are fascinating. Thanks for this.

Linda Mitchell said...

Wow, Carol. The feelings expressed in this book are so heartfelt. I wish there was a better way of building up a community than property sales/gentrification. Is there? Please let the students know that I feel like I have seen them and heard them through this book. I hope each continues writing and photographing and recording. We are desperate for new historians to make sure our future knows how it came to be.

Carol Varsalona said...

Carol, I am sorry that I missed this amazing project post last week. Student voice is strong in each photo poem and as a whole, the book rings of truth. After hearing of the fire, I think of the families that lost their homes after being uprooted by the building of a new community and now by the forest fires.