Nurturing New Solutions for Denver’s Gang Problems

Community Garden with raised beds

Could organic gardening be part of the solution for Denver’s growing gang violence problem?

When most people think of the virtues of gardening, they probably think of it as a way to relax or improve real estate values (since good landscaping can increase home value by between 7% and 15%). But Denver native Ietef Vita, also known as DJ Cavem Moetivation, is now the main voice in a documentary exploring how gardening can turn around the lives of gang members.

Vita grew up in the Five Points neighborhood, one of several areas of Denver that has been seeing increasing gang violence, and was a member of the Eastside Gangstas, 29th set.

In From Gangs to Gardening, a documentary film from JLove Calderon, Vita articulates his vision of “eco hip-hop,” along with his earnest belief that clean living is both inevitably tied into environmental responsibility and healthy eating and entirely consistent with the spirit of hip-hop.

The documentary premiered last fall at the Hollywood Film Festival, and will be screened for the first time in Denver on April 3 at a Hip-Hop Green Dinner organized by Vita. The event, to be held at the RedLine art space at 6 p.m. Friday, is free and open to all ages.

The film may soon get a wider audience, as well. Vita told the Denver Post March 27 that a TV distribution deal could lead to “five million people seeing this gang intervention we’re working on [in Denver].”

The release is certainly timely; just a few weeks ago, Mayor Michael Hancock made a statement after there were three gang-related killings in the city over a single weekend.

“We are strongly encouraging people [to] put your guns down, because this is going to end up one of two ways: gravely with loss of life, or you’re going to be in jail. That’s the decision you will make,” the Mayor said in a press conference.

But advocates say that the best way to tackle gang violence is to fight contributing factors such as poverty and provide better mentorship for young urban men — and maybe even hand them a pair of gardening gloves.

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