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Erick Johnson

Stories by Erick

Bond funds to replace Frederick Douglass Elementary

Project part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ effort to upgrade facilities

Benjamin Brown, 80, remembers when Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Overtown had no cafeteria. “We had to eat in the classroom,” said Brown, who attended the school in 1939. “There was a lady who sold hot dogs and hamburgers out of a small room.” The 61-year-old building that is part of many childhood memories will soon be demolished and replaced with a sleek, new one. The project is part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools' effort to upgrade facilities in nearly 270 schools with the $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond, which voters passed two years ago.

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Culture clash ends with call for unity

Dr. Smith Joseph appeals for racial harmony during induction ceremony as North Miami’s third Haitian-American mayor

One week after winning a racially charged campaign, Dr. Smith Joseph first official duty as mayor was to call for ethnic harmony. Nearly 1,000 people, including dignitaries from local and state governments, packed the plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) for Joseph’s induction ceremony and first city council meeting last Wednesday in North Miami. A festive reception and marching band helped usher in new era as Joseph’s wife, attorney Patricia SaintVil-Joseph, and son Benoushkah Dominique Joseph, were by Joseph’s side as he took the oath of office.

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SkyRise developers pledge support for Black firms

Developers of the proposed SkyRise Miami observation tower last Thursday pledged their support to minority firms to quell concerns that Black contractors will not get a fair share of business from a project to build Florida’s largest skyscraper. The meeting comes as SkyRise seeks $9 million in public funding for the project, a request that has drawn opposition from city leaders.

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Northwestern principal nominated for award

Miami Northwestern principal Wallace Aristide is a candidate for the prestigious Leonard Miller Principal Award for turning around the Liberty City high school that was for years on the brink of being closed by the state because of its poor academic performance. The achievements impressed the Council for Educational Change, a Broward organization that honors school administrators for improving academics in schools in Florida. Aristide is among three candidates who will be honored Thursday with a $5,000 award as Gold Medallion winners at a luncheon at the University of Miami's Newman Alumni Center in Coral Gables, where the Leonard Miller Principal Award will be announced.

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Fighting fires with his words

Top Black fire-chief-turned author among writers to discuss racism at upcoming Miami Book Fair

Charles Phillips' first day as one of Miami-Dade’s first Black firefighters still haunts him. In 1974, by his account, Phillips was among 12 Black firefighters out of a pool of 48 minorities who were hired after they survived difficult tests and training drills that were required for the job. It was a victory for Phillips who, since a child, has a fascination for fire trucks and the sirens that blared as they sped down the streets of his Liberty City neighborhood. Phillips said he rejoiced as he embarked on his new career. But reality set in after white firefighters spoke to the first crop of Black firefighters who were hired after the county was forced to open their fire rescue squads to minorities after Jim Crow segregation was outlawed.

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McCoy wins Lyric Live championships

All star finale with cream of the crop of all performers

It was a golden performance. A packed crowd jammed Overtown’s Historic Lyric Theater on Friday night and crowned three-time Lyric Live winner Arsimmer McCoy as the best of the season-ending All Star Championships. Singing Jill Scott’s funky 2004 hit "Golden," McCoy brought the crowd to its feet with a passionate performance that included her powerful vocals and stage presence. She easily beat out three other contestants who were returning champions from this season's Lyric Live, an amateur talent show in which contestants are judged by a critical crowds who boo contestants that give less than stellar performances before they are escorted off stage by the Bahamian Junkanoo Band.

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Opa-locka’s popular art event becomes a symbol of the city's revitalization efforts

It started three years ago as a fundraiser on a runway at Opa-locka Airport. The hip hop group En Vogue entertained several hundred guests, including community leaders. The theme of the evening was called “The Art of Transformation,” a term that honored Opa-locka’s rich past and more importantly, a revitalization plan to turn the city into an urban masterpiece. In the first two years, "The Art of Transformation" included ballet performances and works of local, talented artists.

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Change is coming to Liberty Square

New HUD director, community leaders renew calls to fight against crime

Michael Liu has set his sights on Liberty Square Housing Project as a place to sweep out criminals. It's a daunting task for Liu, who aims to pull off a plan to transform the public housing project that has been beset with crime for decades. He promised action last Thursday at a town hall meeting where he vowed to enforce standards with a firm but fair hand and help residents whose lives have been shattered because of gun violence. Liu was appointed to the job in August by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. He replaces former HUD Director Gregg Fortner, who steered the agency toward credibility after his predecessor, Rene Rodriguez, left the agency amid a scandal involving $40 million in housing grants to developers.

