Midnight Velvet

I walked over to the shadow where it was hidden to further inspect the package. Once upon a time, it must’ve been pretty. Now, the silver ribbon was frayed and the midnight blue velvet,  cloaked in dust and torn at the corners, revealed the rotting oak underneath. A smarter person would’ve remembered that “curiosity killed the cat,” and left it alone. All I could remember was that “satisfaction brought it back,” so I threw caution (and the box’s lid) to the wind.

But satisfying isn’t the word I would use to describe its contents. Horrifying was more like it. As I stared into the box my own eyes stared back at me. It wasn’t a mirror, more like a portal: my eyes were black and white reflections of another time.

The girl in the photos looked just like me. But she couldn’t be me. Could she? We just moved into this house: how could this box have photos of my 19th-century doppelganger? There was literally no way it was possible. And yet, there they were. But it was too late to solve the mystery that night. I’d have to settle into my mattress in the living room and try not to think about it.

But the trouble with trying not to think about something is that it becomes all you think about. I sprinted to my MacBook to start investigating. I searched city records to find out who held the deed before us. Gregory Monroe, William Johns, Eliza Anderson, Cynthia Dixon, and Harvey Smith—all too long gone to answer my questions. My only hope was Josephine Harris, the last of the previous owners still standing.

By the grace of God and about 45 minutes of hardcore Facebook stalking, I found her son: Joseph Harris. He was a 32-year-old accountant whose status read: “Tax season is coming.” He was too smart to have put his home address on his profile, so all I managed to find out was that he liked Game of Thrones, fishing and golfing and that he worked at some place called Lieberman & Associates. It was two miles away and I could make an appointment online without having to prove I was an adult. Perfect—now I could sleep peacefully . . . kind of.

The next morning, the Uber dropped me off in front of a glass building that practically blinded me as the sun reflected off it. The waiting room and receptionist were equally hostile.

“Good morning,” I said warmly. “I have an appointment with Mr. Harris.”

Everything about the woman behind the counter was sharp. Her face was angular and her cheekbones were blades trying to slice their way out of her paper-like skin.

“Oh, do you now,” she asked in a piercing voice. “Take a seat. He’ll be with you shortly.”

Minutes later, Mr. Harris stepped out of his office. He looked and acted as I expected him to after reading his profile: weird. He practically tripped over himself walking toward me, and he stared at me as if I were a dinosaur running through Times Square.

“H-Hello,” he said, extending his hand.

“Good morning,” I replied, taking his hand into my own. His grip was pitiful, his palms were sweaty, and he held on too long. It was the most unpleasant handshake I’d ever experienced.

He continued to look at me strangely as he led me to his office. I wondered if there was something on my face. I tried to discreetly wipe off whatever bit of my breakfast might be lurking, but his stare just intensified. I guess I must’ve missed it.

“How can I help you,” he asked as I sat down in a cold leather chair. He seemed like he genuinely wanted to know.

“Well, there’s no easy way to say this . . . Maybe it’s better if I just show you.” I pulled the photos from my pocket and laid them on his desk. He recoiled like they were poisonous snakes.

“Where did you get those?”

“I found them in your—well, actually my—attic.”

He suddenly reached under his desk and unlocked a safe, withdrawing a tattered piece of paper folded tightly into a square. Without a word, he gingerly opened it up and pushed it toward me. It was a photo—one with the same girl as all the others. Me.

“Do you know what you are?”

“Human,” I said. It came out as more of a question.

He shook his head. “Not quite.”

Advertisements

So Much For “Never Forget.”

I didn’t realize the date until a picked up a copy of USA Today from the library. I thought it was a mistake.

My classmates didn’t realize until we had to put it on an assignment. “Oh, it’s nine-eleven,” was exclaimed about five times in succession as one by one students finally realized that yes, it is, in fact, that dreaded day.

And that was it. An exclamation.

It wasn’t until 8:46 that we observed the traditional moment of silence. Ms. Castro usually leads it for the whole school. She didn’t. As far as we know it was just our little class of twenty that took out class time to remember the victims. But even then, the constant coughing, shuffling, and whispering made it the loudest moment of silence I’d ever experienced.

It made me sad to think that today marks a day that changed our lives forever, even if we were not born, and no one cared to talk about it.

That is, until last period when the students begged to talk about it. We almost didn’t; we had so much to do that it wasn’t going to be discussed at all. It would be the second year in a row that Mrs. Borges hadn’t given her famous presentation.

