About 17 years ago we actually began an open mic at Doniece and Dena Derani’s Denver café when it was at 13th and Marion in Capitol Hill. That manifestation was very important for artists and those on the outskirts of society. It was a center of diversity where the margins became the focus, and that is beautiful. There always needs to be a space for that and it's rare to find spaces that are very open to that and even now even though it feels like people are more conscious and connected and accepting and open minded they're there's still a contingency of people who are fear based and hateful which is why safe spaces are important. Our open mic was a safe space. Around the year 2000, I started a magazine called Soul Lovely. I went and collected poems from different people and places, and we put together spoken word poetry events. Soul Lovely Zine is no longer a Denver Zine. Since then, I focused on open mics and spoken word poetry like Poet As Muse and Community is the Cure. Community is the Cure is still active and we have open mics regularly.
You do a lot of work in the Denver art scene, what’s your end goal for yourself and the community here?
There’s just so much fast-moving energy and people coming in, and it feels like everyone is taking over in a way. The most important thing to do is support local venues like the new South Broadway location of the Derani sisters’ café, Mercury Café, and Mutiny Information Café. Get out there and support the things that are already happening that belong to kind of this older tier. Also, just get involved because it's the only light we have in this darkness- it’s what creates openings. Give your money to local businesses especially older ones that need your support and get out there and be a part of the arts community. Other examples of local art venues to support are El Cento Su Teatro, Red Line Gallery and Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center. These are all places that need continual support and recognition. There's some beautiful new things coming in and younger minds and brilliant offerings, so absolutely support yourself, love yourself, and do your art but don't forget where to recognize the roots of it all.
Is there a part of your background that inspires you to do this work?
My last name is Chernila, which is Ukrainian or Russian for black ink. So, in my lineage there were poets, my great grandfather was a poet, and my great grandmother was a social activist. My father, Lenny Chernila was also a poet, and he dedicated himself to his and he was very beloved in this community. He's still considered an ancestor of the poetry world. In light of everything happening right now in the world, which is really devastating, I go by Mir-I-am. My middle name is Mir i am; the 1st woman poet in the bible. ‘Mir’ in Ukrainian means peace.
Denver is a very diverse city, and many have different rich cultural backgrounds. Why do you think it’s important to highlight this in the art scene?
It’s everything, it's what creates art you know, people's unique stories is what creates and cultivates and honors roots. Everybody has a story that is really important and if we if we hide our story then we hide ourselves. Art comes from a vulnerable transition of asking those hard questions about who you are and what matters and about what you have to offer, even when the world is telling you it doesn't matter. You can think that you’re alone and then you find out you're not alone. Sometimes your feeling of isolation is going to be the same as someone else’s, but you can at least gather to feel each other’s hearts, and you know and that's what art is. Art is an immeasurable opportunity to bridge the gap and inform people. Sometimes that comes from passion and love, and sometimes it comes from rage and angst and all of those stories are important. I always try to be really careful at open mikes not to let my own emotions get in the way of what people need to express. Respect the mic has kind of been an old school rule, you have to listen to who's speaking and you'll get your chance to say your piece later. Poet As Muse invites artists to come in and paint during open mics. The poet is the subject of the art so and that was kind of the beauty in it. I actually also want to credit Lu Cong for helping create Poet As Muse and also for naming it.
I know you're surrounded by a lot of like powerful moments all the time but is there one moment you’d like to share that stands out to you?
There are definitely a lot of moments, this is a hard one. I want to say the open mic that took place on September 29th was actually really powerful because it had a mother and daughter feature who used to frequent the original Derani café on 13th and Marion, which was through an open Mic there created by LadySpeech Sankofa called Freedom of Speech. It was a co-feature, and they had recorded a session took place years ago at the original café. The night of the 29th, they played that recording. It was a full circle experience that came to the new South Broadway location, which was amazing. I mean there are lots of moments but that is very fresh in my mind as being absolutely inspiring. To see how they have evolved and overcome life challenges since then has also been incredible.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to highlight or bring attention to?
There are so many things that we need to bring attention to. Closest to my heart though is honoring the way community can help heal people’s families. We are not isolated, and we need to come out of space of isolation. Allow yourself to be open to what can heal you, don’t be so open that you’re overwhelmed, but let the light shine through. It’s also important to say that it’s okay to be uncomfortable, challenging yourself is how you grow, there need to be forces at play to challenge the growth. Reject the way of thinking that you always have to be okay, this way of thinking has caused harm because people assume they need to be hurt, adding to a lineage of wounds, instead of reaching out. Spread love and be kind, people thrive in loving environments so let people speak their truth.