‘Soul Basel’ to kick off Miami art season

Events pay homage to Black artists before Art Basel weekend

Hoping to capitalize on the mega success of Art Basel on Miami Beach, South Florida's Miami's Black community is holding several early events as the city prepares to take the spotlight on the international stage. But it will take more than just an early start to reap a good harvest from the world-renowned festival, according to Ludlow Bailey, a curator consultant for the University of Miami.

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Rick Scott, Black candidates win in close races

Florida Governor Rick Scott once again pulled out a narrow victory in his re-election bid in Tuesday's general elections where tight political races provided a wild finish for candidates running for offices in Miami's predominately Black cities. Those close races produced a handful of winners. They include Dr. Smith Joseph, who ran for mayor of North Miami, and incumbent Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro who kept the at-large seat 6 on the Miami Gardens City Council. In Opa-locka, incumbent Mayor Myra Taylor was re-elected after taking 44 percent of the vote. So was incumbent Commissioner Timothy Homes. Newcomer Terence Pinder was chosen as the other city commissioner.

North Miami approves $20 million land sale

City to sell 50 acres of Biscayne Landing to Oleta Partners in a deal that could bring additional millions

After hours of debate and legal talks, the North Miami City Council unanimously approved a multi-million dollar deal to sell part of Biscayne Landing to Oleta Partners at a marathon commission meeting last Tuesday evening. As part of the deal, North Miami will sell 50 acres of undeveloped land in Biscayne Landing for $20 million. Located at Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 151st Street, the property is a former landfill located in a community of high-rise condominiums overlooking the intercoastal waterway. The site is near Florida International University’s (FIU) north campus. The city has 100 acres of land remaining that could be sold or used for more development projects.

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Jackson’s expands brand, to open Overtown bed and breakfast

Restaurant owner Shirley Ingraham was serving customers one day when two men walked in and made her an offer to buy two old abandoned buildings just within walking distance of her famous Jackson’s Soul Food restaurant in Overtown. The men offered to sell her the old structures for $125,000. She bought them without knowing what she would do with them or how she was going to pay to refurbish the old spaces.

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The Grand Finale Lyric Live

They’re back for the biggest battle of the year. They have earned their title of champion by dethroning another with dazzling performances at the Lyric Live amateur competition at Overtown’s Historic Lyric Theater. One of them Maylin Cuadra, the talented two-time winner who belts out Whitney Houston’s best love ballads, will bring her A-game against a pool of champions.They include a singing group who was struck with tragedy. It will be an epic spectacle when the contestants face off at L

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Multicultural Tourism Department promotes Black communities

Start spreading the news. Overtown, Little Haiti and other ethnic neighborhoods will play a larger role in South Florida's multi-billion dollar tourism industry. After a splashy luncheon on Miami's lush waterfront Monday, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau announced a new Multicultural Tourism Department aimed at luring visitors to the city's Black and ethnic neighborhoods.

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Former CEO at TACOLCY responds to new OIG report

Former Belafonte TACOLCY CEO Taj Brown is speaking out after the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General closed its probe that found no major wrongdoing at the venerable Liberty City agency. After a year-long investigation, the OIG last month concluded that none of the agency’s funds from the Children’s Trust and Miami-Dade County had been abused under Brown's leadership. OIG officials said while Brown spent money on himself, those funds came from private donations and sports programs fees. OIG officials acknowledged that efforts had been made to curb the cash-strapped agency’s spending practices in the wake of financial concerns.

A tearful goodbye to Arthur Woodard

The jokes and tributes helped Vanessa Woodard Byers keep her composure at the funeral of her prominent father, Dr. Arthur Woodard. But at the cemetery, Byers was overwhelmed with emotion as her father’s casket was placed in the same mausoleum where her late mother was entombed four years ago. Byers openly wept as she placed one hand on the headstone just before Woodard was finally laid to rest.

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Leaders urge voters to reject marijuana on ballot

Dr. Fabian Thurston remembers when his 19-year-old daughter called home from college one day to tell him something. “She said ‘All of my friends smoke weed and I don’t want to be around people who do that,'” Thurston recalled. “That was a very proud moment in my life," said Thurston, chief operating officer for the Jesse Trice Family Health Center in Liberty City. Thurston joined T. Willard Fair of the Urban League of Greater Miami at a community meeting last Wednesday at Northside Police Station where the two condemned a statewide referendum to legalize medical marijuana. Entitled, “Making it legal doesn’t make it right,” the presentation aimed to educate and discourage voters from passing Amendment 2 in the Nov. 4 elections.

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Hey Jerk!

