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She Got it From Her Mama: 3 of the Greatest Celebrity Mother-Daughter Relationships

(Photographs by Max Abadian, Emily Kitching for AB+DM, and Tim Hunter)

You know them, you love them, but did you know that these famous American actresses all have Caribbean mothers? These women gave birth to America’s biggest superstars of primetime television and the big screen. From Jamaican scandal star, Kerry Washington’s “fierce lioness” to Jada Pinkett Smith’s rocky relationship turned eternal bond, read on to learn a little more about the most inspiring celebrity mother-daughter relationships in the industry.

Kerry Washington’s love for Jamaican mom

Celebrity mother-daughter relationships
Image courtesy of People Magazine

You know her as Olivia Pope on Scandal, but mother Valerie Washington knows Kerry Washington as her only child and personal pride and joy. Although a lifelong resident of the Bronx, Valerie’s parents were born in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica but moved to New Yord long before her arrival. Valerie Washington and her husband raised their daughter Kerry in a comfortable middle class home in Bronx, New York, but they eventually sent her to a private all girls school on the Upper East Side.

Growing up, Valarie had dreamed of her daughter going off to law school and passing the bar, however she mainly wanted Kerry to succeed and choose a career she was passionate about, something not offered to Valarie in the 50s who was encouraged to become a teacher despite earning a degree in science. Although proud of her daughter, Valarie originally was scared of the thought of Kerry becoming an actress. These two might be one of the closest celebrity mother-daughter relationships that we have profiled. They are very close now, with Kerry describing her mother as the “fiercest lioness in my pride.”

Jada Pinkett Smith’s difficult road with mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris

Celebrity mother-daughter relationships
Image courtesy of Essence

As far as celebrity mother-daughter relationships go, Jada Pinkett Smith’s mother and fellow “Red Table Talk” host, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, have had one of the most complex. Banfield-Norris was born in Baltimore in 1953 and grew up as “black middle class” with Jamiacan roots on her mother’s side. Banfield-Norris had Jada in high school at the young age of 17, having had a short lived marriage to Robsol Pinkett Jr., Jada’s father. For most of Pinkett Smith’s early life, her mother struggled with addiction issues and was at the peak of a heroin addiction when she graduated from nursing school at Coppin State University.

The two have since mended their relationship though, becoming co-hosts of now famous talk show “Red Table Talk ” with Pinkett Smith’s own daughter, Willow Smith. “Red Table Talk” addresses multigenerational topics about sex, racism, and drugs, covering hard conversations and showing vulnerability and realness. Banfield-Norris has been in recovery for 29 years and opened up about her addiction with a powerful, tearful conversation with her daughter on the show during a 2018 episode that further emphasized how much their relationship has grown.

Zoe Saldana and “hero” Asalia Nazario

Best known for her work in the 2009 Sci/Fi blockbuster hit, Avatar, and popular Marvel movies including Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana’s career speaks for itself. Born in New Jersey to Caribbean parents of Dominican and Puerto Rican origins, her mother, Asalia Nazario, moved her three daughters to the Dominican Republic to live with their grandparents in a safer environment after her father died in a vehicle crash. After spending her early years in the DR, her family moved back to the states, residing in New York with Nazario, who supported all of her children’s dreams.

In 2014 Saldana started a web series titled, “My Hero,” which featured stars opening up about the personal heroes in their lives. Possibly the most wholesome of our celebrity mother-daughter relationships is Saldana’s; the pilot episode was dedicated to her own mother in which she recalled childhood memories of cooking alongside her mother, and a tearful thank you for the way Nazario protected and nurtured her family despite facing adversity. Saldana and her two sisters are still extremely close to Nazario and love to treat her to spa days whenever they can.

An Exclusive Look at Chef Thia’s New Line of Signature Haitian Spices

Chef Thia's New signature Haitian Spices
Chef Thia's New signature Haitian Spices | Photo by Maybeline Despagne (Pix City Studio)

An accomplished culinary expert and social media influencer known for Haitian-fusion cuisine and a larger-than-life personality, Cynthia Verna is adding a few new elements to her impressive curriculum vitae, including an exciting new venture into her own signature Haitian spices. 

Hundreds of thousands of fans have tuned in to “Chef Thia” on her Facebook live broadcasts — from her impassioned prayers and family dinner preps to backstage award show peeks. She seems to have done it all. She’s been a restaurant owner, a host of TV show Taste the Islands, a best-selling biographical author and a women’s advocate. 

Adding to her accomplishments, Verna has recently debuted a new hardcover cookbook and her own line of signature Haitian spices. The collection, branded Chef Thia’s Spice, features four dry seasoning blends for seafood, steak, poultry, meat and even rice. 

“It’s been a dream of mine to just have something created from the heart,” said Verna. 

Chef Thia’s Spices

A Fresh Take on Haitian Spices

Haitians are familiar with the term “epis,” a popular blend of oil, herbs and spices used in creole cooking as a base for nearly any savory dish. To get around the need for refrigeration, Verna developed the dry spice line to offer similar flavor with a much longer shelf life. And the packaging is as vibrant as she is. 

Her Signature Spice Mix is a simple, all-purpose blend. Verna’s Peppercorn Spice Mix includes pink, green, black and white peppercorns and is ideal for red meats and vegetables. Her Torched Bird Spice Mix should be paired with poultry and other white meat. And her seafood seasoning, coming soon, contains “a little bit of wine, dry butter and all the goodies,” she said. 

The new cookbook, “Taste the Islands: Culinary Adventures in a Caribbean Kitchen,” was developed with the team from the TV show and the University Press of Florida. It was also a labor of love for Verna. It took around two and a half years to perfect, with the recipes being thoroughly tested and tasted before the final product was presented to the public. One of her favorite recipes from the book is an elevated take on soup joumou, Haiti’s famous Independence Day fare. 

Signature Haitian Spices
Photography: Maybeline Despagne

“When you come from the Caribbean,” she said, “You walk inside a Barnes and Noble and your book is right there with all the top chefs, it’s beautiful and powerful to see.” 

When she’s not crafting delicious signature Haitian spices, seasonngs, and recipes, you can find Verna traveling the world as a private chef. She recently returned from catering an intimate, exclusive event in Dubai. “I focus more on bringing my country, my culture, my roots around the world. You want to eat Haitian food. You contact Chef Thia. I bring Haiti, my heart, to you.” 

Photography: Richard Lecoin

An avid artist and serial entrepreneur, she’s got lots more in the pipeline. Through her newly developed mobile app, her legions of fans — existing and future — can connect fully with her brand. They can purchase her signature Haitian spices or subscribe to get them delivered monthly. They can also purchase any of the three books she’s authored, explore other product offerings such as Chef Thia-designed clothing and home accessories, and, in the near future, contact her for curated cooking advice or one-on-one help in the kitchen.

