A Man Named Hope
An artist for the outcast
Steve was the hippie dad I never had.
He told me all about his heroes — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, and Sophie Scholl.
Now, I want to tell you about him.
Steve Malakowsky’s message was simple… Hope.
Just typing his name lights a fire in my chest.
He was legendary with his cut-off jeans, bandanas, colorful beaded necklaces, and converse shoes.
He crossed over to the side of the street, where dirty fingernails hold cardboard signs. Where the sun turns human skin into leather. Where needles are shoved into desperate arms, and bodies are sold for the next hit.
He had a soft spot for the underdog— the addicted, abused and rejected, the unmedicated mentally ill.
Steve offered socks, blankets, food and water, but the greatest gift he gave was dignity.
He got down in the dirt and had long conversations. He listened and made eye contact.
He made a habit of telling the homeless they’re not hopeless.
His words cut through. “Your life has value.”
He crowned the outcast with honor.
Steve’s day job was manual labor — construction work and house painting.
In his spare time, he was a prolific poet and visual artist. He blended bold words with colorful Día de Muertos inspired scenes. His words were gritty and raw and spoke to the immense pain that can bury a soul.
He’d splash his paint onto anything; trash can lids, guitars, and chairs.
He’d turn unhinged old doors into doorways of hope.
He muraled brick walls and chalked love notes on sidewalks.
His zine-style poetry sheets found their way around the world.
While he fastened big turquoise letters — H-O-P-E — to freeway intersections, he’d say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Steve was a rebel with a cause.
My heart is warm thinking of that morning I stepped out my front door to discover he had art-bombed my yard with inspiring chalk messages, vibrant photos hanging in trees, and large wooden letters on the fence that spelled out the word D-R-E-A-M.
He called me his fellow dreamer.
Steve stretched my comfort zone by taking me down to “The Zone,” a three-block radius in Downtown Phoenix where homeless people are corralled.
We hung “disposable art for non-disposable people” throughout that concrete landscape.
Beauty on barbed wire.
Galleries in gutters.
We chained a large painted cross to a chain-link fence.
An altar for the outcast.
It remained there for years, never vandalized.
Steve didn’t just create art for the homeless.
He encouraged the homeless to create art.
He’d spread out paint and paper on tables and enjoyed watching beauty appear.
Steve summed up his calling like this:
“The sole purpose of my art and writing has been to bring hope to the wounded and broken. This is not from the perspective of an outsider looking in. God met me when I was shattered and scarred.”
I can’t tell you about Steve without mentioning the way he adored his wife, Barb, and their three sons.
And he called me his unofficially adopted daughter.
He knew my biological dad was in prison, serving a life sentence for murder.
Steve once told me:
The greek language has all kinds of words for love but I don’t know if there’s a word for “dad love.” I know I’m not your father, but I love you like you’re one of my own kids.
He took me under his wing and affirmed me as a person and as an artist. He regularly encouraged me to share my story — my original songs.
He’d say, “I’m proud of you, kid.”
And isn’t that all anyone wants to hear from a father figure?
For my birthday, he created a painting that felt prophetic. Between two dancing pink skeletons are the words, “God has called me to use art and music as a weapon to fight poverty, injustice, and pain.”
Steve was an artist for the outcast.
In many ways, he felt like an outcast himself, rarely feeling like he belonged.
One summer, we drove cross-country to the Cornerstone music festival in Illinois. We were invited to share his painting, my songs, and his son Sean’s spoken word poetry. On that long drive, we had an intense conversation about how frustrated he was that his creative voice was often misunderstood in church settings because it was thought to be too edgy and dark.
I could tell that he was more than just frustrated. Under the surface were deep feelings of painful rejection. I challenged him not to let that pain make him cynical. He pushed back but, in the end, he took my words to heart and said the conversation deepened our friendship.
Steve was a lone wolf, but he also desired and searched for kindred souls. He was always scheming about how he could creatively collaborate with others to bring more hope, love, and justice.
Steve’s wounds and rough edges became his strength. They fueled his relentless commitment to embrace the brokenhearted.
Always laser-focused on the message — there is hope.
I vividly remember the last time I saw Steve.
I was working as a barista at 8th Day Coffee. Steve’s art was all over the walls of that shop. When he walked in, he was ghostly pale. He’d been sick for over a week. Looking back, I wish I would have driven him to the doctor myself. Instead, I just handed him his drink and told him to get some rest. He said he was bummed that he’d have to miss hearing me sing at the show that weekend.
Three days later, I was in a circle of friends, including Steve’s son Danny.
Danny walked out to take a call and was soon rushing to the hospital. His dad was unconscious — possibly brain dead.
When I heard, my chest constricted and my knees buckled.
I fell to the floor and started loudly begging, “Please, God, help Steve! Please save Steve!”
Steve Malakowsky left this earth on February 24th, 2013.
I miss him fiercely.
Steve’s life was poetry for the poor.
A healing balm for the wounded.
Hope for the hopeless.
He named the movement Hope Thru Art.
More than telling his story, I want to walk in his legacy.
I can’t escape this calling. Steve raised me up.
He passed his torch to me and encouraged me to pass it on to you.
The message is simple… Hope.