13th annual Grace Jamaican Festival at Markham Park in Sunrise on Nov. 9

Chef Jimmie Jackson is on a sizzling winning streak. For years, Jackson, the owner of a food seasoning company, had to settle for second place finishes in cooking contests at major jerk festivals in the South. Now, Jackson sits on the culinary throne as the defending champion of the ultra-competitive Publix Jerk Cook-off at this year’s 13th annual Grace Jamaican Festival on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Markham Park in Sunrise.

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North Miami mayoral candidates set for intense runoff

Dr. Smith Joseph, Kevin Burns fighting for office in predominantly Haitian city

North Miami is a difficult place to get elected. Ask Kevin Burns, who is seeking a third term as the city’s mayor. Burns, who is white, lost in a bitter runoff race in 2013, all because of North Miami’s powerful Black electorate, which has placed a Black mayor in City Hall in the past four years. In two weeks, it will be déjà vu for Burns as he goes ups against Dr. Smith Joseph in another runoff race in the same city that has denied political careers to contenders who have dared to run for office against Black candidates.

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Making music in Miami

One room has a huge soundboard that has 120 knobs. The new recording booth can fit at least three people. It's time to make some music. Music executives from all over the country helped open the sleek, new Midtown Studios and Films complex in Little Haiti Oct. 15, with a lavish ceremony that included fancy cocktails and the latest hip-hop sounds from Miami's top disc jockeys.

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Michelle for Charlie Crist

First lady Michelle Obama threw her support behind Charlie Crist's campaign for Florida governor at a rally in Miami Gardens last Friday. “If we want to finish what we started then we need to elect Charlie Crist governor of Florida,” Mrs. Obama said. “This is on us. It’s all on us. We can’t wait around for people to do this for us.” The first lady's campaign visit follows recent showings by vice president Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned in Miami the past month with hopes of reversing voter apathy among Democrats.

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Voters set to give their verdict on courthouse

Movement to replace crumbling landmark hangs in the balance

Black leaders and top legal professionals are speaking out in support of a controversial referendum to replace the crumbling, but historic Dade County Courthouse, with a new multi-million dollar building in downtown Miami. The support comes as county leaders delayed a backup plan in the event that voters reject the referendum in the Nov. 4 elections. The proposal had called for a $75 increase in court costs for those convicted of crimes and criminal traffic offenses.

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Judgment day for disgraced Northside pastor

Long ordeal finally ends after judge bars Gardner from church property

For church members, it was Good Friday. For Pastor Mark Gardner, it was judgment day. The defiant pastor who was accused of sinking Northside Church of God with more than $500,000 in debt was finally removed from the pulpit after a Miami judge issued an injunction that will keep Gardner away from the building, located at 2590 NW 103rd St.

Bright Futures scholarship program under scrutiny

State is examining concerns raised by newer and tougher standards

Florida’s Board of Governors, the group that oversees all of the state’s universities, is set to review concerns created by tougher new academic requirements that left hundreds of Black high school students in Miami-Dade and other counties without Bright Futures scholarships. On Nov. 5, the group will hear arguments on how the new standards have dramatically reduced the amount of eligible minority students, whose socioeconomic backgrounds have placed them at a disadvantage as opposed to white, affluent students.

Commission endorses Black museum

County funding a hurdle for project proposed to be located on Miami’s waterfront

The Miami-Dade County commission last week endorsed a plan to erect a Black museum on Miami’s waterfront. In a unanimous decision, commissioners passed Commissioner Dennis Moss’ resolution to instruct Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s staff to put together a plan that would bring a Black museum in a city still struggling to achieve racial and ethnic harmony. The move follows the commission’s endorsement during the summer of a proposed Cuban Exile museum.

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World-record holder brings hair-raising experience to Liberty City

Her hair is 55 feet long and Asha Mandela brought all 40 pounds of it to the Natural Styles hair salon at the Northside Flea Market in Miami. Dozens of onlookers were star-struck as they took photos with the famous woman who set the Guinness World Record in 2009 for the longest dreadlocks. “I was like wow. I wondered who that was until people told me,” said Larry Mitts, a shopper who was passing by. “I didn’t want to make it so obvious that I was so excited.”

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Leaders push to boost early voter turnout

Voting set to begin; residents urged to go to the polls at town hall meeting

With voter apathy still a concern, Black community and religious leaders are stepping up efforts to boost voter turnout as early voting begins Oct. 20 for the midterm elections. At a town hall meeting Oct. 7 at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City, leaders urged frustrated residents in crime-ridden neighborhoods to take their concerns to the polls on Nov. 4.

