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I think death can be beautiful if we allow ourselves to fully grieve.  When we find that acceptance, we are reunited with our loved ones again. This is what Dia De Los Muertos means to me. No, it’s not a spooky holiday. And no, it’s not connected to Halloween. Dia De Los Muertos is a welcoming back to our deceased loved ones, a continuation of the celebration of their life. 

Originating from Mexico, Dia De Los Muertos, translated to “Day of the Dead” is celebrated between November 1st to the 2nd, and as best stated by History, is the border of the spirit world and the real world, dissolving. 

Growing up, I was always taught by my mother that when someone passes; it doesn’t mean they have left our life indefinitely. Rather they are continuing to take care of us from a distance, and in a much more beautiful world than where we are right now. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean heaven. At least it didn’t for me; for me it was a world full of culture, of color, and of celebration.  Regardless of what it means to who and what, I’ve found comfort in that belief, and Dia De Los Metros has brought me comfort about mortality. It’s vibrant. It’s honoring, and beautiful. 

It’s nearly been a year since my family dog of 17 years passed away.  Chiquiz (pronounced chee-keys), was a tiny but mighty force that guarded the Perez residency and was my companion growing up since I was only five years old. A year: 12 months and 24 hours of each day where I’ve allowed myself to grieve. In the coming days, I now prepare to celebrate the life of my childhood pet as Dia De Los Muertos approaches.  And yes! This celebration is applicable to our furry friends and family.

So, how exactly is celebration found in death? How does one prepare for loved ones to come and reunite within this two day holiday?  This is prepared through “ofrendas”; an altar full of offerings that is placed in one’s homes or on the grave of the deceased. These ofrendas are prepared with the deceased’s pieces of clothing, possessions left behind, their favorite dishes and snacks. Anything that reminds you of them, you place on the offrenda as an offering and reminder that you are continuing to keep them alive in this world.

This is surrounded by candles, photos of your loved one, calaveras (sugar skulls), and la flor de cempasúchil. This can be seen as a pathway for our loved ones to follow back home, and provides them with necessities for their journey while also honoring their time from life to death. For Chiquiz, I’ve provided all the essentials she needs on her trip back home! 

I’ve set and surrounded her with all her favorite snacks, and the ones we’d munch on together.  From peanut butter that my sister would share with her on PB & J sandwiches, to the tortilla that my mother would rip into tiny pieces for her while she prepared dinner in the kitchen with Chiquiz, down to the Doritos that my father would share with her on the couch as they woke up from a nap together. As for myself, I set out her favorite dog treat twists that she’d chew on as we both sunbathed on summer days, and popcorn that we’d sneak in at 2 AM when she’d stay up late with me to finish up midterms and finals. This always led to her getting her little body stuck in the bag as she licked off every seam of butter. 

For momentos, I’ve set out clothing and toys that Chiquiz wore and played with as she grew up. She had a particular taste for her chew toys and fashion, I’m certain she’ll arrive in style on her way back home.  Setting this ofrenda for my furry friend and family made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me appreciate the time I had to grow up with her.

I long for the days I can come home and see her tiny eye peak around the corner of my desk as I hovered over my coursework. But as I set every piece of food, clothing, candle, and flower; I was in awe of the human experience my Mexican heritage has provided with me. Death is natural, and the stages of grief and emotions that come along with it are natural as well. It’s quite literally part of life from beginning to end, and Dia De Los Muertos and offrendas allow for the story of their life to be honored and illuminated between these two worlds. We’re not worlds apart, but rather unite in leading one another in these journeys of life and death. 

I’m awaiting the arrival of Chiquiz from November 1st to the 2nd. My family and I will be celebrating  her welcome back home with some Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead Bread), in which I will be accidentally dropping some crumbs for her to clean up, as we reminisce on the life Chiquiz lived and shared with us, A life that we continue to honor every single day. 

I think death can be beautiful if

With Palisade peach season coming to a close and hatch green chile season in full swing, you’ve probably noticed piles of green chiles overflowing from the bins at grocery stores and dangling from seasonal roadside stands. Early to mid-fall in Colorado is the perfect time to get your hands on some of these fresh green chilies and make delicious comfort food.  We turned to Kristen Peterson who is the chief operations chair for the Junior League of Denver’s cookbook committee.

“There are generations of stories passed down through these cookbooks, and I’ve heard some that absolutely floor me,” says Peterson.

Peterson took us back to the 1995 Colorado Collage cookbook and showed us how she makes Pork and Green Chile Stew.  Beside the recipe she had one word written, “Good.”

