I have been working with Kiskeya Community Services and my church for well over 5 years. I have poured my heart and soul into my work with the community, and the ability to serve is something that I don’t take for granted. This semester, I adopted a special project through this organization, and that was organizing outside help and resources to provide to the large homeless community here in Miami. It was difficult. Finding funding is near impossible, and people don’t really want to help or aren’t able to help. Thankfully, there are still good people with amazing hearts out there who were more than willing to help with our project and were able to contribute in an incredible way.
Simple action isn’t enough when there is no passion behind it. Emotion usually drives my more passionate projects, and feeding the less fortunate is one thing, but sitting with them to share and hear their stories is another. Like most, yes, I do see how blessed I am to have a roof over my head and stability in my life, but it is incredible how one slight change can flip someone’s life upside down. One misstep and everything you loved is now gone. I am passionate about this project because it has served as a stepping stone for someone to go out in the world and to do for others. In serving, I realized two things- one, I am so very lucky to be doing this, and two, I wish my heart was more like them. A homeless village is a true community. If one person cannot get up, then someone else brings the supplies to them. If someone is sick, someone else will come and ask for medications or anything we can give to make them feel better. The opportunity was presented to me at 16, and I don’t regret accepting it. Working for the community is something that often makes me deeply reflective and I realize how fortunate I am to have the chance to serve each and everyday.
Dina Kencie Denord is a junior in the Honors College at Florida International University. Dina is double majoring in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies and loves to express herself through spoken word. Dina is a true linguaphile, speaking 5 (and a half!) languages. She hopes to one day use her ability to speak and understand these languages to assist immigrants and residents of low-income neighborhood anyway she can.
North Miami is geographically situated ten miles north of the city of Miami and is directly to the left of Biscayne Bay. North Miami runs from NW 117thAve down to Biscayne Bay and is often confounded with North Miami Beach. North Miami beach is directly above North Miami and the two are separated by a single street, NE 151stSt. In terms of landscape, North Miami is naturally lush, due to the location by the bay. Unfortunately, development has run amuck in North Miami and that beauty is slowly fading away. As far as the urban landscape, North Miami is close to Aventura, which is full of large buildings, but the two neighborhoods are vastly different. North Miami is a primarily residential area,
Map by US Census Bureau
Additionally, North Miami is surrounded by the following neighborhoods:
-Golden Glades and North Miami Beach (to the north) – Opa-Locka to the northwest -Sunny Isles Beach to the northeast -Westview to the direct west -Sunny Isles Beach, Biscayne Bay and Bay Harbor Islands to the direct east -Westview to the southwest -Biscayne Bay to the southeast -Pinewood, Biscayne Park and other unincorporated parts of Miami Dade county to the direct south
Most know that Miami itself was founded by Julia Tuttle in 1896, with the help of Henry Flagler. The origins of North Miami are a bit different. Fort Dallas, originally a military post that dates back to the Seminole Wars, sat on the banks of the Miami River (it has since been moved to Lumus Park in Downtown Miami). The soldiers needed a path to go from Fort Lauderdale all the way back down to Fort Dallas, so they cut down a military trail. This trail attracted some pioneers, who saw it fit to set roots and name the area “Arch Creek”.
In 1891, the first pioneer, a man known as Mr. Ilhe began to grow crops like bananas, shallots, apples and tomatoes. As more people came to settle in the area, a general store, roughly 15-20 homes and even two tomato packing businesses all came as well. What helped spawn this growth was the development of Mr. Flagler’s railroad that ran through the area. By 1924, when the Biscayne Bay Canal was dug, the residents of the community were unable to farm due to the soil changes (the canal removed the moisture that was so beneficial), so then came the big business boom. North Miami was incorporated in 1926 as the town of Miami Shores, but when the Miami Shores Village area incorporated as well, the name was forced to be changed (by the State of Florida) to North Miami. To clarify this: the Shoreland Company, an extremely wealthy land developer lobbied with the Florida State Legislature in 1931 to take the name of “Miami Shores”.
North Miami truly developed and grew after World War II, with many veterans began to move into the area with their young families. This was incredible growth, with the town of North Miami being named the fastest growing city in America in 1951, and the name once again changed in 1953 to the City of North Miami.
North Miami is known for have an extremely large Haitian-American population. According to the last decennial census, more than 50% of the population of North Miami identifies as Black American or African-American. 33% identifies as White or Caucasian Hispanic, and the remaining percentage identifies as white non-Hispanic, Asian or other. North Miami is not a particularly wealthy community. The median income is very close to the national poverty line and roughly a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line.
Generally speaking, the city is well balanced in terms of age and gender, with about 30% of the population being under 18, 12% between 18-24, 32 % from 25-44, 20% from 45-64 and 6% being 65 or older. It is quite evident that North Miami is more family focused just from seeing the demographics.
