Samantha Johnson: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Faith Tullier //CC by 4.o

Samantha Johnson is a 19-year old junior at Florida International University. She was the youngest at her high school graduation and graduated at 16. She later graduated from Indian River State College with her Associates Degree. Samantha is currently studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to one day achieve not only a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.

Downtown as Text

Downtown Miami.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Walking on History”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami, September 8, 2021.

Miami is rich with history. From the Tequesta who have lived here since its origin, to the railroad being built by Henry Flagler, Miami has faced many changes and diversity.

The Tequesta people had been living in Florida for generations. It is thought that they had lived in South Florida for over 2,000 years. They were one of the first tribes to settle in South Florida and settled in the Biscayne Bay area. They lived along the Miami River, and the chief lived at the mouth of the river. They lived here from about 500 BCE through Spanish colonization until about 1763.  

Miami was founded by Julia Tuttle who lived in the area. She was a rich woman and ran orange groves on her land. In 1894-1895, there was a major freeze that killed off most of the citrus in Florida, but not in Miami. At the same time, Henry Flagler was constructing his railroad to transport citrus to the northern states. The freeze impacted his business immensely and he was later sent a few oranges from Julia Tuttle with the invitation to extend his railroad down to Miami.

When Henry Flagler made the deal with Julia Tuttle to come to Miami, part of the deal was to make a hotel. They decided to build the Royal Palm Hotel. They had to level the mound of an ancient burial ground for construction to begin. The clearing for the hotel began in 1896, and it opened in January of 1897. When the mound was there, it used to face the Miami Circle. The Miami Circle is a source of many archeological findings. It contains many different Tequesta artifacts including shell, stone, bone, and pottery. It is also thought to have been the place where a Tequesta hut was once standing.

Lummus Park is the oldest public park in Miami. It was established in 1909, and holds both the home of William Wagner, and the slave quarters from Fort Dallas. Both of these buildings had been relocated from their original locations because they were going to be demolished. Mary Brickell Park contains the mausoleum of the Brickell family, and now allows visitors to walk through the park with their dogs.

What made the most impact on me when we were walking through Downtown was the realization that we were walking on sacred and hallowed ground. I thought that Downtown Miami was mesmerizing but learning about the history behind it left me with an eerie feeling. From walking through Lummus Park, to walking through Mary Brickell Park, and just through the city itself it all felt wrong knowing what had occurred there. I was in awe of the buildings because I have never lived in such a big city, but learning about the history it felt wrong. It astounds me how there is an archeological site that is now underneath a Whole Foods.

I am a superstitious person by nature and knowing that we had been walking through and walking by ancient burial grounds got underneath my skin. I just kept feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Burial grounds are considered sacred because that’s where people bury their family, friends, loved ones of all kinds. If someone were to go around and disturbing these places nowadays, they would be in trouble, but this did not occur back then. I will never understand how someone could trade precious history and burial sites of someone else’s people just to make a profit. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a different people used to live there and had buried their people there. It really saddens me to think about it, but I am not surprised. People will always more about making a profit for themselves than other people, and I truly believe that this is where we have failed as a people. Downtown Miami is just one sign of this, but it has happened all around the world. I just hope that future generations will learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones we did.

Overtown as Text

Overtown – a history.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Misconceptions in History”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Overtown, September 29, 2021

When moving to Miami, I was told to avoid certain neighborhoods because they “are not safe” or “that’s not a side of town you want to be in”, etc. I never questioned this because it was either my parents or my grandparents telling me these things, and they had lived down here for most of their lives. My parents grew up in Hialeah and my grandparents currently reside in Pembroke Pines, and when I mentioned to them that I would be visiting Overtown for class, there was just silence. Then the lecture came, “don’t wander off”, “make sure to stay with your group” and even “that isn’t a good part of town”.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I was caught by surprise. Overtown was beautiful, different, and just stunning overall. I had never walked through a town that has such deep roots and scars from their history, or if I did, I never realized it before. I believe that it is the misconceptions of this town and the history of this town that lead to the concepts and fears that people link to it.

This all relates back to the concept of segregation and racism that the people of Overtown experienced. Overtown was founded in 1896, and was originally called Colored Town. It was created around the time that Henry Flagler was bringing the railroad to Miami. It was built during the time of Jim Crow Laws, and the rules and regulations in the town were created due to these laws.

The Jim Crow Laws were used as a way to control the African American community. They were used all around the country at the time, but in Miami they were used to create Colored Town. It was originally built for the African Americans that were employed by Henry Flagler when he was building his railroad, but it was later used as a community for its Black residents and was a neighborhood that they were forced to reside in.

