Stef • English Teacher

Meet Stef, a Denver native and English teacher I befriended. Stef — the son of two felons — is biracial but identifies as a proud Black man. Growing up, Stef thought he had a traditional Black childhood, and didn’t realize how untraditional his upbringing was until he got around other races and other Black people.

Because of his environment and defiant nature, Stef found himself in and out of trouble. He was kicked out of school many times. He even attended an alternative school in Wisconsin because there was nowhere else for him to go in Denver’s school district. It took some time, but he eventually found his path, and today Stef is a passionate educator who cares about his students and their future.

When I first met Stef he worked at a charter-alternative school in Denver, similar to the one he graduated from. He has since relocated to Oakland, California for a new teaching gig and is having the time of his life on the West Coast. Stef is a proud dog dad to George, a sneakerhead, loves music, and describes his authentic self as being ghetto. He enjoys a stiff drink and conversation, reading, basketball, and golf — a sport he picked up in high school.

During our conversation, we talked about blackness and how it exists on a spectrum and the importance of having an education. He considers himself agnostic and enjoys — as he told me — “being worldly”. When I asked Stef to describe Denver in one word, he replied, “Dissonance.” Here’s what it means to be Stef in Denver.

Tell me about yourself.

I come from a family history of gang violence. My father, brothers, cousins, and friends were in gangs, so I was always indirectly associated. Because my parents were in and out of jail, I spent a lot of time with my relatives in the Five Points/Curtis Park area. They were religious and the only clear direction I received to get out of my situation was to pray to God. But God wasn’t going to keep me safe from other gang members on my walks home.

I found myself in a lot of trouble. I was in and out of school, failed several grades, and ultimately ended up at an alternative school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After barely graduating, I attempted to go to college and failed after my first semester. After flunking out, I joined the workforce and maintained various jobs for the better part of 10 years before I decided to return to college. During my second year, I took a class on the education of African American children, and with the help of one of my professors decided to become an educator.

Who are you?

I am someone who cares deeply. I care how I leave people. I am someone who is emotionally invested in humans. I am creative, thoughtful, and self-reflective. I am defiant and sensitive.

What does it mean to be you?

Hypercritical, retrospective, and introspective at all times. It means to be misunderstood a lot. Generally, people’s thoughts and perceptions are so far off. It’s the dichotomy of being a person who exists in a society that isn’t for you.

What does it mean to you to be Black in Denver?

It means everything. It’s often difficult to express how far removed I am from my “old” life. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real. It also means to be uncomfortable and to make other people uncomfortable.

How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?

I didn’t ski, snowboard, or camp as a child. When people find that out, it opens a dialogue about marginalized communities, and how Denver has changed in recent years. The generalization of what Colorado is gives me a platform to talk about perceptions vs. reality. I am proud of who I am and where I come from.