The above photo is of Carmelita Germain, a resident of North Miami since 1975. Ms. Germain left Haiti in the early 1970s to come to the United States for a better life for herself and her children. She left her children in Haiti and came to the States to look for a job that would help sustain her family, as her husband was preparing to leave Haiti with the murmurs of the fall of the Duvalier regime. She moved around South Florida, coming to Miami first, then moving to Belle Glade (where there were more Haitians, as not many Haitians lived in North Miami back then) and up north to Maryland for a bit and back down to North Miami in 1975. Ms. Germain has lived here since, and has seen changes through the neighborhood- demographic and land development. She encouraged me to go to several local eateries to get a feel for not only the Haitian demographic of the area, but a feel for the area in general.
In North Miami are the following landmarks:
MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) which is located very close to the city hall, on NE 125thST. MOCA was designed by an internationally celebrated architect and hosts several awe-inspiring pieces.
St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, which is a Spanish monastery that originated in Segovia, Spain in 1141 AD, and was shipped to New York in 1925 and then to North Miami in 1964. Today, the church is no longer a Catholic institution, but Episcopalian, and is also an event venue and tourist attraction.
Arch Creek Park, which contains the natural stone bridge that the aforementioned soldiers used as a landmark for the trail they built, but more importantly, was a trail that the Native Americans used. The park now contains a small museum that houses many artifacts, live animals and an original coontie mill (coontie is a naturally occurring cycad in Florida, and was grown and traded by the farmers of the area). It is also a very important archeological site for Miami Dade County.
Oleta River State Park, Florida’s largest urban park, is located directly on Biscayne Bay and is situated very close to the Biscayne Bay Campus of FIU. The river is very popular for canoeing and nature gazing.
GREEN North Miami is full of parks and greenspaces. There are roughly 10-12 parks, and many preserved natural areas. Aforementioned are the Oleta State River Park and Arch Creek Park. Both are beautiful designated areas that honestly display the natural beauty of South Florida. The rest of the parks are partially man made or completely man made, but contribute to greenspace nonetheless and serve to be a communal space for families in the area.
For the most part, transportation in North Miami is fairly balanced, with a portion of residents walking or cycling, a portion riding public transportation, and a portion who own and operate their own vehicles. On the several days that I visited North Miami, I had to maneuver how I would be able to make it to there. I drove on a few of the visits, I took the FIU Panther Express to the Biscayne Bay Campus of FIU and from there, I would walk or take an Uber to get to the heart of the city. I’ve taken the bus in North Miami, and the wait is not great, it can range between 20-30 mins. North Miami has its own transport bus, and it runs extremely well. There are also jitneys available throughout the city. Jitneys are small vans or buses that serve as transport vehicles where you can pay $1.50 (which is cheaper than the city bus) to get to different parts of the city, and it does not have specified stops, so you can get closer to where you need to be. Apart from those methods of public transport, it is very easy to get around on one’s two feet. Unlike other parts of Miami Dade County, North Miami has the right balance of suburban and city living, with everything being within walking distance from home.
As for authentic and great places to eat, North Miami is such a wonderful place to explore! The following restaurants are highly rated (by many and cosigned by myself):
Cayard’s Bakery: A Haitian bakery that has been a staple of NoMi for well over 40 years, and it is a must go-to in my opinion. All of the meals are extremely affordable, but if you do go, expect to spend a while in line, because regardless of the day of the week, this spot is busy! Not only does the bakery have sweets galore, but they also serve bright, flavorful dishes that bring anyone’s heart home.
Finga Lickin’: Recently converted into a chain, this restaurant has become a favorite for many, as it was the first restaurant that DJ Khaled opened in 2015, and due to its incredible success with both locals and tourists, he has opened several more all over the US.
Chef Creole: This is a Haitian American staple in NoMi!! Serving authentic Haitian food, this spot is sure to please. From oxtail to all sorts of seafood, Chef Creole serves aptly seasoned food- that is a joy for the taste buds.
BUSINESSES As mentioned before, there are some wonderful businesses in North Miami. From colorful artwork to a quick screen repair, there are a plethora of small businesses to support the local economy. There are many Haitian restaurants (too many to list), small delis, and even quick stop cafeterias. My favorite part of North Miami is the fact that it is simple to find a local business for everything. From dollar stores to small shops that serve as a glance back home, being in North Miami is reminiscent of living in a small town.
Some of my favorites are the Haitian barbershops, where you’ll find a heated discussion on the politics of the US or Haiti, or a vivid retelling of old country life in the outskirts of Port au Prince.