But we spoke about it. And I immediately understood why some would rather forget it. The information was not new to me; the event is one that has been discussed every year of my education since it began. But it still hit me like it was my first time hearing it. Like it was my first time hearing the screams and the phone calls. Or the first time seeing people walking out covered in ash, desperately jumping from the buildings, or watching the towers crumble like kinetic sand in a matter of seconds.

I thought about how this event that I was too young to even remember had impacted my life so much, though none of my family were victims. I thought of the hopelessness and fear everyone must’ve felt. I realized I felt the same with the string of recent school shootings, a list that keeps growing longer.

I thought of these things and I cried, because what else can one do? I constantly try to understand the evil in this world but to this day I can’t comprehend it. The AP Psychology class I’m currently in has only slightly cleared things up.

When I was finally done crying, wiping my tears and composing myself, I saw that I wasn’t the only one doing so. No matter how many years of hearing it, it hurts all the same. This day is a wound that will never heal. And as I sat there in that classroom of 15-17 year-olds I realized: the oldest of us are too young to remember and the youngest of us weren’t even alive, but we will never forget.

How Cultural Centers Hook Up With Their Communities

This is an article that I wrote during my time with Miami Montage. For more of my colleagues’ work, click here.


Though much was speculated about the effect social media would have on society and culture before Facebook exploded onto the national scene, no one could have foreseen the monumental impact it would have on physical entities seemingly unrelated to digital media.

These unforeseen changes in our global culture are widely discussed and studied, but big changes are happening on the smaller scale of local communities as well.

Rather than falling victim to the ever-evolving social media culture, local communities are getting back to their cultural roots and using social media to spread the history and uniqueness of their individual corner of South Florida in a new way.

One such community center beginning its journey in discovering and promoting their community’s history on social media is the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.

Established in 2006, the LHCC is the brainchild of former City of Miami Commissioner Arthur E. Teele. A decade later, his vision has been fulfilled and the LHCC has become “the mecca of the community,” according to administrative assistant Kenta Joseph.

The center is a “hub for presenting and preserving Haitian and Afro-Caribbean culture,” said manager Abraham Metellus, and it offers a cornucopia of events and activities — a seasonal art gallery, a marketplace, an after school arts program, arts and dance classes, concerts and more.

With so many events taking place, the LHCC developed a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, overcoming the major challenge of operating without a media department.

“We do our best,” Joseph said. Putting on events takes priority over crafting social media promotion, but everyone pitches in to post photos and videos on the LHCC’s various platforms to get the word out.

In the future, the LHCC hopes to incorporate Little Haiti’s history and social media more in their day-to-day operations.

Currently, the complex’s most historically-driven activities are limited to Haitian Heritage Month in May. Otherwise, the LHCC promotes current Haitian culture, making Joseph believe that “more can be done to focus a little bit on the historical component.”

Additionally, Joseph feels that moving to other platforms could be beneficial for the LHCC, but that such is not possible without a media department.

“I would love to see the Center grow to the point where there is a team dedicated to marketing and that way, we can use more unique forms of social media like Snapchat,” Joseph said.

Just a little further south, the HistoryMiami Museum exemplifies using social media to draw people into the narrative of Miami’s colorful history.

Unlike the LHCC, the museum has a public relations and social media manager, Christine Alexis, who uses today’s most popular social media platforms to bring new life to an attraction that might generally be thought of as “boring.”

Alexis has seen floods of visitors drawn by its social media presence. Whether children or seniors, they all flocked to Florida’s largest collection of artifacts after seeing one of Alexis’ carefully crafted posts.

“Carefully crafted” is no understatement. To ensure that the museum gets optimal exposure, Alexis puts a lot of thought into who her audience is and what content will attract the most traffic.

This method of marketing by demographic leaves no one out. Despite their online presence being entirely English, the museum still connects with potential patrons by having bilingual staffers available to address any nonnative speaker’s concerns.

HistoryMiami’s use of social media to promote their own exhibits and community efforts has garnered a large positive response and sparked community-wide connectivity and conversation.

A Twitter party and Facebook Live stream for the museum’s new Hurricane Andrew exhibit in honor of the storm’s 25th anniversary sparked a discussion between Bryan Norcross, a Weather Channel meteorologist who reported on Andrew, NBC6 anchor Jackie Nespral and other locals.

One Instagram user, sflprgirl, posted her recollection of “Listening to Bryan Norcross on the radio in the stairwell of our house with my whole family.”

