Michael • Youth Advocate, Educator, Emcee, Poet, Activist

Michael, emcee and poet, is a man with many names. Most people know him as Ill Seven, but he also goes by Acuña Black and Sly Miles. He moved here from Las Vegas in the 90s when he was 13 years old after the military stationed his family here. Today, over 20 years later, he calls Denver home and is an activist, creator and contributor to the art and culture scene.

We met in Five Points for our interview. He told me the area was once full of warehouses and that a nearby building, which is now a high-rise apartment, used to be the housing projects. Kids sold drugs there and if the cops felt you looked suspicious, you’d get pulled over. Now there’s money and there are businesses in the very same warehouses. For Michael, the exponential growth and changes can be challenging, but they have prepared him to always be ready to adjust for the next evolution and accept it, regardless of what comes.

During our conversation, we talked about tokenism in Denver, and how he’s very aware of it. He shared that he chooses to show up as his authentic self instead of selling himself short for other people’s expectations. We also talked about how in Denver, we [Black people] go harder. We might be one of few but you’re going to know we’re here.

When I asked why he chose to stay in Denver, he said that as his perspective grew, so did his appreciation for the city. I also asked him to describe Denver in one word to which he replied, “creative.” Here’s what it means to be Michael in Denver.

So tell me about your names. Where do they come from and what do they mean?

Ill Seven is my artist name. I came into that name in exploring my spirituality. I came up as a Christian and then kinda evolved out of Christianity into studying Islam. Then I studied Buddhism and now I’m into spirituality. Within exploring my own spirituality, I am really kind of exploring who I am within my Blackness. Acuña Black is an alias that I took on to explore my own lineage and background. Sly Miles is my tribute to Sly and the Family Stone and Miles Davis. I took on that alias because I’m a fan of Black art. I’m a fan of black musicianship and black creativity.

What about your spiritual journey? What did you learn about yourself?

Christianity was a big part of my life through high school and middle school. In high school, I was around people of different faiths, and one of the faiths was the Five Percenters. At first I was scared of it because I didn’t understand it. My family also put a stigma around it. Hip-hop was a big part of that too. I was listening to Wu-Tang Clan and they were talking about 5 Percent, Gods and Earths, and Knowledge of Self. It was something that I needed at the time. It made me proud to be who I was, my self image started building up, and it took spirituality outside of just the context of a book, and broke it down into a variety of different spiritual ideas. It wasn’t about Jesus being the way, but who God is, God is the one. You have a direct connection to God, you ain’t gotta go through someone else – and that was important to me. I studied that throughout my 20s until I needed a change. I needed something that was more grounding and peaceful, less political. There’s a lot of politics in all faith, and Buddhism was something that I gravitated towards. It wasn’t political. It was just me. I could explore myself or I could find who I was within God. Buddhism was meditating and mantras – a lot of that goes into Islam as well. There’s a lot of connection – more so than people realize – it’s all connected.

Who are you?

I am a Black man who is looking to define his reality and narrative outside of mainstream America’s gaze. I’m a father, son, visionary and creator of new thought. Anxiety runs through me but doesn’t define my truth. I’m a constant work in progress building a foundation for the legacy that will evolve next.

What does it mean to be you?

To be me is to love full-heartedly, to give my everything while seeing the world for what it is. My life lessons are breadcrumbs from past mistakes to remind me of where I came from, utilizing that as fuel to guide me. I’m in constant growth and change. I am change.

What does it mean to be you here?

To be me in Denver is to be unapologetic in my Blackness. It also means to accept people for who they are. I think you can see the masks and the fakeness behind a lot of the people that you engage with, but getting outside of the fakeness, and just accepting them. Especially within the whiteness here, there’s gonna be ignorant things said to you, innocently sometimes, a lot of the time, microaggressions you deal with on a regular basis. But if you let that consume you, or to let that be the main thing that you’re battling all the time, you’ll always be fighting. So you have to just accept people for who they are and set your boundaries and protect yourself. That’s where I’m at right now in Colorado.

What do you love most about living in Denver?

Denver is young and undefined. You can create visions that get noticed right away where in a bigger city it might be harder to get the same style of exposure.

How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?

I think my experiences in Denver have given me a clear view of what whiteness is outside of theory or stigma. Being Black in Denver, you are constantly confronted with microaggressions and stereotypes you’re forced to challenge. It’s made me appreciate who I am within my black skin.