Peterson prepares this heartwarming stew with ease by using some tried-and-true cooking tips she learned from her grandmother. To avoid peeling dozens of tomatoes by hand, she recommends pouring boiling water over tomatoes in a large bowl, then allowing them to rest while preparing all the other ingredients for the stew. Once the tomatoes have cooled, she peels off their outside layer with little to no effort and stirs them into the simmering pot. 

“There’s just something so welcoming about the smell of onions and garlic simmering over a stove. This recipe reminds me how much I love cooking for other people.” 

Peterson holds her grandmother’s cooking tips very close to her heart, and the first Junior League cookbook she ever received belonged to her grandmother and was filled with her writing. That cookbook is now like a time capsule of her grandma’s signature cooking tricks that will grow more special with time.

The Association of Junior Leagues International, more commonly known as the Junior League, is a private, women-led, non-profit organization with chapters scattered all around the globe full of women who are passionate about growing their leadership skills through philanthropy and community service. One of the main ways that the Junior League serves the community while gaining support for their volunteer projects is by creating and selling regional cookbooks that boast the famous flavors from each chapter’s homeland. 

“Picking a favorite cookbook is like picking a favorite child,” says Peterson, “I’ve always loved to cook and bake. Hospitality has always been my gift, and being a part of the Junior League’s cookbook committee has allowed me to love and encourage other women through cooking.”

The Junior League of Denver releases a new cookbook roughly every ten years, a tradition that began in 1978 when the first cookbook, Colorado Cache, was launched. Peterson says that “A whole lot of blood, sweat, love, and tears goes into making these cookbooks. It is incredible to watch the evolution of them and to see all the time and effort that goes into making every single one of them. I also love how when you look at each one of our cookbooks, you will find that every single person involved in the process has their name inside of it.” 

The Junior League of Denver currently has six cookbooks on the market, each with a distinctive personality and focus. Though each cookbook is memorable in its own unique way, they are all titled with “C” names to stay true to the spirit of Colorado. They are great gifts for “C”hristmas and “C”hanukkah.  

The magic inside of each cookbook comes from the step-by-step commitment to originality and authenticity–from picking out the cookbook’s theme, to reaching out to local restaurants and community members to submit their favorite recipes, to compiling its stunning pages, and finally, to selling the cookbooks and sharing Colorado’s cuisine with the world.

Recipes that make it into the cookbooks typically focus on classic Colorado flavors, so in them you will find no shortage of peaches, corn, green chiles, and other iconic ingredients that inspire Colorado traditions inside and outside of the Denver region. 

Peterson shared that “One gentleman came up to me while I was doing a peach sale at the Rotary club, and he told me that he wanted to buy the first cookbook from the Junior League to keep his wife’s memory alive and her traditions going. She is no longer with us, and a recipe of hers was in that cookbook.”

As Peterson says, “These cookbooks all have a life of their own, and it’s really incredible to see such a special heirloom form.”

And the Pork and Green Chile Stew was not just “good” but delicious.

With Palisade peach season coming to a

The life of a career politician is filled with public ire and scrutiny, but women of color face a unique hill to run up in their campaigns. On October 13, Regis University’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, in conjunction with the Denver Public Library, aired a showing of Rebekah Henderson’s Running with My Girls, a documentary detailing the difficulties that Henderson’s friends Shayla Richard, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, Dr. Lisa Calderón, and Veronica Barela faced in their campaigns for office. Shontel Lewis was also featured in the film, with her successful run to become RTD Director of District B in Denver, which in part inspired the making of the film.

Henderson is an amateur filmmaker who quit her job and crowdfunded to make the documentary. Being friends with each of the women running, Henderson was there for every personal moment and captured the raw emotion that came with them.

“Nobody paid me to make this movie,” said Henderson during the panel discussion after the showing. “I made it because I thought it would be awesome and fun. I had no idea what I was getting into, and it was a very intense experience for me also.”

These women ran into problems with the media, either due to a lack of coverage or a wild swing of the truth. Famously, Councilwoman Candi received horrific backlash when she was labeled a communist by right wing media. The film includes a scene as CdeBaca shows the police the countless death and rape threats she received in response.

The elections took place in 2019, with CdeBaca, Barela and Richard all running for seats on the Denver City Council. Calderón challenged incumbent Michael Hancock for Mayor and ran her campaign in part on the slogan “Times up, Hancock.” Hancock had received allegations of sexual misconduct within his office, which inspired Calderón to get him out of office.

“This film is a love story among all of us and our community, and even though there were very hard parts of it, I’m just so proud of everything that we did, and are doing, and will continue to do,” Dr. Calderón said.