Using the museum’s hashtag #ISurvivedAndrew, which trended in Miami for two weeks, people were able to learn about the historical event either by being prompted to visit the exhibit or simply reading through the accounts of those participating in the documentation of history.

Cultural centers in the greater Miami area like the LHCC and HistoryMiami “are heavily engaged on social media platforms because [they] know that it is important to reach all folks,” Metellus said.

Joseph agreed.

“The community knows we’re here for them,” she said.

Club Rush 2018

As you may or may not know from my bio, I am the proud president of my school’s Caribbean Cultural Club. This past week was Club Rush at my school and it was a truly wonderful experience. As a senior, I have my established routine. I see the same people in the morning for breakfast, lunch, and all my classes. But manning a booth during Club Rush allowed me to meet so many people (namely freshmen) I would not have otherwise interacted with. I’m glad I got the opportunity because it gives me faith that MLEC will be in good hands after my class leaves. Everyone brought so much energy and spirit into the gym throughout the week, and the presentations that clubs set up were truly remarkable. I’m looking forward to a great year for Caribbean Cultural Club and all the other clubs who will surely flourish and thrive with members from this fresh group of Jaguars.

Colors

 

You were red, and you liked me because I was blue
But you touched me, and suddenly I was a lilac sky
Then you decided purple just wasn’t for you

– Colors by Halsey

 

 

I took these when he had red hair and she had blue. Their love was young, but like their hair color, it has since faded.

Children Caught In Food Insecurity Crisis

I became very interested in poverty and food insecurity in Connecticut while working with the Connecticut Health I- Team. The following is an article I wrote on the issue. For the article by my fellow campers click here.


In stark contrast to the general financial well-being of Connecticut residents, the state is in a hunger crisis that is negatively impacting children, primarily in urban areas.

The most recent data from Feeding America shows that in 2016, 11.6 percent of the total Connecticut population was living with food insecurity, and of that percentage, 15.6 percent were children.

According to the parameters set at the World Food Summit in 1996, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

While food security may be something most Connecticut residents take for granted, a significant portion of the Connecticut population wonders every day where their next meal will come from.

The impact of this issues is especially concerning when considering how it is affecting children. The 2018 report on Child Food Insecurity by Feeding America states that struggling with food insecurity puts children at a greater risk for “stunted development, anemia and asthma, oral health problems and hospitalization.”

negative effects even affect academics. The same report states that food insecure children may begin “falling behind their food-secure peers both academically and socially.” It also states that food insecurity is “linked to lower reading and mathematics test scores, and [food insecure children] may be more likely to exhibit behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, aggression and anxiety.”

Though the total population in Connecticut living with food insecurity has come down from 13.1 percent since 2014, food insecurity is still a prevalent issue across the state, especially in urban areas, Feeding America reports. East Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford are some of the most food insecure areas in Connecticut, according to a joint study done in 2012 by the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy at the University of Connecticut and UConn’s Cooperative Extension System.

However, the same study shows that these locations also have a high ranking in terms of food availability. East Hartford, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury are all top ten in the state for food accessibility, ranking at 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th respectively. “Food access is certainly an important factor in whether or not families can obtain food,” said Marcia Pessolano of the state Department of Public Health’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program.

“However, food insecurity often reflects a lack of available financial resources for food within the household. Food insecurity is complex; poverty and food insecurity in the United States are closely related, but are not mutually exclusive. Unemployment and underemployment, lack of affordable housing, high medical costs and other competing financial priorities may leave families to choose between purchasing food and paying for other essential needs.”

Shannon Yearwood, the executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, said that a lack of time to apply for assistance could also be one of reasons why food insecure people may not be able to access the resources they need. Another reason she cites is the stigma surrounding food insecurity that she says has grown recently, as well as the possibility that the state’s immigrant population may be fearful of seeking assistance.

End Hunger is advocating and working with legislators and schools to provide Connecticut children with the resources they need to become more food secure.

According to the End Hunger Nutrition and Food Insecurity Profile from 2015, many students are taking advantage of the meal programs available to them. The data shows that a combined 115,518 children were taking advantage of the School Breakfast Program and Summer Meal Programs in addition to showing an 88.2 percent increase in participation in the At-Risk Afterschool Meals/Supper Program.

Through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, the Women, Infants, and Children Program and the Child Nutrition Programs, DPH and organizations like End Hunger are working to lessen the severity of the issue of food insecurity in the state.

Yearwood said the most important thing about the work is that “we don’t get discouraged and we help folks have not just food, but also hope.”

