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A look at North Denver through the eyes of the students growing up there

Students in North High School's Latinos in Action class created a photography and poetry book inspired by the pride, pain, and perseverance of their community.

DENVER — North Denver has battled with gentrification for years. Where some see economic developments, others see a step toward displacements.

High school students at North High School wrote about the changes they have seen, in hopes that people will see their community through their eyes. Students in the Latinos in Action class created a book filled with photographs and poems that represent North Denver.

"We walked around the whole neighborhood, the whole community and tried to find the beauty in it, which not many people will try to find," said Marc Escobar, a freshman involved in the project. "They’d just find something to cover it up."

Escobar said he hopes his poem, and all the others, help those not from North Denver to see the beauty he sees, too.  

Credit: KUSA

"I think it’s really interesting and indicative that like if our students are able to see that, why are the people making decisions not able to, why can’t they see the same beauty?" said Tim Hernández, the students' teacher. 

Hope Navarro-Alvarez is another student who contributed to the book. The poem she wrote focuses on the pride she has for her neighborhood. 

"The poem I wrote talks about us as a community," Navarro-Alvarez said. "We are a strong one, we’re also a beautiful one, we also have the confidence to share our frustrations, our joys and our tears." 

The high school junior hopes those who are not familiar with North Denver will be able to feel both the pain and pride of her community through this book. 

Hernández grew up in North Denver. The first day he took the class out into the community, they walked to his Aunt Anna Hernández's house two blocks away from the school. She's lived in the neighborhood since the early 1990s. 

"She talked about the cultural history of our neighborhood and talked about the intimate history that we lost by the severe influx of development," Hernández said. 

The students dedicated the book to her and others impacted by gentrification. The dedication in the book reads, in part: "These photos are meant to show appreciation of an old authentic Northside that we, as students, choose to remember and preserve." 

A free digital version of the book is available here. However, students are selling copies for $10, which includes shipping, to fundraise for a Latinx Student Leadership Conference they plan to host next semester. They are hoping to raise $5,000. They have raised $1,500 so far. 

Hernández said they want to host the conference for other Latinx students so they can "feel the same sense of pride, the same sense of belonging, the same sense of community identity." 

Credit: Tim Hernández
North High School Latinos in Action Class at live reading of "Our Sacred Community" on Sunday, December 12

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Sunday, students held a live reading for the community in North Denver. They recited their poems in front of an audience full of those who live or used to live in the neighborhood. 

"It was really beautiful seeing them transform into something that’s like 'no, what I did here was important. What I photographed, what I wrote mattered to people,'" Hernández said. 

The nearly semester-long project for the school's Latinos in Action class started with a visit from Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre and Colorado photographer Juan Fuentes. 

The cultural workers from the Northside discussed ways to preserve and celebrate the experience of the community with students, which resulted in their book. 

"I think everybody in this neighborhood thinks that they understand the cultural pain and the identity loss that we’ve experienced," Hernández said. "But I think that it’s never been made more raw than with our students." 

It took Hernández years to realize he and his community were more than just pain. To see his students realize that at a younger age, was an emotional realization that came with flipping through the pages of their book. 

"To see my students actively transform that, like 'no, we’re not just gonna be pain, we’re gonna be art and we’re going to be poetry and we’re going to be culture and pride.' I think was really beautiful." 

Hernández is also involved in the school's Somos Mecha Club. The organization aims to provide free and fresh food to students to address food insecurity. For the 2020-2021 school year, 69% of enrolled students at North High School are on free or reduced lunch. They accept monthly donations to keep their community fridge stocked. 

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