SUMMARY In taking a look at the neighborhood and comparing it to where I live, a lot more works here than where I live. Public transportation is much more accessible, and most stores are in walking distance. Additionally, there are more local small businesses to support, so personally, I feel like I am investing in my local economy much more. Most of the residential areas are nice, but due to so many people being pushed out of gentrified neighborhoods, not only are neighborhoods like North Miami packed, but some areas are attracting people who don’t have the best in mind for everyone. What doesn’t work is the lack of parking in some areas, and the overall cleanliness in some parts of the city. In going to one of my favorite bakeries, Cayard’s Bakery, I was not pleased to see grease and dumped water sitting on the side of the business like there wasn’t anywhere else to dispose of it. In conclusion, being able to reexperience North Miami and look at it from the scope of a visitor and not someone who is fairly used to the area was fantastic. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to speak to residents of North Miami and park my car and walk around. I truly enjoyed dipping into small businesses and investing my dollars into their economy. For Haitians, North Miami is a sliver of home. It is a glance at what Haiti could be like if the country was more organized, and most importantly, it is a vivid picture of the American Dream. The ability to come to the United States in pursuit of a better life, to rebuild and to live the way you only could imagine.
Dina Kencie Denord is a Miami transplant who has learned to love the tropical weather and Cuban coffee. She is a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University double majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Childhood Development and Interdisciplinary Studies. Dina moved to Miami at age 7, and has been in love with the city ever since. Dina speaks 5 languages, and has an affinity for linguistics. She is heavily involved in community work, and hopes to one day serve as the bridge between those whose voices go unheard due to language barriers and those who can help. She also currently works as a digital network specialist in linguistics scripting and hopes to one day travel and put her love of languages to good use.
“Build over Baptist” – Miami Metro as Text
built on the backs on blacks is this city
a piece of our history disrespected because
it was not their story
they felt removed
city sought to expand never an issue through where they asked
somewhere obscure, no one will notice somewhere that won’t miss growth
somewhere that won’t miss success somewhere people will forget
a fissure was caused in a forgotten community a community once filled with people
white and black alike
a community where the hustle and bustle was the everyday norm growth and progress were the tales passed on to children in an era of negativity, there was a small beam
a millionaire was even seen
education for all music for all life for all
until there wasn’t anymore
build it straight through, they decided doesn’t matter how we split it, they won’t care
to us, it was demeaning damaging, painful memories stolen
from playing in the streets to drinking lemonade in the miami heat
religion, a daily injection of spirit in our lives the meeting place where everyone feels the vibes
even though they are built through they don’t falter
it doesn’t shut the praise down
voices carry over the highway noise, spirit lifted hands in the air
static electricity charging the atmosphere
the meeting place is not compromised
built over baptist, they showed
no remorse no respect no reverence
providing no space to move,
to s p r e a d
relegated to a corner so we don’t spread our wings
in the city where we once were kings
“A Mark of Ancestry” – Downtown as Text
Stumbling upon this small pioneer house was one of life’s small but good surprises, like finding a dollar in a pair of jeans or a stranger paying it forward in a coffee shop. Interestingly enough, we spoke during our last class about geographic ancestors, meaning the people who were there and the people who settled there.
Mr Wagner was an immigrant from Germany who grew up in the US and was a Mexican War veteran. Mr Wagner and his wife had what was considered an illicit relationship because she was a free black woman and he was a white man. This was before the Civil War.
Éveline Wagner, Mr Wagner’s wife holds an interesting connection to me and my ancestry, personally. I went into FIU’s digital collections to see if I could find anything on her, never expecting to do some serious digging. Mrs Wagner was born in South Carolina, the child of a Haitian runaway slave.
During the time of Mrs Wagner’s birth, Haiti was undergoing the slave revolt, and a small group of those slaves landed in Charleston, South Carolina. My ancestors stayed in Haiti, but I found this an interesting note in our history, considering the gargantuan amount of Haitians that call Miami home.
Thinking about this I realized that my parents are pioneers of a sort, because they are first generation immigrants. They settled in a location with few people that looked like them (Hartford, CT) and had to quickly learn how to make a living and be able to live successfully in a place that was nothing like home.
This small house holds a lot of history. It shows the simple way people lived in that time and plain fashion. Coincidentally, we followed this location up with Vizcaya, the grandiose, bodacious mega mansion owned by James Deering. The stark contrast between these two locations was not lost on me. The people who paved the way, immigrants and slaves, and then the rich people who profited off of the backs of those people.
“A Simple Reminder”- Deering as Text
I am proudly Afro Caribbean. My parents are both native to Haiti, and our family history can be traced all over the Antilles, especially the Bahamas. History tells us that when someone rich doesn’t want to do hard labor, they hire someone they believe is beneath them. This is regardless of the race. Asians were hired during the California Gold Rush, Black people were captured and kept as slaves, and even today, people of color typically take the hard, manual labor jobs that others won’t.
