There are so many factors that affect how our lives turn out, but one of the most interesting is how our backgrounds give us unique strengths and perspectives that affect who we are as adults. We asked rising stars from the community to tell us about their background and upbringing and how they feel it’s impacted who they are today.

Evan (Skech) Joe | Rapper

I was raised alongside my younger sister, Chloe, and my cousin, Lillie. My mom was an ECE teacher and my dad was a guitarist. Being saturated by music, or musicians rather, gave the lifestyle a sense of normalcy to me from a young age. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write lyrics to ridiculous made up songs or tend to enjoy the poetry portion of various school projects but rap didn’t really become a factor until I heard Slim Shady on the radio the summer before 6th grade. Most days after I got off of school I would go to work with my mom. Once rap music had really taken a hold of me I would have her print out lyrics to songs so I could study, and eventually perform the words, as a way to fill the time until she got off. At some point or another I didn’t have access to a printer and just started writing shit down myself. I don’t think I believe in people having a “purpose” but I haven’t felt an impetus like it since. Read more>>

Bonnie Sizer | Owner/Lead Photographer – Bonnie Photo

I was born and raised in Boulder, CO by two parents who were more than happy to encourage interest in the arts. My sister and I were lucky enough to have access to art, dance, and music lessons growing up. My parents also helped put us through college with Liberal Arts degrees. My parents also instilled in us a sense of confidence and the knowledge that we could do anything we wanted. Gender was never a limiting factor in our household. I feel extremely grateful to have grown up in a family, time, and community where women starting their own business is nothing out of the ordinary! All of this led me to eventually embracing photography as a career. To start a business like this you have to recognize and embrace the value of art in our society. You have to live and breathe art. You also have to have confidence in yourself. Having an extremely supportive family is a huge bonus as well! I would not have gotten here without the support of my family. Read more>>

Laura Cavanaugh | Floral Artist

This is a very personal question but I feel like my background does affect who I am today. I come from Finland. I moved to the States 6 years ago. I’m kind of a gypsy soul. I’ve moved around a lot. It has taken me a while to find a place I can call home. I can’t say I never had a home nor a family, but I did move to live on my own at the age of 15 so I grew up with my friends being my family. Coming from a background of not having that ideal family to support has made me realize how much I value family. And family to me doesn’t mean family by blood. It can be anyone who appreciates who you are and supports you in the best way they can, no matter what. This is one of the reasons why I love weddings. I love to see families coming together from both sides. I love intimate weddings where it is just the closest people. The couple’s best fans are there rooting for them. When there isn’t a father to walk the bride down the aisle, we get creative. It can be an uncle or future sister-in-law, or even the couple together. Weddings to me represent the birth of a new family and whether or not one has the ideal family behind them, they have someone. If they don’t they can always come to me, and I’ll adopt them. Read more>>

Matt Struck | Late Night Host

I am originally from Denver, Colorado. Ever since I was young I imagined myself making movies. Bowfinger was a big inspiration and when I saw those characters running around making a low budget film, I thought to myself, “I want that!” When I was 13 I was gifted my first video camera and on the weekends I would get my neighborhood friends together to make movies. 20 years later I am still doing the same thing. I wasn’t able to go to film school but all my friends were film students, so I was able to learn by proxy. I was in a lot of student films and worked in a lot of Art House movie theaters in my life. I dropped out of college to pursue a life of making art, I spent about 5 years in New York making music, films, and I did a lot of drinking. Alcoholism runs in my family so I am no stranger to it, during my 20’s I had found myself knee deep in an addiction that kept getting worse and worse. Around the same time I started hosting a late night style show out of a donut shop (after hours.) I would put on my suit and interview musicians and comedians twice a month in Brooklyn, NY. Read more>>