Download the Chef Thia app, visit chefthia.com, follow her on social media and buy her books on Amazon.

Why Some Caribbean Americans Have Frightening Vaccine Hesitancy

Caribbean and Black Americans hesitate to take the COVID-19 vaccine
Caribbean and Black Americans are hesitant about taking the COVID-19 vaccine

After a year of dealing with a deadly pandemic which has disproportionately affected Black people, you would think we’d embrace something that promises to return us to normalcy. But that’s not the case. Even as COVID-19 vaccines become more available, Black Americans continue to have vaccine hesitancy and Caribbean folks are still disproportionately skeptical about getting the shot.

In late February, a nationwide poll by the Pew Research Center found that 69% of U.S. adults had already been vaccinated or said they wanted to be. The rate was a lower 61% among non-Hispanic Blacks, although that is up dramatically from 42% in November just before the first vaccines were authorized in the United States.

I confess that initially, I myself had vaccine hesitancy. I thought perhaps it was best for me to see how it worked on others before taking it myself. My knowledge of the vaccines was sketchy at best, and posts on social media that questioned their safety and efficacy made me even more uncertain. Many of the friends I polled on Facebook shared my worries. Some have since changed their minds. 

“I do not know what is true anymore,” said Karen, of Trinidad. Her trust grew weaker as rumors and questionable information proliferated online. But she also is in a high-risk category and fears COVID-19. “So I have decided, if I have an opportunity to take the vaccine, I will get it. Growing up in Trinidad, all the vaccines were mandatory. I turned out fine.”

Aisha, who is of Jamaican, Panamanian and Senagalese ancestry, was nervous about how quickly the vaccine was created and also did not trust that adequate testing had been done. But when her mother’s care facility called to ask if she wanted her to be vaccinated, she immediately said, “Yes.” 

Caribbean and Black Americans have vaccine hesitancy
Aisha and her mom

“That made me pause and ask myself, if it is okay for her, why is it not okay for me? So I am getting it now.”

I started researching this article to answer my own questions as well as those raised by friends and family. 

Now, I have a much better understanding of how the COVID-19 vaccines work and which companies were authorized to create them here in America. I learned the majority of scary social media posts I had seen were either false or did not include critical context. There are, of course, reasons to be concerned about medical racism today, but Black doctors are among those who developed the vaccines and are advocating for their use.

A Timeline of Events

In short, here’s how the vaccines were ready to go — safely — in less than a year:

  1. Nearly two decades of research. COVID-19 comes from a family of viruses that have been well studied. Scientists got a headstart on COVID-19 from their work on vaccines for the 2002 SARS coronavirus and the 2012 MERS coronavirus. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created based on the work of a team that includes viral immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, a Black woman. Their work included developing the mRNA technology used in two COVID-19 vaccines. Corbett also was a hands-on leader in the creation of the Moderna shot.’ 
  2. Quick response. Infectious disease experts and vaccine researchers had long predicted a global pandemic involving a respiratory virus. When COVID-19 appeared in China and started to spread globally, key researchers immediately began developing a new vaccine. In January 2020, the first vaccine had already been drafted by the National Institutes of Health team that included Corbett. Early studies showed promising results and the first human trials started in March, just as many states issued their first lockdown orders.
  3. Worldwide economic impact. Because COVID-19 brought the world economy to a halt, billions of dollars were donated from private and government entities to fund the research and development of the vaccine, significantly decreasing the financial and bureaucratic barriers usually associated with medical research.
  4. Global collaboration. Researchers worldwide collaborated to produce the vaccine quickly and safely. Volunteers lined up in the tens of thousands for the trials. Blacks were still underrepresented, but the gap was smaller than often seen in such studies: Blacks accounted for about 10% of people in the clinical trials but are 12% of the U.S. population. The group was large enough to soundly conclude vaccine safety and effectiveness was similar across racial and ethnic groups.

How the Vaccines Work

So far, two types of vaccines have been developed. To trigger the body’s defense system, one uses a fake, inactive virus, the other uses mRNA proteins. 

Historically, vaccines used an inactivated virus cell to trigger an immune response. That is the strategy the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine employs. A modified version of a different, harmless virus teaches our cells how to fight COVID-19. The coronavirus spike protein is effectively no longer able to attach to our cells. 

“mRNA” stands for Messenger RNA, a string of proteins that the body uses to communicate with our DNA. The dual-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are the first mRNA vaccines to be approved, although the strategy has been in development for about 15 years. In short, the mRNA vaccine teaches the body’s immune system to develop antibodies that fight the coronavirus should the real thing appear. (Note: The vaccine does not alter your DNA, it just instructs it.)

Both kinds of vaccine can cause temporary side effects such as a fever, fatigue, rash and body aches, among others. These symptoms typically last less than two days. They are signs that your body has recognized the vaccine and is learning how to fight to protect you. 

Allergic reactions have been rare, but speak with your doctor if you have had problems with a previous vaccine. Serious adverse reactions have been incredibly rare — only a handful — after more than 80 million people in the United States have received at least one dose. 

Cuban American Olga was initially going to take the vaccine but now has concerns that it could impact her fertility (a claim that has repeatedly been debunked). Since she is younger, she also believes she would handle COVID-19 well enough should she get it. 

My Jamaican nurse friend, Ana, also worried about the potential side effects, but decided to seek vaccination after doing her own research. 

“The worst result of COVID is death and the worst result of the vaccines are adverse effects (which we know are rare),” she said. 

On reflection, Ana recognized how vaccines, such as the BCG vaccine to prevent tuberculosis, have historically improved the lives of Caribbean people. That was first developed in 1921. Knowing that some Black Americans have vaccine hesitancy, she offered this advice, “Look how far we have come — so many significant medical developments. I feel like I should trust now more than then.”

While the new vaccines don’t promise to prevent COVID-19, clinical studies show that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic illness, hospitalization and death. It is not yet clear if people who are vaccinated and become infected can still spread the virus if they do not have symptoms. That is why authorities ask people to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions even after vaccination.

Vaccine Hesitancy and How to Fix It

Black people are four times more likely to be hospitalized and three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people in the United States. Nearly 80% of Black Americans know someone who has been hospitalized by or died from COVID-19. Yet, white Americans are getting immunized at a rate three times higher than Black people in America who still have vaccine hesitancy. 