Despite the hopeful tone of the documentary, only one of the four women won their race. Councilwoman CdeBaca became the first Latina and LGBTQ+ representative of Denver’s city council. Though happy that at least one of them won, each panelist admitted they were a little disappointed with the outcome.

Richard and Barela both chose to spend time with family immediately after their elections, while Dr. Calderón began working for CdeBaca until she had the opportunity to work as an executive for Emerge: an organization dedicated to training women to run for office and supporting their campaigns. And despite her supposed retirement, Barela began working as Deputy Director of Denver Metro Fair Housing Center, which is a non-profit dedicated to fighting for fair and affordable housing, particularly for people of color.

Even if more of these women had all won their races, Lewis says there are plenty more problems when it comes to actually holding office. As the only person of color on the board of RTD directors, she struggles in getting her peers to understand how their policies affect minorities.

“I was able to bring forward a resolution for directors to participate in justice, equity, and diversity training, because they really, really need that,” said Lewis to a round of laughter.

Despite their losses in 2019, Richard and Dr. Calderón still have aspirations for holding office. Dr. Calderón even announced her candidacy for Denver Mayor the same day of the showing, which received a round of applause from the audience during the panel. 

The film’s raw portrayal of being a woman in politics inspired many viewers in attendance, with one woman of color saying, “There’s a sisterhood in this film that you really don’t see. I think it will help them (young women) want to do more for their community and to actually run for office.”

Interim Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program Robin Koenigsberg was elated to host this showing and panel discussion. “The words they express really carried the moment, and this is a very worthwhile conversation,” said Koenigsberg.

Both Emerge’s and Henderson’s goal is to inspire more women and women of color to run for office, and become active in their communities. Each panelist refused to sugar-coat the realities of running for office, but also made clear the necessity of working together with other women, as they did during their campaigns. 

According to Henderson, “This film for me was about bearing witness to something incredible, and it was incredible, and I don’t think anyone can deny that. For me just being able to show that and share my experience was very powerful, exciting, interesting, and heartbreaking, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if these women had not been willing to put themselves out there.”.

The life of a career politician is

With Halloween around the corner, you may be on the hunt for historic haunts in the Denver area.  There are creepy stories at locations that folks walk by every day.  Here are some of the top documented haunted places in the Denver metro area. 

Cheesman Park 

Between 8th and 13th Avenues, the 81 acre Cheesman Park is a popular place for events and warm summer evenings.  But there is also a dark history that has led to many scary stories. In the early years of Denver, it was known as Mount Prospect Cemetery.  After a long debate in 1890, the Colorado Senate decided that the cemetery was going to change into a park. Families were given 90 days to move their loved ones’ bodies and those who could, did.  But criminals, poor people and residents who had no family were buried there too. Denver hired E.P. McGovern, a contractor to move the rest of the bodies. To make more money McGovern separated remains, put them in child size caskets and spread them around.  

Body parts were strewn in the park.  After his contract was canceled, the city didn’t hire another contractor, and instead covered the graves without moving the remaining bodies. It’s estimated that over 2,000 bodies are still in the park. Some Denver residents have told stories of feeling uneasy in the park, hearing voices or even seeing shadows from the corners of their eyes. It is even rumored it inspired the classic 1982 Steven Spielberg horror film Poltergeist. The film, The Changeling, was based on writer Russell Hunter’s experiences while living in a  house on the edge of Chessman Park. Walking ghost tours run through November 3 and can be booked at

Molly Brown House 

One the most famous historic house in Denver is the Molly Brown House on Pennsylvania Street. The home belonged to Margaret Brown aka “Unsinkable Molly Brown” who was an activist and was famously known for surviving the sinking of the Titanic.  The home is now a historic museum. The Victorian mansion is over 100 years old, and stories come from neighbors of the home, passersby, workers, and visitors alike.  Folks have told stories of a shadowy figure walking down a staircase and a ghost cat running around the halls. Passersby have reported seeing a figure in the windows when no is in the home. Workers see lights turning off and on, as well as furniture being moved. People have also reported smelling Molly Brown’s husband, J.J Brown’s, pipe out of nowhere.  The Molly Brown House is open Thursday through Sunday 10am to 5pm.  Visit for more information. 

