On Saturday, Westword celebrated its ninth class of MasterMinds -- artistic adventurers who are changing the landscape of Denver. Here's a look at our first winner:
Self-proclaimed "farmer/midwife/DJ/producer/emcee/touring musician" Ietef Vita was born Michael Walker in Five Points in 1986, part of a family of artists and activists with "a lot of people in my village," he explains, including Brother Jeff and the late storyteller Opalanga Pugh. But that wasn't enough to keep him out of trouble. "I grew up gang-banging and pretty much changed my life after my first trip to Africa," he recalls. "I was about fourteen years old. I began to understand the ideas about different kinds of work for myself."
He already knew music (he'd learned how to play the congas when he was five), had already discovered graffiti art ("That's how I learned to read," he says), already knew audio engineering from hanging out at the Spot. But it all came together his senior year in high school, when he planted a garden outside his home and introduced the slogan "Going Green, Living Bling," for Brown Sugar Youth as part of the Pan-African Film Festival. "That pretty much started my mission around utilizing hip-hop to reach young people, people in my community," he says.
And his mission has grown in amazing ways since then. A landscaping job after high school taught Vita how to make a business out of gardening; his last corporate job, "selling jeans for the Gap," gave him a knowledge of consumer marketing. He's put all his knowledge to good use with organic projects that combine hip-hop and food justice as the "eco arts," a curriculum that he's currently teaching students at Manual High School. But he doesn't limit his efforts to Manual. He's worked with Russell Simmons, Amy Goodman, Jonny 5. As DJ Cavem -- short for "communicating awareness, victoriously educating the masses" -- he produces music, with the last four of his six albums "geared to youth education," including The Produce Section (The Harvest), with songs that are recipes. "I'm going after youth in a way that they understand," he says.
And he's not just going after youth in Denver. Vita traveled to Uganda last year, where he studied indigenous agriculture and taught in three primary schools: "I took my time not only to learn from the elders, but to work with the primary students, who get clouded by the success of the West. They think I'm driving a Beamer...and I'm not." Instead, on Monday he was at the GrowHaus, working with youth from Tanzania.
And at home, he has two even younger charges to work with: He and his wife, Neambe, have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, both born on full moons, both delivered by Vita. "I feed my children healthy food that I grow, not the processed food available in my community. They're incredibly smart, with the brain food I give them," Vita says.
"You can grow a lot of things in Denver," he adds. Including Ietef Vita's amazing, organic vision.
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Watch him grow.