Tommy Cowan | Portrait & Lifestyle Photography

I am originally from Portland, OR, but moved to Denver when I was 12 in 2000. The reason for moving was for my parents to take ownership of a photography company shooting team sports. Naturally… I hated photography growing up. My parents were always stopping at old fences or covered bridges on road trips and I just couldn’t understanding what the appeal was. I did love sports though. That was my life growing up and when the opportunities came about, I did shoot some for my parents during wrestling meets or basketball tournaments when they shot action sports. I went to college to play baseball and during one of my college years I took a photography course and on the first day the local newspaper came in and asked in anyone had an SLR and knew how to shoot sports action. Sports action being literally the only thing I knew how to do, raised my hand and instantly had a job shooting the local high school sports in small town Sterling, CO for the Journal Advocate. I stopped playing ball, switched my major to photography and one thing led to another to where I am today. Read more>>

Verónica Figoli | President & CEO, Denver Public Schools Foundation

I was born and raised in Venezuela and moved to the United States after completing college. Although my plan was to learn English and study, get a job and go back to Venezuela, I found love in the United States and when my husband and I moved to Denver, I knew I wanted to set roots and become part of making Denver mi casa. My dad would always say that being an immigrant means you are gifted with the chance to make a new place your home and give back to it. For nearly two decades Venezuela has experienced political and civil unrest and yet the people there are resilient and show grace and a love for life. It reminds me that we can do much more with a smile and a laugh than with anger. Venezuelans have the ability to look at the bright or funny side of things. So, I always remember to carry a smile for others for whom smiling might be hard. Now, as a Venezuelan-American, I try to bring what is best of our two cultures together. Having experienced a divided country like I did in Venezuela, it has taught me how to find common ground. I have seen how division can bring us apart. Read more>>

Jenni Lyons | Founder at Happy Leaf Kombucha

Where Happy Leaf is today is absolutely what I am most proud of. Every business goes through an ‘Aha Moment’ and it’s a tough one to face. Once I was able to face it, I knew what had to happen and boy was it tough. In fact there were more days that I felt crazy than successful over the past year. Even before the pandemic. I was changing the course of Happy Leaf drastically. The most powerful lesson I have learned is that if you really put your heart and mind into something people will support and want to support you. (Good) People want you to succeed! Today we have stabilized a small business the was doing pretty good but not great. The team that we’ve formed is a real life dream team. We have perfected our recipes and fermentation, re-branded (coming soon!) and we have collectively set our focus on expanding into new states and territories. Read more>>

Addie Kae Mingilton | Artist

I was born in Denver and lived in the inner and outer parts of Aurora. My dad’s side of the family has lived in Denver since the 30’s. They’ve always lived within the Five Points area. My mother’s father lived in Lakewood, growing up and later moved to Grand Junction where he and my grandmother raised my mother. We were back and forth between Denver and visiting Junction every other weekend. I am mixed race, half Caucasian (M), and half black (P). My upbringing is traditional in the sense of blending cultures; but also just as none traditional as such. Mom taught my darker skinned brother and I how to ride horses. Dad taught us how to drive through Denver without getting pulled over. My paintings are based on photographs of my mixed race family. My skin tone gives the impression that I don’t struggle fitting into the majority, which is untrue. I use photographs of my father’s side of the family because I feel there was so much beauty in their lives, even as they struggled to live up to white standards. I see the abstraction of my figures as symbolic of imperfection, as is all creation through human hands. Read more>>

Callie Riesling | Colorado Wedding Photographer and Adventure Engagement Photographer

I am a Colorado native. I spent some of my childhood in Denver and then from 4th grade on, I have lived in Colorado Springs. There are a few big things that I think have really contributed to not only my success in business but overall who I am in life. First thing is, my faith has ALWAYS been important to me. I was always taught that my worth comes from God, not anyone else. Which I truly believe helps me so much in business and every part of my life. I do at times second guess who I am, but it is purely that. It’s a second guess… it’s not the initial question. We all have rough days where we question if we are good enough or are loved. But that is the wonderful, incredible blessing that I have from God. The creator of the universe… of all of the stars and mountains and incredible places thought that the world needed one of me. He has given me different gifts and tools that have all come together to be the photographer that I am and the mom, the wife and the person that I am. Second thing would be my parents. Read more>>