The Patterson Inn

The historic Patterson Inn, also known as the Croke-Patterson Mansion, is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  It was home to Thomas Patterson, a politician and newsman, who lived in the house from 1893 to 1916 when he tragically died.  His wife, two children and infant child also met untimely deaths in the home.  Folks who have dared to stay in the Patterson Inn’s nine rooms have reported getting glimpses of past family or visitors to the mansion, and hearing baby cries, footsteps, barking dogs, opening and closing doors and voices. Some have even reported seeing Mrs. Patterson herself walking the halls. The 130 year old house was featured in the Travel Channel’s series, Portals to Hell.  Information for staying and visiting the Patterson Inn can be found on the website at

Tivoli Student Union aka Tivoli Brewing Company 

The Tivoli, in the heart of the Auraria campus, is a historic brewing company that was built in 1870. It was in one of the oldest areas of Denver.  The Tivoli houses the student unions of three schools, CU Denver, MSU Denver, and Community College of Denver. Students and workers alike share stories of strange things like hearing a little girl’s laughter and skipping in the halls.  Rumors are it was the spirit of a little girl who died in a home fire in the Auraria neighborhood, or the ghost daughter of the brewery founder.   

People have reported having uneasy feelings in the building and the elevators. Students also say they hear strange sounds as they’ve studied in different areas.  Some areas of the Tivoli just have an overall creepy feeling. Workers have told their bosses they wouldn’t go alone to certain spots in the building.  Tivoli can be visited Monday through Sunday 10 am to 10 pm. It is located on Auraria Parkway.

The Oxford Hotel 

One of the oldest hotels in the Denver area, the Oxford Hotel was built in 1891 and there are many unexplained events within the walls. Footsteps, cold spots and shadows have been reported in both the halls and a room of the hotel. People tell stories of seeing a woman in one of the rooms or a woman’s face in the mirrors. She is rumored to be the ghost of a woman who killed her husband then killed herself. She is also known for bothering single male travelers who stay in room 320. One famous ghost story comes from the bar of the hotel. A postman appeared during Christmas time and order a beer. When the bartender came to get the empty bottle, the bartender saw the postman and bottle disappear.

The Oxford Hotel is located on 1600 17th St, Denver.  The Cruise Room Bar where the postman disappeared can be visited too. Go to the website at for booking.  You can also visit, a ghost tour that lets you check out these and other Denver haunts for a perfectly creepy Halloween encounters to keep you up at night.


With Halloween around the corner, you may

What’s your worst fear, Denver?  Whatever gruesome thought comes to mind, you’ll be sure to find it at The Frightmare Compound in Westminster. Holding the title of Denver’s oldest haunted house, the compound has become a staple to Halloween and all things horror in Colorado. 

Those who dare to enter the compound become the star of their worst nightmares come to life. With 39 years in the business the fear factor in the compound has only elevated, and current owner Josh Holder doesn’t plan on taming the terror anytime soon.

Josh Holder has grown alongside the compound his entire life. Opening two years before he was born Holder’s definition of Halloween goes beyond terror to passion for the family business and it’s legacy in the community.  Without the compound, there would not be Halloween for him.

”I’ve never known a Halloween without the haunted house. I’ve actually never been to a Halloween party. This is what I know. So every year I’m just here and I scare people for a living.” 

Josh’s father, Brad Holder, brought The Frightmare Compound to life in 1983.  Holder remains prevalent in the history of haunts in Denver as the compound has become a foundation of horror within its two decades of business.  From ketchup to white sheets, his legacy continues in the hands of Josh who is running both a family business and providing home to the growing monstrosities lurking in the darkness. 

The five acre property allows Holder to bring to life scenarios the Denver community have only seen in horror movies or their nightmares. 

“We actually take all year to build these two or three scenes, and make sure they’re Hollywood style. That you’re walking into Hollywood Horror Nights, or you’re walking into a movie set.”

Those who go through the compound will feel that this wasn’t built overnight, as every turn provides that blood-curdling reaction.  

Hollywood isn’t the only inspiration Holder takes from either. During the off season, Holder will travels the globe to keep in touch with the constant change and growth of horror and provide blood curdling reactions that elevate the fear factor.  

“Now it takes a lot more to scare somebody. So we make sure that we travel around the world and find all the scary stuff we can.”

Holder knows horror unlike anyone else. He takes all risks to raise that bar, Holder hires only the best monsters known to Denver.   Auditioning for the job is a beast.  

“We actually put them in a spot and give them props, give them masks, whatever, and make sure that they can actually scare us and they know how to be a zombie how to actually get into character.” 

Auditions are from August to September. Holder provides an outline of things he expects to bring his visions and creators to life. When asked about an experience that left him frightened, he chuckles and shares about the actors that make him question whether they’re acting or not,

“You always have the people that you don’t know if they’re actually acting or they’re actually going to kill somebody and they’re terrifying. Background checks, always.”  

All of these elements are what bring the Denver community to The Frightmare Compound for 39 years. 

“I’ve got grandparents that bring their grandchildren now because they came here in high school. So it’s really cool to be able to see that and these families come back every year because we change it and it’s something new for them.”