Some of it has to do with barriers to access, like age limits and lists of “essential” jobs that disproportionately excluded Black people. But some of the gap also is because Black Americans have vaccine hesitancy due to uncertainty about the vaccines and mistrust of the healthcare system. 

Medical atrocities against Black people in the United States, like the government-sponsored Tuskegee Experiment, and everyday health care disparities contribute to the distrust of the medical community.

Black adults who do not want to be vaccinated told the Pew Research Center that their major reasons were:

  • Side effects (84%)
  • Fear about the speed of vaccine development (74%)
  • Uncertainty about how the vaccines work (71%)
  • Prior bad experiences with medical system mistakes (about 50%)

The list included some of the concerns I had, or had heard from others, before I started research for this article. I talked to Dr. Sidney Coupet, a Haitian American, about why vaccine hesitancy runs so deep in Black communities. 

“Healthcare has never treated us well,” Coupet said. “In fact, it has abused us, caused us harm, used us for their benefit.”

Coupet, who also has a master’s degree in public health, dedicated his career to addressing healthcare disparities in our community. He said America needs to take a three-pronged approach to gain the trust of the Black community and limit vaccine hesitancy: Apologize, listen and co-create.

After apologizing for past harms, Coupet believes health professionals need strategies for active, ongoing listening to the Black community about their experiences and concerns. And then they need to collaborate with us to resolve barriers to equitable care.

The Black Coalition Against COVID-19 (BCAC), which is working to provide accurate information and resources, has found that many people, like myself, have adopted what they call the “wait and see” approach. And while BCAC understands that vaccine hesitancy is understandable, the group notes that delayed vaccination jeopardizes our health. 

Dr. Vanessa Cumming, who works in a sickle cell clinic in Jamaica, has seen the divide first-hand. Her patients who are immunocompromised have been anxiously waiting for their chance to be vaccinated. The general population, however, is less trusting. 

“We know that for some semblance of ‘normalcy’ to return, we will need to vaccinate a high percentage of our population,” she said.

If enough people are immunized, we collectively achieve herd immunity. For the world to put this horrendous episode behind us, there are no other options. I hope others can find their way from vaccine hesitancy to optimism, the way I ultimately have on this journey. 

What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines


Government, community, and faith-based leaders join forces to champion the fight against COVID-19

The new year has brought with it more daunting challenges in the African American community’s fight against COVID-19. More transmissible variants of the coronavirus have emerged and are swiftly sweeping their way across the United States. This latest trend in the year-long pandemic is especially troubling for Black people, who are 4 times more likely to be hospitalized and 3 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. Despite these stark numbers, COVID vaccination rates for African Americans are among the lowest of all ethnicities. In fact, February data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that only 5.4% of Black people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine compared to 60% of white people. 

As of March 22, all Florida residents over the age of 50 are eligible to receive the vaccine, and Governor DeSantis has approved eligibility for all individuals 18+ to receive the vaccine starting April 5. However, according to a January poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 43% of African Americans are still reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine; taking a “wait and see” approach to find out how well the vaccine works for other people. 

African American communities are still brimming with mistrust following historical and contemporary experiences of medical discrimination, including the decades-long Tuskegee experiments and the Henrietta Lacks saga. These are just two of many scars that still resonate today and are at the forefront of the Black community’s view of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout through a skeptical lens. 

To share accurate information about COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout with African Americans, the Black Doctors Against COVID-19 (BCAC) hosted a recent Facebook Live event, “Making it Plain: What Black America Needs To Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines,” an episode in an important and informative series which features the nation’s top Black medical experts as well as faith-based and social organization leaders who are keeping Black Americans informed about what we need to know about COVID-19 and vaccines. Here we will be sharing some important insights from that conference. 

Good News Ahead

For the moment, the worst wave of the current coronavirus infections seems to be behind us. According to a recent March report from the CDC, the average number of new COVID cases have declined by almost a whopping 79% compared with the highest peak on January 11. 

Even more good news on the horizon, we now have three vaccines which the FDA has approved for emergency use and which are reported to be safe and very effective(Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson which is a one-shot dose vaccine). 

As America mass vaccinates the population in hopes of continuing to lower infection rates and death totals, Dr. Nunez-Smith, one of the event’s guest speakers and director of the White House’s Health Equity Task Force, said that’s why the Biden Administration is taking the imperative steps to lessen the impact of social determinants which affect Black communities. 

“We have to make sure that vaccinations are free,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said. “That is an important consideration. But vaccination alone is not sufficient. Specific to COVID-19, we have to make sure everyone has equal access to things like testing for COVID.” 

Racial Equality in Vaccine Roll-Out

Also at the center of the issue of equity in the dissemination of COVID vaccines to African Americans is Dr. Helene Gayle, CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. She’s also co-director of the prestigious National Academies of Medicine committee which was commissioned last fall by the CDC to submit recommendations for a framework which will help to determine how the COVID-19 vaccines can be distributed equitably. 

Dr. Gayle noted the framework recognizes that communities of color have been the hardest hit and are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This concern also relates to the impact of racism. Dr. Gayle said this has made the project a landmark undertaking. “It’s the first time that equity has been front and center in title and design of a vaccine rollout,” she said.

However, here are concerns in the Black community that the process of distributing the COVID-19 vaccines needs to be improved. Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, has echoed this uneasiness about the dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccines for African Americans. He says the vaccine distribution strategy relies too heavily on hospitals and chain pharmacies, making it insufficient to get the job done. 

Morial is strongly urging the Biden Administration to make fast and radical changes to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan across the United States. He said a broader approach of having nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants administer the vaccine in community-based sites, schools and libraries would be a more effective and “common sense” solution to getting shots of the COVID-19 vaccines into African American’s arms. 

Fostering Trusting Relationships

Another dilemma regarding COVID-19 is the misinformation, a lack of information and deep-seated mistrust in the Black community regarding the vaccines and the process used to develop them. Morial said this has led to the concern, for some African Americans, that the vaccine development was rushed or that the process is attached to ghosts of the Tuskegee experiments. To confront these concerns, Morial suggests that government, states, counties and cities foster broad engagement, public relations and advertising campaigns to provide Black communities with accurate information, helping to create transparency relating to the vaccines. 

Morial has also noted that it’s key to have the right messengers amplify medical advice and messages about COVID-19 to our communities. “The right messengers are African American physicians, doctors and scientists,” he said. “Those medical professionals who we respect in the Black community, from the Black medical schools, from the Black professional associations, have examined, looked at, reviewed the process and have green lit it.”

As some states continue to struggle with closing the racial gap in the number of COVID-19 vaccinations for African Americans, Black pastors and other faith-based leaders are taking the reins as the respected messengers about the virus in the Black community. 

