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'Northside' story

Bobby LeFebre’s passion for Denver and diversity will be front and center in his new role as Colorado’s first Latino poet laureate.

August 16, 2019

By Joseph Rios

Growing up in North Denver, Bobby LeFebre was inspired by conscious hip-hop artists such as Tupac Shakur, N.W.A. and Public Enemy.

Their beats, rhymes and lives helped shape his love for and understanding of the power of words from a young age, he said.

Today, the 37-year-old poet, writer and performer is shaping the worldview of generations young and old though his poetry and hit play, “Northside.” And his words will now be amplified even louder with his appointment by Gov. Jared Polis as Colorado’s new poet laureate.

LeFebre – a 2004 graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver – is the state’s eighth poet laureate and the first person of color and Latino person to hold the nearly century-old position. He’s also believed to be the youngest ever to hold the title. The Colorado poet laureate’s duties include advocating for poetry, literacy and literature, and the honorary position includes a modest $2,000 honorarium for each of the four years of the term.

“Bobby LeFebre has an amazing ability to empower and connect communities through the wisdom of his words; that is why we are confident he will make a fantastic poet laureate,” Polis said in a statement announcing LeFebre’s appointment. “He embodies the spirit of a ‘Colorado for All’ where everyone is included. I know he will be a strong advocate for the arts and art education as a way to bring us together.”

RELATED: Denver author Kali Fajardo-Anstine talks storytelling as preservation

LeFebre isn’t wasting any time getting to work – his upcoming schedule includes meetings with English teachers at Northfield High School interested in using his poetry in class, appearances on Denver7’s “Politics Unplugged” with Anne Trujillo and prepping to perform for Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15). LeFebre recently did an interview with a conservative radio host, and he plans to do more interviews throughout Colorado with anybody who wants to talk about art, diversity and inclusion.

“I have the ability to code-switch and to be able to talk to different people of different backgrounds. I value diversity, and I’m excited to engage my people, and people that don’t think like me, and about being able to dialogue about who we are and why we are,” he said. 

“The community was proud of the piece, and I think that’s what makes me the proudest. Every night, there was something emotional,” Bobby LeFebre said of his hit play

The poet laureate title is only the latest feather in LeFebre's cap: He’s a two-time Grand Slam Champion, a National Poetry Slam Finalist, an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist and a two-time TEDx speaker. He’s also founder of Café Cultura, now known as Sacred Voices, a youth-focused nonprofit promoting preservation and exploration of oral and written traditions through open-mic poetry events, and a fellow at the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. And this summer, LeFebre has been basking in his success as a playwright.

Northside” opened in June at Denver’s Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center and closed July 21 after 23 consecutive sold-out shows; the theatre is bringing the play back for a three-performance revival Aug. 23-25. “Northside” focuses on the impact gentrification has had in North Denver as the historic neighborhood became the Highlands neighborhood. It follows a young Latinx couple who are trying to purchase a home in the neighborhood in which they were raised, showing the challenges they face, including competition in the real-estate market with a young white couple who want to move into a growing city. 

“The community was proud of the piece, and I think that’s what makes me the proudest. Every night, there was something emotional,” LeFebre said.

RELATED: Denver is engaging and giving voice to underrepresented residents with its new multimedia storytelling project

After each show, he and the cast greeted attendees and listened to their feedback, he said.

“There were people coming up to us in tears, people hugging us and saying nothing at all,” he said. “It was a beautiful exchange of energy.”

LeFebre doesn’t trace his roots just to North Denver – his family’s indigenous roots in the San Luis Valley pre-date statehood. Beyond the hip-hop albums of his youth, LeFebre traces his artistic roots to North Denver’s Café Nuba, where he first performed a poem, and MSU Denver, where he earned a degree in psychology.

When he landed on the Auraria Campus, he knew he had a passion for art, culture and helping people; he took classes in Chicana/o and African American studies, where he read literature from both cultures. The stories and testimonies he studied provided the North Denver-raised student with a new perspective on the world.

RELATED: Best-selling author Luís Alberto Urrea talks immigration and storytelling

LeFebre credits the late MSU Denver Chicana/o Studies Professor and poet Lalo Delgado for helping shape his outlook and art. Delgado is considered the National Grandfather of Chicano Poetry and the University's Chicana/o studies department hosts the Lalo Delgado Poetry Festival every spring.

After classes, he would bring Delgado his poems for feedback, LeFebre said. That feedback played a vital part in forging his artistic identity. 

“I always credit (MSU Denver) with me finding my voice. It was the first time I found a social conscience, reconnecting with my roots, power, privilege and learning about the ways systems and institutions are set up not for our benefit,” he said. “The way I see the world was really formed and shaped by the time I spent at MSU Denver.”

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