Dave Flomberg | Writer, Musician, Creative Director

I’m originally from Santa Ana, California, but I grew up in Denver. The past is prelude, right? We are who we are because of where we’ve been — we’re all defined by the sum of our experiences. Or at least how we allow those experiences to inform who we are. But even that choice isn’t possible without the experience itself. I’m a lucky man, in that I was born to great parents. My pop was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and my ma in Forest Hills, Queens. He was poor, she was lower-middle class; both Jewish children of immigrants from Eastern Europe. I’m the grandson of the Survivor generation, and that certainly shaped who I am. My father was the most honest man I’ve ever known, and his moral compass was unimpeachable. So I try to live up to that as best as I can. The biggest thing, for me, was that my folks believed in knowledge, curiosity, and letting me and my sister find our own way. They believed in giving us tools, but not plans. It was up to us to create the blueprints for what we wanted our lives to be; my folks believed in just making sure we were equipped to pull it off. Read more>>

Thomas Palmatier | Music Educator, Conductor, and Clinician.

I was raised in Upstate New York and participated in band, chorus, and orchestra throughout my school years. I then attended the Crane School of Music for my undergraduate degree and Truman University in Missouri for a graduate degree. I enlisted in the U.S. Army as a musician in 1977. Of course, I never dreamt that I would serve for over 37 years, travel to 56 countries including six combat zones, and would eventually be the senior director of music in the U.S. Armed Forces. After retiring from the Army, I was able to devote my energies to being a music educator, to spend time teaching young people, and to hopefully help develop and mentor up and comers in the profession. I established THP Music Consultants, LLC and have concentrated on producing free products for music educators in addition to working as a conductor and clinician. Read more>>

Trent Artichoker | Chiropractor in Denver

I come from modest means that couldn’t afford life’s treasures. My position in life put me against the world, with seemingly odds stacked against my success, but I wasn’t a quitter. Although it led me to a cynical outlook on people and potential. I couldn’t have what my friends had, purely because of my economic status. This forced me to realize the value of the dollar and what it took to make the dollar. My entrepreneurship began in elementary school where I sold pencils, erasers, and stickers to classmates. I took on school fundraisers with fervor which led me to my first official job as a dishwasher in the summer of junior high, which eventually led me to working at a grocery store. I had to earn what I had. Earning money through hard work was my gateway to freedom and self reliance. Paring up my hard work with my own health struggles is what really put me where I am today. I had periodic severe headaches that incapacitated me due to having one shorter leg. I was the winner of the genetic lottery that added to my cynicism. My outlook changed though, I graduated high school and had an orthopedic surgeon literally cut my lower leg in half. Read more>>

Tajahi Cooke | Chef Owner

My upbringing was rough and challenging at times, but beautiful when you look through the cracks. Growing up as a young boy from Kingston, Jamaica, I was exposed to so much at a young age that many would have thought was wrong, overexposure, but between being hardened and loved on by beautiful individuals throughout my life, it helped me to see both sides of the world. Understanding each other, and actually spending the time to get to know the person next to you can change the next decision that one makes, negative or positive. The investment that we put into each other, food, money, time, it matters. So, choosing the route as a custodian of food has only helped me to connect more with my neighbors. In Jamaica we have a saying, “out of many, we are one”. This is a saying I choose to live my life by, to stride by with each step. If we were to come to the mindset that out of many the whole world is one, imagine where we would be. Read more>>

Craig Bond | Founder and Executive Director

I am from New York State- raised in Schuyler County, which is part of the Finger Lakes Region. Schuyler County is the least wealthy county within New York State and many of the local families live in hamlets and struggle to find work – beyond healthcare and prison employment. I was born in 1970 and am the last of eleven children from the same parents. My parents had their own grape farm that was destroyed in the flood of 1972. I recall that our family was always struggling financially. What is interesting about being born in 1970, is that most of my siblings were much closer in age and my oldest 6 siblings were born within an eight year span. My oldest sibling is 22 years older than I am, which means that the youngest children in our family did not know the oldest children as they had begun to move out of the home or were married starting their own families. Being raised in as a family close to poverty level during the 1970’s gave me a different perspective or live experiences that have lead me to love theatre and storytelling. I often remember listening to music that my older siblings loved and hearing stories from them about how they grew up. Read more>>