The most interesting thing to me was when we met members of the oldest black churches in Miami. The members of Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church talked to us about how important the churches are to the community. Both churches were important to the Civil Rights Movement, and Martin Luther King Jr even spoke at Greater Bethel. His speech here was the start of SCLC’s (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) Crusade for Citizenship. There are members of the church that were there the day that he spoke, and we were able to stand where he stood on that day in 1958. They are able to speak about the impact that this interaction had on them, and it was incredible to hear their story and to know that part of history.

After going to these places and talking to the members of the community, I realized that there are a lot of misconceptions about this neighborhood. The people who live here were so welcoming and were happy to tell us about the history of Overtown. I wish we had more time to talk to them and to see more of the city. It made me realize that the things I had been told were outdated. These ideas are from a time where people weren’t openminded, and had made assumptions about he people living in Overtown without knowing any better. This caused the extreme levels of racism and segregation that occurred in this city, and I have come to realize that this is how it starts around the world as well. I now wonder what other places have this stereotype about them and why this may have occurred.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya – architecture and sculptures.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Cultural Appropriation or Ignorance”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, October 20, 2021.

Vizcaya was built in 1912 by James Deering, who envisioned it as a place to live and restore his health. Deering named this place “Vizcaya” to honor both Spain and the Biscayne Bay on which Vizcaya is located. He was greatly interested in landscaping and plant conservation, which helped with the vision as well. He hired both Paul Chaflin and Diego Suarez to help bring his vision to life. Chaflin was his Artistic Director and Suarez was the Landscape Architect. As you are walking through both the house and the gardens, you can see the Spanish, Italian, and French influence. You can clearly see how these different cultures have made their way into Vizcaya and have become part of its character.

When you are first walking around the grounds, you see statues of Ponce de Leon and Belvizcaya. They are carved out of stone and have a distinct Roman feeling to them; they resemble the carvings that would’ve been seen around the city and are like those of the Greek and Roman gods in that manner. 

When you start heading down towards the house, you see an archway that clearly has Roman influence in it. It has shields and helmets which date back to the wars from this era and makes you wonder if it is appropriate for it to be shown in someone’s house. Inside the house there is a statue of Dionysus (The Greek god of wine and ecstasy) welcoming you into the home. This tells you a lot about James Deering himself and how his house is used for parties and makes me wonder if he knew who this god was and what he represented or if he just liked that he was holding wine and decided to use it in the fountain.

Later when walking through the gardens you will encounter a fountain that looks like it was plucked out of the middle of a French Square. It doesn’t make sense to be in Miami, and yet it fits in with the bizarre atmosphere of the whole area. Another section of the garden has a maze that closely resembles the Labyrinth in Greek mythology. In mythology the Labyrinth was created by Daedalus and was used to contain the mythological creature the minotaur.

After walking through Vizcaya, through the gardens and all the available rooms in the house, I got to thinking about how different the atmosphere is everywhere you walk. James Deering seems like any billionaire nowadays, where they see something they want and they have enough money to buy it, and then they do whatever they want with it. This feels like a form of cultural appropriation since Deering has adopted all these different symbols and themes seen around the grounds.

Mythology is important because it reflects on past civilizations and allows us to learn about them and how they lived. Knowing that James Deering just thought it looked cool completely takes away the importance of mythology and why it even exists. As with the Roman arch, knowing that the symbols on it were used for people who were involved in the war to respect them, and then using them on the arch because it went with the theme without knowing what they were used for is just another inappropriate way that they have been integrated into society.

I have come to realize that when this happens, most people don’t know that they are disrespecting these cultures. I think that as a society we should learn more about these different cultures so that it doesn’t seem like we are stealing or disrespecting their beliefs. I know that this is hard to do 100% of the time, but when it comes to buying things for your mansion or your home, I feel like you should at least know the meaning behind it. I wonder what other places are like this around the country, and am continuously shocked that someplace so beautiful can have such a dark history.

South Beach as Text

South Beach – beauty and inspiration.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Strong Women Empower Women”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at South Beach, Miami, November 3, 2021.

South Beach is one of the most popular places to visit in Miami, and rightly so. It is a beautiful area with a unique atmosphere, it is truly remarkable. The designs of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern, are unlike anything I have ever seen. It was all so unique, and you can see why it is so popular amongst tourists.

As many people know, I am studying sustainability for my degree, and I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that South Beach was once a mangrove forest. It is a barrier island set between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and was essential to the Seminoles who lived here at the time and was also important to marine life because mangroves are estuaries. When Carl Fisher began development of Miami Beach, it caused the destruction of the mangrove forests on the island to occur and has led to many of the environmental issues that Miami Beach is facing today.