New Haven Student Athlete Helps Develop School Football Team

 

The following is a profile I wrote on one of the campers I had the privilege of meeting during my time in Connecticut.


An athlete since age seven, 17-year-old Casmir Ebubedike is a model student and leader at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven.

“When I came to my school, football was in its first year, so basically I had the opportunity to be a leader and start something new,” he said.

Football was new to Ebubedike as well. Though he prefers basketball, which he has been playing since he was 7, Ebubedike threw himself into football in his freshman year. He even went so far as to sit out the basketball season during his junior year to focus on being a better football player.

“I’ve been focusing on football because I kind of want to keep it as an option that I can take and play at the next level possibly because I’m more likely to play football in college than basketball,” he said.

Ebubedike said his football team is like his family.

“In basketball and football, I feel like you’re kind of in a brotherhood,” he said. “You basically create family because you’re around these people a lot; you’re working hard with them; you’re sweating with them, and you have to make sacrifices for each other.”

Family is a big part of Ebubedike’s life. As a Nigerian-American, he said he is very proud of his culture and immerses himself in it regularly through food, movies, partying and social media.

“I think that’s one of the most identifying parts of me,” he said.

Though it is unclear, another characteristic Ebubedike thinks defines him is his focus on the future.

“I feel like I haven’t really narrowed what I really want to do yet, but I know that I want to be successful so I make sure I keep doing things that’ll put me and keep me on that track,” he said.

As a rising senior, Ebubedike has been putting thought into colleges and is considering several Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs.

“I’m looking for colleges that have strong communities that I can fit into and feel comfortable in,” he said, adding that HBCUs are “an excellent way to stay connected.”

For now, he will focus on his high school education and the opportunities that being an athlete will give him. In his last year at Amistad, he wants to bring leadership and a sense of community to his teams.

#Chitcamp 2018

I never knew how much Connecticut had to offer until I met the Chitlins (as I affectionately call our #chitcamp 2018 team.)

My experience with the Connecticut Health Investigative Team (C-HIT) was an adventure from start to finish. It was only my second time on a plane and my first time traveling out of state without my family. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous. I suppose I knew I was in good hands.

The C-HIT team welcomed me even before I got on the plane, and it was so much warmer when I landed. It was only a five-day program, but somehow the chitlins became a family during that short amount of time.

Even more unbelievable was how much we learned in that span. I was one of few campers with prior journalism experience and even I was a little nervous about the time constraints, yet somehow we pulled through.

Along with the amazing editors and campers, I got to meet so many professionals across the journalism spectrum. It was especially rewarding to get to speak to George Colli, Michael Lyle Jr., and Mark Mirko, who taught me broadcast and photography skills that I don’t develop as much. I was even featured on the WQUN AM 1220 afternoon broadcast with Lyle and Brian Smith to talk about the camp. You can find the audio here.

It was an all-around amazing experience, and like a true journalist, I documented all of it. Below, you’ll find tweets and photos that will tell you more about the experience than words alone can. Enjoy!

 

It Takes a Village

My Miami is not the metropolitan paradise lined with beaches that immediately comes to everyone’s mind when they think of The 305. My Miami is a little suburb where everything I need is no more than a short walk or a fifteen-minute drive away. I may want to live in the city later in life, but for now, I love living in my little Town of Miami Lakes.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” is a phrase that often comes to my mind when thinking of Miami Lakes. We really are like a village. Here, you know your neighbors and you’re bound to run into everyone you know at Main Street or Publix. We’d be happy to lend a helping hand or a cup of sugar. It’s just the way we are.

And while I’ve always felt this way, I was reminded of it in a beautiful way on Sunday. Everything about Miami Lakes can be summed up in four words: “free ice cream social.” It is just like the Miami Lakes community to think “it’s summer; it’s hot; it’s national ice cream day—let’s hand out ice cream!”

It was a sight to see. The sun was shining; music was blasting, and kids were zig-zagging everywhere trying to get in on all the fun. It truly was a family affair, one I feel blessed to have attended. I’ve hopped around Miami-Dade and Broward in my 17 years and though I’ve only lived in Miami Lakes for two, it’ll always be home.

How could it not be when it has so readily welcomed me in? Miami Lakes defines community. Its residents are the type who support the schools, churches, Boys and Girl Scouts, and everything else they can. We are always finding an excuse to gather because even if we’ve never met, we’re family.

Anyone who’s been around me for even just five minutes knows how much I love Miami Lakes. I am proud to be part of such a great community that truly is “Growing Beautifully.”