Each season there are new means of screams.  Authentic props from the 1800s and 1900s get reused in new scenarios to make the experience bigger and better.  

“Every year, we actually don’t take down. We’re one of the haunted houses that we can actually build off of every year,” says Holder.  “The compound is basically a museum so you can go through the mineshaft and we have over a quarter million dollars in just mine and mining equipment from Colorado. All of the props and sets here are real; we don’t do the foam carves.  Everything’s real.”

Holder taps into older fears, staple fears and new fears so everyone leaves the compound horrified.  

“You have to kind of play on everybody’s senses. Certain things that scare one person, don’t scare another person. So you have to have a mixture of different scales all the way through.”

For Holder the reward is on opening day when he sees and hears the reactions of people exiting the compound.

“We actually sit under the stairs of the barn here when they come out. You can listen to people that just had a great time. And you know, people that literally peed their pants, they’re telling their friends, they peed their pants, and it’s just so cool to hear that you actually did your job.” 

As he finishes this statement, the rev of a chainsaw is heard, followed by a shrilling scream and Holder bows his head. He has absolutely done his job. 

Holder and his monsters await your arrival at the compound at 10798 Yukon Street in Westminster.  The Frightmare Compound is open Sunday through Thursday from 7pm to 10pm and Friday to Saturday from 7pm to 12am.  As Holder says, “You haven’t experience Halloween until you’ve experienced The Frightmare Compound.” 

What’s your worst fear, Denver?  Whatever gruesome thought

I:  What was it like coming to Denver as an immigrant doctor?

Coming to Colorado from the New York, I was impressed by everyone’s friendly behavior and attitude to me and my family. This was important for an immigrant like me for in the end, places are just that – places. It is the people in those places that make a difference – friendly and welcoming or unfriendly and unwelcoming. I spent a year at The Children’s Hospital, training in Thoracic surgery aiming to return to Kenya to offer my surgical services to my countrymen. When it became clear that that was not possible, I was forced to do the next best thing to support my family – I went into private practice in Denver. I was qualified, I was young and energetic.

Denver gave me a place to settle down in and raise a family. I was one of four Black surgeons, and we helped each other, joining the unsung struggles of professional minorities that’s common across White America. It is a struggle more intense in the medical profession that has for several centuries been as a “Whites only” preserve.” But I was warned that it was going to be hard building a practice. “They’ll try and kill you,” a gentleman who was urging me to pack my bags and go elsewhere said.  It is true, the competition was fierce; the turf war brutal and intense. But I was determined to make it work. You couldn’t come from where I grew up in Africa, with the poverty that was our birthright and wilt like a rose just because of a little competition. 

I have been friends with a number of African Americans but must admit I am too much of an African. Some habits and behaviors from our birthplace never really change. Such is the burden of the traveler and the immigrant. As a Black physician colleague once told me: “You’re just not sophisticated Pius. You’re too much like an African.” There is an aggressiveness and razor edge sharpness to the American character that the African mind can’t quite countenance or develop. I think it’s an attitude and psychological posture American Blacks have had to adopt to survive in this White man’s land. The characteristics and personal qualities that served me well living among lions and elephants in Kenya need supplementing to deal with the American street.

All in all, in addition to the foregoing, it has been an excellent adventure; I still wear the skin I wore when I left the tropics. It’s rather worn and loose – time does that to all of us. But I am very proud of it. I have succeeded in thwarting my competitors’ aim to reject and drive me out of Denver. With my dogged demeanor, I have improvised and survived. I actually have come to enjoy and cherish the fight – remnant of the fighting spirit I developed in the African bush. I feel it has made me into a tougher man. It certainly has stimulated many ideas which I use in my writing – my second and last career. 

II:  Are we seeing more representation in the ranks of physicians here in Colorado? 

Sadly not.  It has taken many years for the “medical establishment” to understand that training and accommodating more minority physicians into the rolls of the profession is as important as it is treating “colored” people fairly. In the three and half decades I have been in Denver and Colorado, the thought and idea of diversity in the medical field has remained just that – an idea. Blacks and Hispanics make up 31% of the US population, and less than 13% physicians of color in the US. This is inadequate and needs correcting. The recent Covid pandemic clearly showed the deleterious significance of such a deficit. In some locales, up to 60% of those dying were minorities – much of it an indication of the lack of pre-pandemic medical care resulting from the lack of healthcare for minority patients who suffered from diabetes, hypertension, obesity, COPD, etc. They all were factors contributing to the high mortality. The Covid pandemic was sadly more of a minority killer than any other group’s. Tiny steps are being taken to increase medical school enrollment of Black and Hispanic students. They are tiny and also inadequate. Numbers at CU Med school of different minority groups are: about 4% Black, 6% Hispanic and less that less than 1% Native Americans.     

