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Erick Johnson

Stories by Erick

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Making spirits bright

Holiday parties uplift and help heal families of murdered children and community residents

Sabrina Gordon watched while her grandson Jahkari Gordon running around the clubhouse in the Barbara Carey-Shuler Apartments in Liberty City. Jahkari, 7, jumped for joy after he opened his gift on Saturday. It was a Superman play shaving kit. The holiday party was for Families of Murdered Children. Oblivious to Jahkari, Sabrina Gordon was invited because his father and her son was killed about a year ago. Willie James Gordon, 28, was gunned down at an apartment complex in Liberty City October 2013. He died leaving his mother to grieve and Jahkari and his sister 2-year-old Samya, fatherless.

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Tondreau taken into custody Tuesday after being convicted of five counts related to wire fraud

One minute Lucie Tondreau was smiling and chatting with friends just a few feet away from prosecutors. Two hours later, the former North Miami Mayor stood silent and stoic as the jury foreman told her she was convicted of wire fraud. A 12-member jury found Tondreau guilty Tuesday of committing one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and four separate counts of wire fraud in the U.S. Southern District Court of Florida, downtown Miami.

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Housing discrimination suit settled

Complex accused of denying Black applicants reach court agreement

Elite Riverview Apartments, the Miami rental complex that was sued for discrimination in May after it allegedly denied Blacks to view rental units, has settled the case out of court, according to legal documents obtained by The Miami Times. The complaint that was originally filed in the U.S. Southern District of Florida, was dismissed Nov. 17 after Elite went into mediation talks with the plaintiff, the Housing Opportunities for Project Excellence (HOPE).

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Coping with Alzheimer’s

Free lecture to help family members understand disease that afflicts Blacks more than most ethnic groups

The sacrifices are tremendous. Bathing. Feeding. Cooking. Supervising. For many, taking care of aging parents or relatives with Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming and at times unhealthy. The number of people diagnosed with the deadly disease has risen over the years, but so has the number of caregivers who experts say suffer almost as much as Alzheimer’s patients themselves.

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A Haitian leader’s fall from grace

Former North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau on trial for mortgage fraud

Her name is Kettley Alphonse. She bought a house in Miami Shores in 2007. She didn’t know the price of the house was $564,000 at the time of the closing. She just signed on the dotted line on numerous documents without asking any questions about the big purchase. That same day, Alphonse received a $5,000 check for her cooperation. The signature on check was that of Lucie Tondreau, the former mayor of North Miami who was also Alphonse's employer. After the purchase, Alphonse’s would eventually lose her job, the house and her credit.

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FIU surprises 100 students with bicycles, gifts

The holiday celebration provided children with a festive spectacle

The wait was over. It was time for the biggest gift of them all at Florida International University’s (FIU) children’s holiday celebration held on its main campus last Thursday. After receiving dozens of items ranging from toy cars to laptops, every elementary school student in attendance was given a number. The winner would receive a new mid-sized bicycle. About 800 educators, administrators and volunteers knew what was about to go down in the Graham Center ballroom on the Modesto Maidique campus. Suddenly, the number three flashed on the projection screen.

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MOCA celebrates Art Basel with hope

North Miami museum comes out of settlement talks with edgy exhibit, hundreds of works

Hundreds of prized art. An edgy exhibit. Nigerian royalty. A new book. It's life after a bitter breakup for North Miami's Museum of Contemporary of Art (MOCA). The museum on Monday kicked off Art Basel with an exclusive reception for its new exhibit, “Shifting the Paradigm” by George Edozie, a Nigerian artist whose works have been viewed around the world. The exhibit includes stunning, fiber-metal sculptures of humans doing various things.

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Policy changes to help Black firms

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho on Monday reaffirmed his commitment to resolving the economic disparity between Black and white subcontractors as work begins to upgrade and replace schools throughout the county. Carvalho met with Black leaders at a community meeting at Freedom Hall to give an update on his pledge to implement 12 policies aimed at helping more Black sub-contractors earn more contracts with the school system. The meeting was a followup to a promise Carvalho made in September to implement sweeping changes in response to a disparity study that was released by the Urban League of Greater Miami, the Florida chapter of the NAACP and the BAC Corporation.

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Community reacts to Ferguson

On Tuesday, men and women who have fought and continue to fight for Black civil rights, politicians and educators shared their reaction to the grand jury declining to charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Aug. 9.

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Colorful, Overtown homecoming planned for artist Purvis Young

Rare art exhibit set to debut

His art includes everything from carpet to telephone bills that express the human condition in Miami's Black neighborhoods. From funerals to boarded-up storefronts that dot South Florida's urban neighborhoods, the murals of renowned Overtown artist Purvis Young gave the world a unique insight into Black life and culture.

Black firms contending for hire to build new Norland

After exceeding expectations to hire Black subcontractors, a successful South Florida developer won a $34 million contract to build the new Miami Norland Senior High School in Miami Gardens. At a meeting last Wednesday, the Miami-Dade County Public School Board chose the James B. Pirtle Construction Co. Inc., a prominent, 45-year-old South Florida developer that has built facilities for museums, hospitals, sports complexes, libraries and cultural centers all over South Florida. The company built the Little Haiti Cultural Center and the new Miami Jackson Senior High School, according to the firm's website.

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Miami Times brings together local choirs to celebrate holiday season

Free event is at Overtown’s Lyric Theater

They’re strong enough to lift every voice when they sing. All 32 of them. With their deep voices and charisma, the all-male choir at the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church have been pumping out notes and robust harmonies for 23 years. And when they get the Holy Spirit, look out. “People just love when a group of tough men are moved by the spirit and let it out,” said William Orange, a member of the group. Theresa Brown, a member of the church for nearly 20 years, said the group is one of her favorites. “I’ve been enjoying them for years,” said Brown. “They are just amazing.”

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Monestime elected commission chairman

History was made Monday when Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime became the first Haitian-American elected as chairman of the county commission. It was one of two honors for Monestime, who prevailed along with four other commissioners in the Nov. 4. general elections. The commissioners were honored during a special installation ceremony at county hall, where family, friends and colleagues packed the room to help celebrate the occasion. It was an even bigger moment for Monestime. Commissioners voted 12-0 to elect Monestime chairman after District 12 Commissioner José “Pepe” Diaz nominated him for the role.

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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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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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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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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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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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.

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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.

‘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.

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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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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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.

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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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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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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.

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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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.

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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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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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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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