One of those respected messengers is Reverend Calvin Butts, pastor of the nationally renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York. He is also co-chair of the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan which addresses COVID-19 and other health disparities in Black communities. 

“Our community has been the one that’s been the least informed, often left out and of course manipulated,” Reverend Butts said. “We’re trying to save lives.”

In late-January, Reverend Butts rolled up his left sleeve to get his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, along with his wife Patricia at their historic church, which was New York city’s first church to administer the vaccine. He is continuing to be a champion for the cause. He’s spreading the gospel, encouraging his congregation and other faith-based communities to rise above reluctancy, trust the COVID-19 vaccines and take the “leap of faith” to get vaccinated. This really gives us our best “shot” to stay healthy, combat COVID-19 and the more contagious virus variants and win the war that’s being waged against the virus. 

Darryl Sellers is the Public Relations Director for Creative Marketing Resources, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the BCAC.

For more information about COVID-19, health, wellness and upcoming BCAC Facebook Live events: Black Coalition Against COVID-19, a key health resource for African Americans 

Black Doctor.org, the world’s largest and most comprehensive online health resource specifically targeted to African Americans

Protect Yourself and Others— Get Vaccinated


Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., historian, filmmaker, and intellectual, has recently released an important public service announcement encouraging people in our Black communities to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities against COVID-19.

“Lets protect our lives with vaccines we can trust”— Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Tips for Creating a Casual Summer Wardrobe

Tips for Creating a Casual Summer Wardrobe

Your apparel can make all the difference as to whether you thrive in the summer heat or not. Retailers have found clandestine ways to make their apparel appear summer appropriate, but don’t let them fool you. Adopt these tips for creating a casual summer wardrobe, so you can appreciate clothing options that offer both fashion and function.

Adopt a Style That Incorporates Comfort

Some fashion trends prioritize comfort more than others. Give yourself a more versatile summer repertoire by pulling clothing inspiration from different styles that promote wearer comfort without compromising fashion.

Popular Comfortable Styles

In recent years, athleisure has become a go-to summertime look. The boho style also makes a fierce comeback in the warmer months for its loose and breezy materials. The steps to building a boho look are easy, too, making it an accessible fashion trend even for those who claim they’re the least fashion savvy.

Reconsider Your Shoe Game

A stunning pair of heels might boost your fashion clout… but at what cost? Reconsider how you invest in your shoe game. Do you buy shoes for their durability and comfort or to color coordinate with that one dress you seldom wear?

Prioritize Fashion and Function

Plenty of brands maximize both the fashion and function of their shoes, so you can enjoy a night out without your ankles, shins, or foot arches paying the price. If you’re dying to splurge on a cool pair of kicks that don’t supply comfort, consider using a sole insert to protect your feet from cramping up or blistering when strutting around.

Drop the Purse for a Tote

We can’t round out our tips for creating a casual summer wardrobe without some accessory guidance. Totes make a convenient and charming addition to almost any summer outfit, especially the ones that lack pockets. A cotton tote can typically stow more than a purse, yet totes’ materials are less bulky.

Why Totes Are the Summer Accessory

Because most totes are canvas or cotton, they’re lightweight and commonly offered in a complementary, neutral tone, making them the ultimate laidback accessory. Because these bags have become so popular for everyday wear, you’ll likely find one online with a unique graphic print or design that suits your aesthetic.

Top Tips for Renting Out Your Vacation Home

Top Tips for Renting Out Your Vacation Home

Vacation homes allow individuals to enjoy spontaneous getaways and planned escapes. They are also a worthwhile investment when rented to others. Follow our top tips for renting out your vacation home to enjoy not only a permanent vacation spot but a passive income as well.

Choose How You Will Rent

There are many options for the renting process of a vacation home. Let’s take a look at the top three:

  • VRBO — VRBO offers vacation rental by owner and gives online access for homeowners to place their rental on the site. Therefore, vacationers can search for the perfect vacation rental.
  • Airbnb — This website works quite similarly to VRBO. The difference is Airbnb allows even a room to be rented, whereas VRBO is entire homes.
  • Booking.com — Just like Airbnb, individuals can list any type of rental on this website.

Each site is user friendly and often used by vacationers when heading to their computer in search of a vacation rental.

Property Management

Every rental comes with some cost, even if you own the home. We highly recommend you include a full-service rental property management service in that cost.

Your vacation home is likely far away from where you live. It’s pretty tough to help renters in need who are staying at your island escape in the Caribbean while you’re shoveling snow in your northern home.

A property manager works with you, so the property is watched over and taken care of while meeting the renters’ needs.

Keep the Home Inviting

Of course, you want to design your vacation home to suit your taste. Still, consider creating an inviting atmosphere that remains neutral for all guests to enjoy. Here are some ideas to easily make that happen:

  • Neutral and relaxing wall colors, such as white and light gray
  • Fluffy down comforters and pillows that beckon rest
  • Fully furnished kitchens for cooking gourmet meals
  • Overstuffed couches and chairs that welcome relaxation
  • Flooring material that’s stylish and easy to sweep (especially for beach rentals)

Unfortunately, renting your vacation home means you might have a lack of personal décor and photos. If that’s very important to you, though, consider bringing a few during your vacation time; simply take them down for guests.

Block Off Your Time

After preparing a beautiful vacation home for yourself and others, listing it, and securing management, don’t forget to block off time for you to enjoy the space.

On all vacation home rental sites, the owner can block off time on the calendar when the home is booked. Planning ahead assures you can enjoy your house to the fullest.

In conclusion, use these tips for renting out your vacation home to make the process simple and earn a passive income.

Island SPACE Caribbean Museum Set for Star-Studded Global Launch


Leaders in entertainment, sports, politics, religion join forces to share the Caribbean story in support of Island SPACE Caribbean Museum. 

Plantation, Fla. (May 5, 2021): On June 6, 2021, Island SPACE Caribbean Museum will host its inaugural celebration and fundraiser, Magic at the Museum. A fusion of Caribbean talent, celebrity and storytelling will demonstrate to online and in-person attendees how Island SPACE truly reflects its slogan, “a place where Caribbean cultures unite.”  

The Florida based nonprofit is working to become a destination, on-ground and online, and invites a global audience to log on at 6:00PM EDT for an evening of star-studded excellence. For free virtual access, RSVP at islandspacefl.org/magic. The whole family can enjoy narratives, performances, dramatizations and more from legendary personalities representing countries including Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, The Bahamas and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. South Florida media personality Neki Mohan, of Trinidad, will host the program which promises to be both entertaining and informative. 