III:  What do you think we need so that we have more BIPOC doctors?

The quality of K-12 minority education must improve if high school graduates are to succeed in STEM education at the college level. For too long the Black High school to Prison pipeline has become a durable, strong structure to break. The failure at the K-12 level is multifactorial and includes: poor schools; disruptive, chaotic, violent neighborhoods; poor discipline and school teachers who are not particularly strong in maths and science pedagogy. A majority of the American population that says, “they are bad in maths” referring to Black and Hispanic students; parents who are themselves math illiterate or maybe infect their children with the disease of  “I hate math,” or “I am no good at math.” The weight of 400 years history of “you just can’t do it,” all weigh heavily on many Black children.  

The solution is a societal transformation; parents who transmit an attitude of “you can do it.” The public at large should be re-educated to become a can do organism. To minority kids, Colleges and universities have for decades appeared like inaccessible castles surrounded by tall gates. These institutions should come to the street, village level so that poor students see they too can become engineers, doctors and mathematicians. Just because someone is poor doesn’t make them dumb and talentless. It is the talented poor that we should seek: to promote, support and encourage to be the best they can be. God knows they are out there in large numbers – on the street, in jails, in failing schools; potential doctors, engineers and mathematicians. Their rescue and salvation is our nation’s obligation.

In short, we need to get young kids and older students enthused in the wonder of science and the truly simple language of mathematics. We should start at the kindergarten level teaching this language that’s no different from others and which, once mastered becomes a truly pleasurable experience. To savor and appreciate the nuance of its vocabulary, syntax and sentence structure is the key to open the educational door that all of us have passed through on our way to many professions and careers. And one of the professions is medicine.  

IV: What are you trying to do to make that happen? 

Cognizant of the paucity of minority physicians I have become an advocate of medical and STEM education. At first I believed getting universities and colleges (Institutions of Higher Education – HEIs) involved with students at high school level was ideal. Colleges know how to teach to entrance exams  (SATs and ACTs) and therefore can teach our students what it takes to go to college. The infrastructure is there;  all we need do is bring schools, students and colleges together. Or so I thought. I was disappointed as I approached many in HEIs. In fact some asked me: why are you doing this? What qualifies you to do this? 

I now have a group of highly motivated individuals going into the community and working at the community level. With an eye to strengthening the STEM education of students, in consort with the Boys and Girls Clubs, a number of engineering groups and other businesses, that B&G Clubs deal with, we are planning to teach students how to take SATs and ACTs as part of such an intervention. Once that is in place in Colorado, we plan to slowly engage other entities across America. Clearly, we must begin small and grow as time and resources permit.  

V:      What do you like about living in the Denver area?   

A place is its people and I have made many “friends” in four decades here. With the many universities and colleges, Denver has an academically stimulating atmosphere which I love. The literary milieu is fabulous. Over the years I have belonged to various groups including Fiction Writers’ group and others. I love the Theater scene a lot as well as other entertainment aspects of the city. Over the years I have been lucky to write for several newspapers and have been on Radio and TV. One of the most satisfying feelings in our lives is when other people appreciate something of value in us. I am now retired from the practice of medicine; the time I have at hand allows me to write and think. I just finished writing two books – a memoir and a novel and am hard at work on a new novel. They are all possible because Denver’s atmosphere is conducive to creativity. 


I:  What was it like coming to Denver

Westward Gallery is an anchor on Tennyson Street in North Denver and a community hub for art and artists since it opened in 2017.   

Michelle Courier, a professional painter like her father, John McCormick, and brother, Kelly McCormick, desired to do something new in the world of art, so she moved to Denver from Michigan with her family in 2016, and now displays much of her work at Westward Gallery. She is considered one of the premiere landscape artists in the country.  However, this October a new Courier is on display, Michelle’s daughter, Kelsey Courier.

Kelsey began the long road of becoming an artist in 2012, when she was only 16. The Couriers are a family of artists, and her mother saw her potential from the very beginning.

“I thought she had a natural talent, without much instruction at all,” said Michelle.

Kelsey’s siblings also demonstrated artistic talent that they inherited from their mother and grandfather. However, it was Kelsey who showed genuine interest in pursuing the craft in a professional capacity. She began by painting Marilyn Monroe to learn more about figure drawing and painting.

“I wanted it to be my first challenge. I wanted to keep finding more ways to challenge myself, and that became my house portraits, which really helped me learn what I did and didn’t like about painting,” Kelsey said.