This is the case of the Deering Estate. According to records, Charles Deering hired many Afro-Bahamian workers to help renovate and expand the estate. Some of these workers even died while building the canal that leads into the estate from Biscayne Bay. Nevertheless, the workers kept a part of themselves in history. The photograph above is only one example of pieces of my people’s past. This shell formation is akin to something you’d see as mason work in Haiti or the Bahamas.
Walking around the estate, my eyes fell on these shells again. Shells are a reminder of home, even when you’re no where near close. Looking at a shell, I’m reminded of the turquoise waters that lick the white sand beaches of the Bahamas. I see shells, and I’m reminded of oxtail and rice, or fried conch, or fried plantains that are crispy and warm. I’m reminded of Bahamianese (a English creole dialect), I’m reminded of bright smiles, even in the face of adversity. I’m reminded of home. And that’s all I need. A reminder of home. A taste of my past. A reminder of all that I am.
“My Last Days with You” – Wynwood as Text
Losing you was the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever been through.
Losing you to a disease I could not cure, a pain I could not assuage, something completely out of my control.
The last month was the hardest. Your decline was out of my control. In your descent into the unknown, you took pieces of my heart with you. I lost myself in your illness. My anger began to rise, I couldn’t understand why you would ever leave me. I tried to change the inevitable, but the truth rose to the surface over and over. You left me.
I miss you. I love you.
This poem was inspired by the loss of a loved one who I cared for in their last month of life. Although on hospice, my every waking moment was dedicated to assuaging their pain that my loved one was experiencing.
In the De la Cruz Collection, I was exposed to my new favorite artist. Themes like life and death and the regenerative force that is life have always fascinated me. Those are themes that the late Felix Gonzales Torres explored in his pieces. The above piece, “Untitled” (31 Days of Bloodwork) was created as Gonzalez Torres’ lover was dying of AIDS. In viewing this piece, it was extremely difficult for me to compose my emotions because in the moment I saw the piece, I felt the way I felt when my loved one was dying. No matter how many times I looked over the lab work, no matter how many times I administered morphine, I couldn’t change the grim reality of death. In this death, I learned to face my own mortality. The ability to face death is incredible, and in doing so, we learn how life regenerates. and everything begins anew.
“What I See”- HistoryMiami as Text
a little girl, sent to the US to escape abject poverty
a middle-aged man, barely making it to the US, pursuing freedom
a grandmother of six, looking for a way out for her progeny
these are the faces i think of when i see the freedom tower
i think of those same type of faces
in the Ellis island book i read in elementary
i think of those people, coming to the US of all places to grow,
to expand, to break barriers
i think of people like my mom, leaving her home at a young age looking for a future here
i think of people like my mom sitting in my classes with me
people here for a better life, chasing the American dream, whatever they define that as
Visiting the Freedom Tower was surreal. Standing in the lobby where thousands stood and waited to be cleared for entry to the United States was otherworldly. I was remined of Ellis Island, the New York gateway to the United States during the migration era. Until 1972, that building was used as a port of entry for many Cubans who sought safety and freedom. As the welcome to America they searched for, for the familiarity of home. Looking around the inside of the building, I can only imagine their thoughts. Familiar architecture for some, the smell of coffee radiating from the streets, transporting them back home. I was immensely grateful for just the chance to step inside and discuss agriculture. Although the building wasn’t as accessible as I’d hoped, the simple chance to stand where freedom seekers stood was incredible.
“Started from the Bottom” – ArtMiami as Text
Seeing someone I feel like I know in a background I don’t is strange. If you’d asked me anything about how I felt about this piece before this taking class, I would’ve most likely shrugged and moved on with life. Art wasn’t my thing. Probably still isn’t, but stories are, and I feel like everyone can find something relatable in art because there is a story behind every piece. This piece, entitled “Portrait of a Lady”, is by Kehinde Wiley, a Nigerian-American painter. Normally? I wouldn’t blink twice at this piece, but realizing that this man is the very same artist who painted the Presidential portrait of President Barack Obama caused me to look twice.
Seeing someone that looks like me making art of people who look like me is important. It’s important for kids from underprivileged areas to be able to access that freely, and unfortunately, these works are not easily accessible, and if they are, nobody knows about it. If you ask me now about this piece, I can talk to you about how the style is reminiscent of French Rococo, opulent and ornate, and this highlights the regality of the black man. I can understand that because I was able to have the incredible opportunity to have access to this.
Equal access to art is now something that I will not ever stop preaching because art helps open up emotions. Coming from somewhere where you are taught to be hardened, pushing down your emotions, it is crucial that kids and adults alike learn that feeling is ok. Access can help a girl from Brownsville see that she can turn embroidery into art, like Cote d’Ivoirean artist Joana Choumali, or that mangroves and melted ice can make reflective pieces like Miami based artist Xavier Cortada. What is important is that access be given to people who look like me, who feel like me, who experience life like me. I started from the bottom, and most artists do. Why not expose the bottom to what it’s like at the top?