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In fight for city’s future, Miami Gardens candidates square off

It’s a tough choice for voters in Miami Gardens. Andre Williams, a seasoned attorney, is known throughout the city for his tenacity and unpopular views toward Florida’s largest Black city. Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro is an educator and popular community activist who has been endorsed by the mayor and many of South Florida’s prominent Black politicians.

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Resident one of few to celebrate Halloween on grand scale in the Black community

It’s the bewitching hour. A death train with a corpse chugs along the driveway. Body parts fill a makeshift cemetery in the front lawn. It's an unusual scene at Victoria Washington’s house in West Little River where hundreds flock to the elaborately-decorated home filled with witches, ghosts, spiders, goblins and skeletons.

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A park makeover helps transform Opa-locka

A barren half-acre lot in Opa-locka has been transformed into a picturesque community park. Milkweed plants and Gumbo Limbo trees were among the foliage incorporated into the makeover of Magnolia Park North, where about 100 volunteers and residents created an exquisite butterfly garden at the park, 2123 Ali Baba Ave.

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Making the cut

On the brink of closure, Boot Camp program graduates transformed young offenders

One month after it faced being shut down because of budget cuts, Miami-Dade’s Boot Camp program held its graduation ceremonies Oct. 1. In a packed courtroom at the Richard E. Gersten Justice building, 34 cadets assembled in the same place they once stood for crimes that would have sent them to jail. It was a dramatic ceremony, where male cadets with troubled backgrounds sat in crisp white shirts and ties with fresh haircuts after rehabilitating for committing serious, but nonviolent crimes.

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Spirit of Togetherness told in a divided world

Sounds and dancing are moving the journey of South African experience

The uplifting voices of the African continent tell harrowing stories of human suffering and spirituality during the Apartheid era in South Africa, where Blacks lived in harsh and segregated conditions under white rule. Then there is the fury of the Traditional Zulu tribal dance with performers in colorful African garb expressing their pain and emotions in a ritual dance that has endured for centuries. In the Venda Snake Dance, artists band together to slither like an outsider seeking to do something evil in an African village.

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Disparity report brings sweeping reform

New programs will address decades of economic losses

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho last week pledged his commitment to reinstate the Minority/Women Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program as part of a historic agreement to address the economic disparity in business contracts between Black and white firms. The agreement is the direct result of efforts by Black leaders, who released a disparity report in response to a preliminary M-DCPS study that said there were no economic inequities between Blacks and other ethnic groups doing business with the school board. Consequently, the school board released an audit that uncovered the errors and concerns raised by Black leaders.

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Miami Gardens police chief ushers in era of transparency backed by political savvy

Stephen Johnson on openness, safety

There was a time when Stephen Johnson filled the sanctuaries of churches with soulful melodies as a jazz musician. Today, he spends most of his time creating harmony as Miami Gardens’ new police chief. Since he arrived in Miami Gardens in April, Johnson has managed to connect to residents by simply being himself, a no-nonsense person who enjoys a good night on the town with a trip to Tony Romas or any Jamaican restaurant.

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Tips lead to arrests in The Spot shooting

It was a quick ending to a mass shoot-out that put Liberty City in the national spotlight. After receiving many tips, Miami Police on Monday arrested a 17-year-old male who opened fire in a crowded, illegal nightclub called the Spot, where 15 people were injured by gunshots during a party attended by some underage patrons.

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MOCA begins new era with board, art reception

North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) opened a new era last Thursday with a splashy art reception attended by 200 guests who viewed the museum's first exhibit since the organization's board of directors left to form their own museum. The exhibit, Third Space: Inventing the Possible, drew guests from all walks the life who perused 60 artworks from 18 artists in a

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Miami broward Carnival

Massive festival gives South Florida a taste of the islands

The Caribbean culture in South Florida will be on full display when the Miami Broward Carnival celebrates its 30th anniversary with celebrations in two counties, culminating with a grand festival at the Miami-Dade County Youth Expo Center on Oct.12. In recent years, the carnival has attracted spectators from all over the country, who enjoy South Florida's balmy climate as its tourism season swings into high gear.

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Leaders outraged by shooting at The Spot in Liberty City

Concern grows after teenagers were shot at The Spot, an illegal nightclub on NW Seventh Avenue

Code violations. Gambling. Gunfire. It was not the place for any teenager on a Saturday night. But the heavy bass and pulsating beats of rap artist Iceberg kept many youth in the dark confines of The Spot in Liberty City into the early hours of last Sunday morning. When it was over, 15 people were injured by gunshots, including a 15-year-old from Miami Norland Senior High who’s fighting for his life at Jackson Memorial Hospital. As of Tuesday nine of them were treated and released.