“We are taking the dynamic, melodious, suspenseful, delicious, colorful and unlikely story that connects all of us West Indians,” said Calibe Thompson, Island SPACE Executive Director, “and packaging them into a captivating visual presentation. We have enlisted some of the exciting names you know from music, sports, politics and so on to tell the world how awesome we are, in a format with cultural relevance and substance.”

Island SPACE Caribbean Museum
Jamaican actress Makeda Solomon portrays Nanny of the Maroons in a performance for Magic at the Museum | Photo courtesy of Island SPACE

The hybrid event will welcome a worldwide audience online, while a small, select audience will attend the watch party onsite. Viewers are invited to tune in for the antics of the red-carpet opening starting at 5:30 p.m. 

While the event is free, attendees will be asked to donate to the museum as part of the nonprofit’s fundraising initiatives. Corporations are invited to sponsor the event and will benefit from robust marketing opportunities. Packages ranging from $300 to $30,000 will allow for visibility across the diaspora. 

“It takes time, talent and treasure to keep the museum operating and events like these are intended to engage volunteers, supporters and donors,” said board member Tamara Phillipeaux, of Haiti. “It is so exciting to see this space for us. It is a conduit for educating the next generation about their background, common strengths and their potential as citizens of the world, and we must keep it going and growing. We hope to receive donations even before the event and definitely during and after,” she said. 

Haitian American spoken word artist Mecca “Grimo” Marcelin portrays Toussaint L’Ouverture in a performance for Magic at the Museum | Photo courtesy of Island SPACE

Island SPACE Caribbean Museum, located in Plantation, Fla., is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 11:00a.m. through 7:00p.m. and Sundays from 11:00a.m. to 6:00 p.m. General entry fees are $10 per adult and $5 per child. Donations, sponsorships, memberships and volunteer commitments are encouraged. Learn more at islandspacefl.org.

Island SPACE is supported in part by Florida Power & Light Company, Grace Foods, Westfield Broward Mall, the Broward County Cultural Division and the following Funds at the Community Foundation of Broward: Helen and Frank Stoykov Charitable Endowment Fund, David and Francie Horvitz Family Fund, Ann Adams Fund, Mary and Alex Mackenzie Community Impact Fund, Blockbuster Entertainment Unrestricted Fund, Robert E. Dooley Unrestricted Fund for Broward, Harold D. Franks Fund, and Jan Moran Unrestricted Fund. 

Island Society for the Promotion of Artistic and Cultural Education (Island SPACE) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of arts, culture, history, and educational initiatives that represent the Caribbean region, in South Florida and the broader diaspora community. 

Start Prioritizing Radical Self-Care Work With These Easy Steps


“Doing this kind of radical self-care work is sometimes perceived as being selfish only because we have constructed our personal wellness as being somehow outside of the pursuit for justice. That false distinction is probably the biggest lie we can tell ourselves. We have to know that being well is a right and not a privilege.”

– Dr. Fatimah Jackson Best

Now, more than ever, a cacophony of distractions pulls on our attention, making it difficult to focus on ourselves: from social media, computers and cellular devices to work, social justice issues and our interpersonal relationships. At its simplest, radical self-care work is about finding ways to ride these waves of life and not get lost in the undertow. The Crisis and Trauma Institute in Canada defines self-care as “all the things you do to take care of your well-being in four key dimensions — your emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual health.” Most of us need to do more of this.

Commercialized Comforts

Radical self-care work

In a 1988 essay titled “Burst of Light,” writer and activist Audre Lorde put forward the notion of radical self-care work while famously declaring, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

She further articulates that self-care has become synonymous with self-indulgence and the idea has been commercialized. Lately, even cosmetic surgeries are being marketed as an expression of self-love, as are the sale of cosmetic serums, spa visits, home decor and corsets. Although there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a luxury item or experience, what Lorde meant went deeper. 

In broaching the idea of self-care as a revolutionary act, she was speaking specifically about people of color and the way we ought to treat ourselves. In her estimation, for too long, people of color have been made to put others first, to their own detriment. Whether we choose to continue prioritizing others or not, in order to survive and thrive we must put in the work to first take care of ourselves.

It Takes Hard Work to Rest Well

Dr. Fatimah Jackson Best, a public health researcher from Canada who specializes in mental health and centers Caribbean communities in her work, emphasizes what she refers to as “The Actual Work of Care.” While, she explains, it means different things to different people, the narrow definition of radical self-care work as a pricey tangible like a spa-day or expensive treatment can disillusion those with limited disposable income.

“We know that these kinds of self-care techniques do not pay attention to class, access, and the privilege of being able to seek out care in these ways and that excludes many women,” she said.

Radical self-care work

Instead, an act of self-care may be as simple as the ability to find beauty in decay, the way an artist appreciates the rich russets and bronze tones in fall leaves. Approaching self-care from an elemental perspective — earth, water, fire, air — ask yourself how you can balance those elements within. Do you need to take a trip to the ocean, or can you create a similar experience in your bath, soaking in warm, mineral-rich water as you immerse yourself in your tub? Can you simply step outside to appreciate the warmth of the sun and breeze caressing your skin? 

Perhaps, this is where radical self-care work really begins — having the audacity to claim the air we breathe as a gift and not a commodity.

Cultivate Your Own Healthy Self-Care Practices

Giving yourself permission to feel all your feelings, and finding healthy ways to manage those feelings, is self-care. You are allowed to be hopeful, joyful and cranky at the same time. That’s called mindfulness, one of many tools you can use to cultivate your own self-care routines. Here’s a list of other practices you can try as you build your arsenal:

  • Set reminders on your phone to find joy, find something to laugh about or take a break to breathe deeply.
  • Run some warm water over your hands, or splash some cool water on your face.
  • Keep a gratitude journal where you write down 10 things you’re grateful for upon rising and at least five things you’re grateful for before you go to bed. 
  • Setting up simple spaces or personal sanctuaries with images of loved ones, things that inspire you or remind you of goals you aspire to achieve. 
  • Get a pet that you can afford to take care of monetarily and time wise.
  • Create inspirational playlists on YouTube with your favorite teachers, music, poetry, artists and comedians. 
  • Journal using prompts that you find online, in books, in magazines or from your own intuition. One prompt from Iyanla Vanzant’s book “Acts of Faith” that you might try is, “If you had to tell someone in 10 words or less what you stand for in life, what would you say?”
  • Get a daily inspirational book to read from first thing in the morning. It’s a great way to set the tone for your day.

