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Amatullah Malki is a junior and lives in Aurora.

Portrait of Health: Amatullah, 17

To uncover the biggest health issues facing Denver’s youth, city officials let a group of local teenagers take the lead. Here's one of their stories.

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“I’m in yearbook. I also do robotics, Colorado Inspire, National Honor Society, speech and debate…”

Amatullah Malki is reading from her phone. On it, she keeps a note that documents all of her extracurriculars, so she has the full tally handy for college applications. Right now, she’s less than halfway through the list.

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“I’m part of the Mental Health Youth Action Board,” Malki continues. “Boys and Girls Club, student board at school; I work at TJ Maxx; soccer has started; and I do Project VOYCE. Oh, and this [the Youth Leadership Team].”

The break room in Denver Health’s quiet new building becomes noisy for a moment as the three other YLT members in the room exclaim in response.

“I like to commit to things,” Malki shrugs. “I don’t want to just drop something after a couple of months.”

After all, that would make Malki, a junior, feel like she’s not taking advantage of all the opportunities available to her—opportunities her Algeria-born father, an orphan who worked several jobs to fund his education, didn’t have access to. “Knowing that my father had things so much tougher than I had, that motivates me to push myself in school,” Malki says. “Sometimes over the limit.”

On this November day, Malki is running on about four hours of sleep, a fact that isn’t obvious from her magically clear teenage skin. It’s a problem that everyone on the YLT team—and the majority of their peers—deals with: Just a third of Colorado high school students sleep eight hours a night during the week, a statistic that was noted in the Denver Youth Health Assessment that the YLT team worked on.

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Listening to her resumé, it’s not difficult to imagine why Malki can’t head to bed earlier. But her father sometimes has trouble understanding why she can’t spend more time with him, her mom, and her three siblings. “Just this morning, he was like, ‘You don’t have time to sit with us,’” she says. “‘I feel like we’re roommates.’”

“I’m trying,” she remembers pleading. Here, in this silent room away from expectations, her tone turns vulnerable. “Life’s just moving too fast.”

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