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Residents stuck in Liberty City slum

Damaged building to remain open as tenants have nowhere to go

The City of Miami decided not to shut down a Liberty City Apartment where dozens of residents have complained about unsanitary conditions. Miami Assistant City Attorney Brian Dombrowski reaffirmed the city’s decision at a meeting last week at the Overtown NET Center. The move has left 77 residents of the apartment with very few options and nowhere to go.

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Community Fest celebrates Haitian culture

Event aims to bring more exposure to Little Haiti's cultural center

It’s the perfect place for a big party. A colorful mural of Haitian culture serves as a dramatic backdrop to an outdoor stage where artists and musicians can entertain spectators as they mingle in a grand courtyard surrounded by palm trees and sculptures.

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Would-be first Black city manager declines offer

One week after making history, Jim Beard is out as Coral Gables’ first Black city manager. Beard’s withdrawal was announced at the city commission meeting on Tuesday at the same time that reports surfaced that Beard had a domestic abuse charge and a bankruptcy case. The announcement came as city officials were set to approve Beard’s salary and start date. Beard was picked as Coral Gables’ city manager Sept. 16 over four other finalists. Beard did not attend the meeting.

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Inventing the possible space

Bold new exhibit explores possibilities over hard times

A new era is set to begin at North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art next week with the opening of an edgy new exhibit called Third Space: Inventing the Possible. The exhibit explores the challenges of the human condition, but it also illustrates the struggles of MOCA, an institution at a critical crossroad as it tries to redefine itself to re-connect to the art community.

Miami Gardens may gain yardage over stadium area

A proposed agreement by Miami-Dade County officials would give Miami Gardens the right to issue building permits for land around Sun Life Stadium. Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Miami Gardens, sponsored the resolution at a Sept. 3 commission meeting, where officials proposed giving the predominately Black city the right to make recommendations to the county on future land-use applications around the stadium.

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Mega mall moves forward

City approves zoning for the project that will bring jobs to Overtown

After hearing frustrated Overtown residents and business leaders, the City of Miami commission last Thursday unanimously voted to approve two zoning changes for the proposed Miami Mall at Worldcenter downtown.

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Community reacts to disparity report

Inequities apparent as Black contractors fight for M-DCPS contracts

Dozens of professionals and community residents packed Freedom Hall near Northside last Wednesday to hear alarming details of a scathing report that accuses Miami-Dade County Public Schools of shutting out Black contractors from hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.

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The Slumlord Files

Efforts underway to relocate tenants from filthy living conditions

In one apartment, human feces and water once leaked from the ceiling into the kitchen. In another unit, the ceiling collapsed and hit a 16-year-old boy who was sleeping in his bedroom. In many of the apartments, the walls are rotting from mold and water damage. One tenant, Wayne Carroll is forced to take showers at another location because the mold-infested tub is too unbearable. And his sinks back up when he turns on the water. The rusting toilet doesn’t always work.

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Going Over the Edge for Liberty City

The Miami Children's Initiative went over the edge last weekend with a charity event at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Miami that raised $150,000. About 100 brave people rappelled down 19 stories of the hotel to raise money to benefit families and children in Liberty City. The two-day event featured local civic and business leaders, elected officials, philanthropists, journalists and university presidents. Celebrities including Joe Morton from the hit ABC Show Scandal, participated in the event. "The event was a good analogy for what people experience in Liberty City," said Hopi Horton

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From Little Haiti to Abu Dhabi

His works does not contain the iambic pentameter of William Shakespeare’s sonnets but come October, Calvin "madeS.O.N" Early of Little Haiti will take his urban poetry thousands of miles away to a rich Middle Eastern country where poetic recitals are growing in appeal.

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5000 Role Models kick off new school year with bigger dreams

The 5000 Role Models of Excellence program kicked off the school year with bigger dreams and plans to prevent hundreds of Black males from suffering the same fate of Michael Brown, who was killed by a White police officer in Ferguson, MO officer last month. At its annual Site Directors Training meeting at the PortMiami on Thursday, about 200 educators, administrators and professionals helped Congresswoman Federica Wilson and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II open the 21st year of the mentor program which has helped thousands of young, Black males succeed in the midst of poverty and social ills. The meeting provided training and

Black contractors losing millions

Disparity study by Urban League, NAACP claims firms not receiving their fair share of bids from M-DCPS

After achieving little success to address economic disparities among Black firms doing business with Miami Dade County Public Schools, community and civil rights leaders are set to release a blistering report that attacks policies and practices that have shut Blacks out of hundreds of millions of dollars in plum contracts.