Michelle first learned of Kelsey’s talent when she discovered one of the Marilyn Monroe paintings in her room and was immediately shocked with its high quality. She knew her daughter had real potential and encouraged Kelsey to continue painting and taking workshops with notable artists to help her develop her skills.  

“She is 10 years beyond what her level should be,” Michelle said. “I looked back at my old paintings from college to see, and her use of color and light on the side of a house has detail that many artists her age miss.”

On display in the gallery is her portrait of Marilyn Monroe as well as several detailed pieces of famous locations in and around Denver. Kelsey said she had other passions, such as interior design and architecture, but she listened to her family suggestions that she paint, and most importantly, paint what she cares about. 

“Once I woke up to the real struggle that a lot of people face, I realized the opportunity that I was born into, and that if I don’t do something with this opportunity, I’d feel like I was missing out on something in life,” Kelsey said. “I’m glad they gave me that push.”

Even with the support of her family, Kelsey admits that the road to become an artist has been long. She became her own worst critic and had to limit the time she spent on each piece or she’d work on it until it was perfect.

“It’s been 10 years of painting and then finally getting to the show, so it makes me question what I’ve been doing for these 10 years,” said Kelsey. “I became a mom in between that and had a really big realization of where to dedicate my time.”

Kelsey’s son, Milo, is now 5 months old and there were many unique challenges that came with painting while pregnant.

“It sounds crazy, because how do you paint with a baby? You don’t, or you paint with a baby in your lap. But I had a realization that my time is now something I have to take a lot more seriously and I can’t be wasting it.”

Kelsey admits that motherhood has been a ‘shock to her system,’ but the wake-up call has been invaluable. Kelsey’s paintings will remain on display at Westward Gallery for the month of October, and despite the trials and tribulations it took to get her first show, she is not discouraged and will continue to pursue her passion in painting.

“It’s the best way I know to express myself, but also have freedom while doing it.”

And someday, far into the future, she hopes that her son may become the fourth generation of artists within the Courier family, “as long as he wants to, of course.”

Westward Gallery is an anchor on Tennyson

Cool-weather, color-changing leaves, and the start of football season. Denver residents look forward to watching the Denver Broncos or their favorite football team begin the season every fall.

This year Denver area girls are playing in the inaugural season of flag football at area high schools. But did you know Denver is also home to a national champion tackle football team made of women?

Bucket List Community Café had the chance to talk with Kimberly Santistevan, the quarterback and team captain of the Mile High Blaze. While playing, she stays positive and pushes her team to learn from their mistakes.

“I like to keep it fun and, you know, not stress the girls out because they feed off the quarterback. So, if I’m having a bad game or make a bad throw, I try to have short term memory and let it out the other side and learn from it.”

Kimberly not only plays football but is also an assistant coach for Douglas County High School’s boys football team, where she coaches the wide receivers and defensive backs.

In October’s podcast, Kimberly talks about breaking barriers, what it takes to play women’s tackle football, and how coaching has improved her game.

Cool-weather, color-changing leaves, and the start of

The opening of Denver’s first pozoleria in June of 2021, La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, is proof that honoring your roots while charting your own course makes you stand out from the crowd. The restaurant located near downtown Denver was nominated as one of the top 50 best new restaurants in the country by the prestigious Bon Appetit magazine this year. 

“The food here is hearty and soulful, a blessing for anyone looking to balance their meal with the long, expertly curated list of mezcals and other agave spirits,” praised Bon Appetit. 

La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal features the traditional Mexican cuisine, pozole, several types of the Mezcal alcoholic beverages along with other Mexican dishes.

“I can think of many reasons but first, it is my favorite dish. Second, there was no pozole here in Denver and it was needed and third, it is the most emblematic dish of Mexico,” said the owner of the restaurant, Chef Jose Avila.

Pozole is a concoction of hominy and meat served in a bowl that is garnished with a variety of vegetables such as shredded cabbage or lettuce, chili peppers and more. La Diabla has its corn imported from Mexico and prepares it in the restaurant through the process of nixtamalization where the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution and then hulled.  

The owner of La Diabla explained that pozole comes in the colors of the Mexican flag. Pozole Rojo is mostly found in Northern Mexico. Pozole Verde is common in the southern part of the country, and the Yucatan Peninsula is home to the Black Pozole. Mexico City is the common ground of all, and includes Pozole Blanco. According to Avila, Mexico City is the epicenter of Mexican gastronomy, where ingredients of the country travel through, to reach opposite sides. There is not a huge sign outside of La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal to bombard visitors and onlookers. Instead, Avila wants to focus on the food and let it speak for itself like it does in his hometown of Mexico City.