The Best Professional Interior Design Tips for Creating a Multi-Purpose Home

Photography: Ariel Camilo

In this past year, many of us retreated into our homes, reimagining both their purpose and their possibilities. The home is now much more than a place to gather with friends and family after a long week at the office; it is the office. And a classroom. And the gym. And the art studio. And the coffee shop. We spoke with interior designer, Maryline Damour of Damour Drake, for professional interior design tips on how you can revamp your space to function the way you need it to, while still looking the way you want it to. 

Maryline Damour of Damour Drake

Good interior design, she said, reflects the best of yourself back at you. Commit to yourself and what you love, and you’ll find the right style.

One of her professional interior design tips is to “live in a surrounding that really reflects who you are, not just aesthetically, but also in terms of your mood,” she said. “Are you the person that is energized and go-go-go? Your space should reflect that!” 

We talked to her about three multipurpose rooms that could inspire updates in your own home.

Statement Workspace

With schools and workplaces shifting online, the home had to become both. That is why Damour and her senior designer, Mel Jones Jr., crafted this blended home office and classroom for their Kingston Design Showhouse in Hudson Valley, New York. With its bright colors, intricate details, and overall sophisticated design, this room pleases children and adults alike. 

professional interior design tips
Photography: Ariel Camilo

She adamantly pushed back on the suggestion that children and adults need to be separated. “Whether you are an adult or child, the room serves the same purpose: work,” said Damour. 

Beyond the functional details, she wanted to create a space rooted in what the world was dealing with at the time. In addition to the disruptions of COVID-19, 2020 was also defined by historical social movements

Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Damour adds beautiful colors and textures that reflect her Caribbean background to every room she designs. However, the unique green wallpaper in this room tells a different story. 

Created by famous African American designer, Sheila Bridges, this “Harlem Toile” wallpaper was chosen in an ode to the Black Lives Matter movement. The wallpaper features African American children and adults playing Double Dutch, dancing, and picnicking — blending the traditional toile style with contemporary experiences.

To complement the intentional wall, Damour chose a bright blue paint for the ceiling and colorful splashes of Haitian artwork throughout the room. One of her best professional interior design tips is to remain confident in your style. “If you are confident in your aesthetic, show that confidence by repeating it over and over. That’s what makes it impactful. And that’s what makes it look intentional.”

Moody Blue Office

Photography: Maryline Damour

Set in a Victorian building that hosts the Damour Drake team’s professional office, this railroad apartment showcases a deep blue shade of paint on the walls, a traditional rug on the floor, modern open shelving and personal trinkets from Damour’s life. 

Architecturally, the room is windowless and fairly dark. Instead of attempting to slather some white paint on it to make it lighter and brighter, Damour worked with what she had. By giving in to the room’s inherent moodiness, the adjacent room appears even brighter and more airy while giving this room its own juxtaposed character and charm. 

Not sure where to start in a room? Another one of her classic professional interior design tips is to “do what the room is telling you to do,” she said. 

This home office also proves it takes more than a big desk and a swivel chair to design a truly functional, inspiring workspace. Instead of forcing the aesthetic of the traditional, this room should reflect your personal style just as much as the rest of your home. 

“One of the mistakes people make is when thinking about a home office, they don’t design it like the rest of the spaces,” Damour said. 

Beautiful artwork dons the walls of Damour’s office, but that is simple. By using her own pieces, she could showcase her design abilities and personal aesthetic.  As an homage to her roots and celebration of her culture, a paper mache zebra from Haiti is mounted above a hanging collection of her colorful rulers.  “That was a moment where I was able to do a little bit of an installation of my own,” Damour said. 

Photography: Maryline Damour

One of her professional interior design tips is to play around with different textures, patterns, and colors in the same space to create something wholly unique. The use of bold color and modern, boxy pieces, like the clean lines of the shelves, help a whimsical antique or something as simple as a ruler stand out even more.

Zen Retreat

professional interior design tips
Photography: Rikki Snyder

Many of us have struggled to relax and recharge in homes that have become crowded with so many other purposes. Damour offered this Hudson Valley Mediation and Yoga room as an example of creating an intentional, but still multifunctional, space to retreat.

The clients offered this room on the bottom floor of their townhouse, asking Damour to create “something very calm and meditative.” 

She was adamant about not bringing in Asian or Indian references that are stereotypical of a yoga room. Instead, she focused on the calm and peacefulness she wanted the room to emulate. 

professional interior design tips
Photography: Rikki Snyder

She drew inspiration from a Japanese psychotherapy practice that sends people into the woods to lower their blood pressure and heart rate, reducing their stress level by interacting with nature. To capture that same feeling in this room, Damour worked with an artist who created a huge installation piece of greenery to convey a canopy of leaves. 

“It was interesting to watch people come in. They stopped talking, and that’s the point, you know,” Damour said. “When you’re surrounded and just taken by nature. You’re just kind of being.”

Senior Designer Mel Jones, Jr., who doubles as a furniture maker, created the room’s unique, low sofa. Paint-splattered meditation pillows line the floor, adding a pop of color that still blends with the room’s predominant natural tones. 

As an added feature, Damour’s team converted a small closet into a single person sauna. 

Photography: Rikki Snyder

How a North Miami Councilwoman is Leading Through Crisis


Mary Estimé-Irvin describes herself first as a single mother then as a community advocate, entrepreneur and, importantly, as the North Miami councilwoman elected to represent the people of District 3. She was sworn in at the Veterans Memorial at Griffing Park on June 11, 2019, excited for plans to focus on affordable housing initiatives, improve infrastructure, increase services for seniors and develop youth programs. 

She also is the only Black woman and the only Haitian-American woman on the current city council. 

“I’m just so proud that little girls that look like me know someone represents them,” she said. “I’m here to represent everyone that lives in my district and I serve everyone that lives here. But there’s just something special about when someone looks like you and understands your culture, regardless of gender.” 

Leading Through Crisis

Eight months after joining the council, COVID hit. 

“We just had to reimagine the way we did things,” Estimé-Irvin said. “Immediately I started serving our seniors, our most vulnerable, making sure that they had food, reassuring them. Calling my constituents in general and educating people. One of the first things that we did was provide relief [because people were] not working and businesses were closed. We immediately provided millions of dollars for housing relief, for mortgage relief, for small business relief — especially essential businesses.”

Although Estimé-Irvin and the entire city council had to pivot their 2020 plans because of the pandemic, she speaks glowingly about several of achievements. She sponsored an ordinance to create the North Miami Youth Council, which has offered several seminars such as one about college readiness. “Leadership is important,” she said. “And making sure our kids know what we’re going through is important.” She also served as the commissioner of the Community Redevelopment Agency, sponsored the ordinance to establish the first Women’s Commission in North Miami and sponsored a resolution to attract tech businesses to the city.