“I grew up with a super pure and super innocent love towards food. The ingredients, you go crazy from so many things you can make. There are many new ingredients. There are ingredients that are only seasonal.”

Chef Avila grew up with the tradition of “Jueves Pozoleros”, or pozole Thursdays where his mother and siblings gathered to talk and eat as a family after busy days. He described the pozolerias in Mexico as humble places where loved ones come together. For Chef Jose Avila, he knows the pozoleria has carried out its mission when he hears customers say, “This reminds me of my grandmother.” 

Everything came together for Jose Avila in his early twenties after working a chaotic night at what was then a fine dinery in Cherry Creek, the Fourth Story. Some people throw in the towel after walking into a kitchen filled with dirty dishes, endless orders pouring in and a chef shouting to keep things in order, but in that moment Avila realized “this is where I belong. This is what I want to do.” It became Chef Avila’s mission to learn the art of the food scene.

The owner of La Diabla is no stranger to innovation after introducing the concept of tacos and tequila and the first Yucatecan food truck in Colorado, X’Tabai Yucateco, in 2021. Chef Avila is also the owner of the sheep barbacoa restaurant, El Borrego Negro.

“My job is to educate you in the humblest way. If you do not know green pozole, if you do not know what corn nixtamalization is, if you do not know black pozole, if you do not know this and that, for me that is my job. To explain to you and let you know that Mexican food is not just tacos and tequila, it is much more than that.”

With over two decades of experience in the food scene, Avila values the people in his restaurant who reflect the values that brought the vision of the pozoleria to life, hard work. Because of this, the restaurant continues to receive more recognition including from 5280 Magazine’s 25 Best Restaurants in Denver 2022.

“We have been busier. But more than anything, both for me and for the team, there is that personal and moral satisfaction because it is theirs. It’s my idea, I put the idea in. But at the end of the day, who makes it, who operates it, who takes care of it is them. I am here to be their support. But the one who comes and heats the tortilla and makes the preparation, the drinks, all that is for them. We earn it together, but they are the backbone of the place. Of any restaurant.”.

To get a taste of La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, visit its location at 2233 Larimer Street in Denver.

The opening of Denver’s first pozoleria in

Growing up, the adults in my life never failed to stress the importance of voting. Whether it be voting in presidential, mayoral, or midterm elections, I knew the adults in my life would be heading to the polls to vote and then heading home to tell their kids why voting matters so much. 

When I lived under my parents roof, voting felt completely out of reach for obvious reasons: it was. However, I had it drilled into my head that as soon as I turned eighteen, I was going to register to vote and participate in every election I could. But when the next presidential election rolled around after I had turned the legal age, I found that voting still felt out of reach–more specifically, the idea of my individual voice actually making a difference felt completely out of reach. On top of this, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to vote–participating in politics felt like participating in an ongoing cycle of division and chaos.

 It also didn’t help that my friends nor I were jumping up and down for either presidential candidate, a predicament I know many other voters faced in the 2020 election. So even though I had been taught my whole life about the significance of voting, I found myself nearing the deadline to vote without even having registered. 

Two years later, halfway through Joe Biden’s first presidential term, something happened that I truly thought I would never see in my lifetime: the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I woke up that morning and found mixed text messages on my phone–some from my southern family members who were happy to have “rights given back to the states” and others from my Colorado friends, who were completely horrified with the court’s decision. Having been mostly surrounded by pro-choice voters in the North Denver bubble, it had become less obvious to me that there was still a massive, loud, and strong force of people fighting for not just one side, but both sides.

So, I didn’t register to vote in time for the 2020 presidential election. But the sudden overturning of Roe v. Wade was sort of a wake-up call that reminded me of just how quickly the political climate was changing. I made a promise to myself that morning that I would vote in the next midterm election, and every other election that followed. I simply couldn’t let my voice go to waste any longer while everything around me was constantly shifting and changing.

Midterm election day, which is on Tuesday, November 8, is your chance to vote for members of Congress and representatives at the state and local levels. Since midterm elections don’t receive as much attention as presidential elections, voter turnout is usually lower. However, midterm elections are arguably just as important as presidential elections. Lower turnout can lead to limited, non-representative groups of voters making outsized decisions about your fundamental rights. So if you’re struggling to convince your friends or family to get out and vote, tell them this: the fewer votes there are, the more weight each one carries. So not only does your vote count for something, it gives opposing votes less power over the final results.

So if you’re on the fence about voting, remember that your voice matters. Remember that your vote counts. Remember what I said about the strong force fighting for the opposite side? They will be at the polls. Will you?

Growing up, the adults in my life