The North Miami councilwoman sees the city as a cultural melting pot. While there’s a high population of Haitian Americans, she represents Hispanics, Caribbean people and people from all walks of life. The area’s diversity also inspires her work. Multiculturalism, she said, should be attractive to tech businesses from California and elsewhere who are looking for new headquarter locations. So, she recently sponsored a resolution to actively work on creating favorable conditions for these entities in North Miami. She believes the city is ideally located between both major South Florida airports and is ripe with skilled job seekers, making this opportunity a win-win for both businesses and locals.

The Women’s Commission, which has not yet finalized its leadership, “would basically look at every aspect of life in the city of North Miami.” 

“They are an advisory board to the mayor, [which is necessary because] women’s issues are everyone’s issues,” Estimé-Irvin said.

The Significance of Haitian Heritage

This spring, recognizing Women’s History Month in March and Haitian Heritage Month in May, Estimé-Irvin reflected on the significance of her current position, her heritage and her journey there. 

Her parents, both medical professionals, immigrated to New York before she was born because of turmoil on the island. At the time, Haitian licenses were not recognized in the United States, so they started by working odd jobs. Her mother, a dental hygienist in Haiti later became a certified nursing assistant in the U.S. Her father worked as an orthopedic technician and later became a licensed practical nurse. 

“My parents worked really hard,”she said. “My mother decided to move here, very near to North Miami, because it reminded her more of Haiti. Even though I was born in this country, I live like I was born in Haiti. It’s the pride, it’s the culture. When you come to a land of opportunity, it’s just [about] taking advantage [of your circumstances] and being a better citizen.”

It is important, too, she said to stay connected with her Caribbean roots. She is heartened to see future generations continuing Haitian traditions in Miami.

North Miami Councilwoman
North Miami Councilwoman Mary Estimé-Irvin, Photo: David I. Muir

“May 18th is Haitian Flag Day. It is so nice to see all the young people, even though they were not born in the country, embracing their culture, eating the griot and the banann pézé — that’s fried pork and fried plantains. They are listening to compas, learning about their history, proud that we were the first Black country in the western hemisphere to have independence in 1804,” she said “That’s something we really take pride in.”

Around the same time the community hosts Haitian Compas Festival, drawing diverse crowds from all over the city and state. In North Miami, the celebrations of Haitian contributions to the world start earlier, typically on May 1.  

“It’s usually a big event,” she said. “You get to see the beautiful art, the dancing, the food. It’s a good time for us.”

Along with her son Patrick, who is her pride and joy, Estimé-Irvin’s parents now live with her. The importance of family has been close at heart since her mother was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, the North Miami councilwoman is acutely aware that March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, too. In her elected position, she’s begun advocating for early cancer screenings. 

“We just need to take better care of ourselves, especially in the Caribbean [community]. Take the time out,” she said. “If anyone had cancer in your family, just go ahead and take precautions.”

What’s next for the North Miami councilwoman? 

She’ll continue to partner with county, state and federal officials to better serve the city of North Miami. As she completes her current term and gears up for a new election, the focus remains on vaccinating North Miami residents and continuing on her original path. 

“More workforce housing, infrastructure dollars, economic development, better programs for our youth, programs for our seniors and just making North Miami a better place to work, live, learn and play,” she said.

Meet the Miami Mayor Leading with Humility


“I learned something in politics. You may have power, but don’t abuse it. You can have the majority, but you need to please the minority at the same time. What you want is compromise so everyone can be heard. You need balance in order to create stability.”

North Miami Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime is a thoughtful leader who combines a businessman’s approach to governance with a humanitarian spirit toward his constituents. He’s guided the city through and to the other side of the 2020 pandemic. Now, after eight years on the dais and two years at the helm, Bien-Aime is seeking a second term as mayor. Island Origins spoke with him about his background, civic service and plans for the future.

A Persistent Spirit

Born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Bien-Aime became interested in government after visiting agricultural fairs with his father in his youth and interacting with the political class at these events. 

While Bien-Aime was a high school student, Haiti was experiencing political turmoil. During the Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier dictatorship, dissenting politicians were being jailed. “That’s when I started raising questions,” he said. He chose to study government and politics in college because he realized that’s how he could effect change. “When you see someone being arrested for his beliefs, that’s not right and that’s not freedom. People should be able to express themselves.”

A moment that stands out in his memory is when the government of Haiti sent many journalists into exile in 1983. Haitians were standing up and asking controversial president Duvalier to leave the country. 

“I remember when the pope went to Haiti and said [that] something needs to change. President Jimmy Carter went to Haiti and did a conference about human rights,” Bien-Aime recalled. “Those two big moments made me say ‘Okay, I have to step up and be a journalist.’”

Deciding early on that he wanted to be on the side of the people, Bien-Aime studied at the National University of Haiti and later went to Lavale University in Canada to study political and social sciences. By 1995, he had moved back to Haiti, become a journalist at one of the country’s top radio stations and was a young congressional candidate. After an unsuccessful run, he headed to South Florida to be with his wife and kids.

Though Bien-Aime started his new life in South Florida working paycheck to paycheck as a security officer, his aspirational spirit would not allow him to settle. He accumulated some savings and decided to pursue the American dream, becoming an entrepreneur. By 1998 he had opened a 99-cent store. Later, he got into the car sales business, eventually opening his own dealership. All the while his focus never left politics, he said. He was giving to political leaders and engaged in political groups to empower the North Miami community. His influence had grown enough that, through campaigning and fundraising efforts, he was able to help elect the first Black mayor of North Miami.

After deciding to become even more involved, Bien-Aime ran for a seat on the North Miami city council in 2013. He won. 

“For him, in this community, the people come first. That’s his passion,” said his wife, Sarah. “He’s really doing it for the people.”

He was elected vice mayor by the council during his first term. When the mayor needed to step down, Bien-Aime moved into the role of interim mayor from May to November 2015. 

“He stepped forward and he served in that capacity, at the time when the city was in crisis and needed a leader,” said Leonie Hermantin, an international community development consultant and professional associate of Bien-Aime.

He promised not to run for mayor after this first term, opting to take things step by step.

“He kept his word that he was not going to run and was widely recognized and celebrated because of that,” Hermantin said. “He stabilized things; he did it with grace; he did it with humility; and I think that’s why he was so appreciated.”

After his interim term ended and another candidate served as mayor for four years, it was finally Bien-Aime’s moment. He faced four other candidates in his first run for North Miami’s highest office — and he won. 

“My first mission in North Miami was to stabilize the city,” he said. “As of today, I can tell you I made [North Miami] a city for everyone.”

Representational Leadership

Philippe Bien-Aime has been a long term student of social sciences studying culture and people, which has helped him build consensus in a diverse community.

“Managing multiple cultures is not an easy task. You will never agree with someone 100% of the time.” he said. “That’s why, as a leader, I’ve learned my mission is to be an example for everybody.”

Hermantin was impressed by Bien-Aime the first time she met him. Her confidence in him grew as she saw more of his work.

”This person is different,” she remembers thinking. “When I heard him speak to parents about their responsibilities… he was being real, and they respected him for that. And the business community likes him, too. He’s able to work with both sides of the aisle. That’s what made me feel that he has the right tools to serve his community.”

In his mayoral role, Bien-Aime spearheaded several infrastructure improvements, mindful of the 20% of residents who live under the poverty line and the seniors who live on fixed incomes. Many single-family homes needed to be repaired, and so did city infrastructure. He asked himself, “How are we going to increase property values when you have dilapidated homes in our district? Do we send code enforcement, or do we bring assistance to the people?”

He decided to invest millions of dollars into home rehabilitation. 

“Not only do we bring assistance to those people,” he said, “but we also increase the property value and tax billing [for the city].” 

Throughout his tenure on city council, Bien-Aime said one of his top priorities was maintaining a healthy city budget, which would support assistance programs for people in need, improvements to city infrastructure, and initiatives addressing climate change and sea level rise.

Hermantin recalls how focused he was during 2020 Census activities, wanting to make sure people were counted so the community would receive appropriate government funding in the future. 

“I have never seen any mayor as devoted and committed to getting people counted in the city of North Miami,” she said. “I mean, he was on every radio station. It was very personal for him.” 

On climate change, Bien-Aime was proud that the city planted a record number of trees during his tenure. North Miami also was one of the first cities to ban the use of toxic pesticides on government land. 

Bien-Aime’s team at the city planned to add at least 1,500 affordable housing units, but the pandemic knocked everything out of order. Ever the pragmatist, Biene-Aime said, “When there’s a crisis, that’s when your leadership starts.”

On March 12, 2020 the government declared a state of emergency. The next day, the city of North Miami followed suit. Under his guidance, funding from the community redevelopment agency went to the residences and businesses who were most affected by the challenges of the pandemic. Following scientific recommendations, they were able to decrease the rate of infection in the city. Officials also set up food banks where needed “to offer assistance to small businesses, those mom and pop stores, the landlords and the tenants.” 

“Now,” Bien-Aime said. “We are making sure that everyone who needs the vaccine has access to it.”

Hermantin lauded his response to the pandemic, particularly how Bien-Aime’s administration sought to make its assistance accessible to everyone in the community.

“Some of the strategies to help people were really grounded on culturally sensitive approaches,” she said. “When everybody went remote, the city of North Miami was almost a hybrid operation because they understood people would not have access to the internet or the tools that most municipalities can rely on to communicate with their constituents.

“So they did a lot of drive-thrus. When they had their rental assistance, they provided in person assistance when needed. To assist with PPP [Paycheck Protection Program], they also partnered with organizations that could help them reach out to their business people, particularly those with less sophisticated tools.”

Family Man

Miami Mayor
Photo: David I. Muir

Bien-Aime and his wife Sarah met and fell in love in Haiti, although not all at once. As a nine-year-old, she had a crush on him, but he was 10 years her senior so it would be many years before he felt the same. They reconnected as adults and have been together ever since. 

“He’s a loving man, a loving father,” said Sarah, who beams when talking about her husband’s strengths as a protector and provider. “[Our three kids] all went to private school. I never [had to take] my kids to school, never [had to wake] up in the morning to get them ready. He even cooks breakfast for them.”

During his first run for councilman, she wasn’t as involved in campaigning because the kids were so young. During the mayoral race, however, Sarah quit her nursing job and canvased for him full time.

Their  kids are all grown up now. One child plays collegiate football, another is just about to graduate college, and a third plays football in high school. So far, two have shown interest in following in his political footsteps.

Looking to the Future

His affordable housing vision, delayed by the pandemic, is now beginning to come to life. 

One development underway will add more than 300 government-subsidized affordable units. More are scheduled to follow. Because these projects will require water and sewer upgrades, the broader neighborhoods will benefit from updated infrastructure, too. 

Over the next two years, in the new term he hopes to earn, Bien-Aime plans to keep increasing property values while lowering taxes. He’ll focus on economic growth and job creation, and continue to improve the quality of life of his residents. He would like to see the 7.2 acres of land at Cagney Park revitalized, including the addition of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“The plan is to make sure we have a balanced budget with surplus,” Bien-Aime said. “That’s why I’m running again in the middle of a pandemic. We need leadership to keep moving the city forward, and that’s what I put on the table.”

Meet The Uplifting South Florida Community Program Changing Lives

South Florida community program, Gang Alternative

“If it wasn’t for GA, I would probably be in jail or dead.” 

These words are the reflection of one young man about South Florida community program, Gang Alternative Inc. (GA), getting to the heart of why the group’s services are an important refuge and resource for many in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. As an all-encompassing outreach and social service program, GA is saving lives. In 2020 alone, its services benefited nearly 15,000 people in 83 ZIP codes. 

The nonprofit evolved from a former church ministry following a pattern of high crime in Miami in the late 1980s. Incorporated in 2005, GA has evolved into a wrap-around service provider that develops resources to dismantle the “gang mentality” that controls individuals and families in South Florida’s inner-city communities. 

South Florida community program, Gang Alternative Inc.
Image courtesy of Gang Alternative

Where possible, GA takes the approach of intervening with positive influence early on. Twenty-five programs on the organization’s current roster give participants the tools they need to improve life skills and build healthier relationships. This South Florida community program also offers reform programs and behavioral health services like therapy and trauma recovery. Beyond the initial interactions, they consistently develop and introduce intuitive services that support youth and families in implementing the skills taught through their programs.

South Florida community program, Gang Alternative Inc.
Image courtesy of Gang Alternative

“If it wasn’t for GA, I wouldn’t be focused on school,” said a young woman who described the organization as a safe haven. “ I wouldn’t have resources, and I wouldn’t have a family I could come to whenever I need to talk to someone.”

To change destructive mindsets of youth and young adults and to improve their home environments, GA works with people of various ages and their families in a holistic way. Aside from workforce development for the participant, they focus on broader issues like family strengthening, health knowledge and many other services. 

Gang Alternative, Inc. is more than just hope for the better. They have numerous success stories that prove their programs work. 

“GA helped me to stop being a follower and become a leader,” said one person who now gives advice to other communities. 

To donate, volunteer or learn more about Gang Alternative, Inc., the South Florida community program changing lives, visit MyGA.org.