However, this isn’t what stood out to me. I wasn’t surprised to learn that this area had experienced environmental degradation in order to become what it is today. I was most inspired by the other woman of Miami who made an impact on this city. Miami is well-known for being influenced by strong women. Julia Tuttle is known for being essentially founding Miami, but now we have Barbara Baer Capitman in Miami Beach.

Barbara Baer Capitman is known for founding the Miami Design Preservation League in 1977. The Miami Design Preservation League is an organization that “preserves, protects, and promotes, the architectural, cultural, social, and environmental integrity of Miami Beach and the surrounding areas. It’s sole purpose is to fight to protect and preserve the neighborhood that makes South Beach, South Beach. By 1979, the National Register of Historic Places listed a square-mile Art Deco district on its register. Capitman died in 1990, but in her time, she had devoted her life to preserving this neighborhood, and I think that is so impressive and inspiring.

Learning about Barbara Capitman has just shown me even more how one person can make a difference. Seeing what she has done and knowing that if she hadn’t stood up for this place that it would have been demolished and replaced with skyscrapers just shows how impressive she is. The Art Deco district is beautiful and thriving due to her efforts to protect it, and just caring enough to even want to save this beautiful place. For her it wasn’t about the money, it was just about keeping the neighborhood as it was, and I think that is amazing.

I aspire to be someone who makes a difference. Learning about these powerful women in Miami makes me strive for this goal even more. I don’t want fame or fortune; I just want to be remembered for doing my best and making a difference. I love learning about people that our history books have left out. Before this class, I had never heard about half the people we have talked about, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have shaped this community. Capitman strived to protect what she loved, and that is what I want to do as well. I can’t wait to learn more about these incredible people, and hope to one day have my name up on that list as well.

Deering as Text

Deering Estate- a Natural Bliss.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.o

“Escape from Reality”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Deering Estate, November 17, 2021.

The Deering Estate is one of the only places in Miami that shows how it was before urbanization and industrialization. It still contains all of the Aspects that Miami had before it was called Miami, before Flagler brought his railroad down, before Vizcaya was built, and before everything else that happened on this land.

It is made up of 8 distinct ecosystems including: beach dunes, Biscayne seagrass, hardwood hammock, pine rocklands, mangrove forest, slough, slough remnant, and the salt marsh. The Deering Estate stewards 120 acres of pine rocklands. The pine rocklands used to encompass over 186,000 acres, but nowadays they only cover 2% of their historical range. The largest intact section that remains encompasses less than 4,000 acres in Long Pine Key, within the Everglades National Park. The Deering Estate is devoted to preserving and protecting these natural ecosystems and the native plants and wildlife that live within them.

The Deering Estate is also home to the Cutler Fossil Site and the Cutler Burial Mound. The Cutler Fossil Site was excavated in the 1980s and is considered to still be an active site. It has revealed a Paleo-Indian shelter and bones from the megafauna (animals/organisms) that lived here during this time in the era known as the Pleistocene Era when sea levels were much lower than they are currently. The Cutler Burial Mound is one of the few remaining prehistoric mounds in Miami-Dade County. The mound is about 40 by 20 feet at its base and is about 5 feet high. It is believed to contain 12-18 burials of the Tequesta peoples. (*DISCLAIMER*: These areas are not open to the public! You need permission from the Deering Estate to visit, they provide guided tours to the Cutler Burial Mound if you go to their website!)

As a sustainability major, this was one of my favorite trips in this class so far. It is so important to keep these natural places in the environment when industrialization is threatening to take them all away. I love how even in Miami, a city that is so busy and constantly changing with the times, that there are places like the Deering Estate that you can go to that take you back to a time where any of this ever existed. The Deering Estate is located on the Biscayne Bay, but it is in an industrialized neighborhood. Just down the road there is a Starbucks and a Subway, and it is crazy to think about these things when you are in the Estate. Just being here takes all of your worries away and brings you back to your foundations. It helps you connect to the land and the people who lived here before you, and this is something that not many people are able to experience. Just by standing in this area where the Tequesta people stood and lived, made me realize once again just how finite life is. It is so important to be able to be a part of something like this, to be able to bring yourself back to nature and take away all of your worries in this life. Life is more than work or school, and being able to go here, just helped me reconnect to life and what it means to be alive, as cheesy as that may sound.

Rubell as Text

Exhibitions in the Rubell Museum.
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Something More”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Rubell Museum, November 24, 2021.

The Rubell Museum (previously called the Rubell Family Collection) was created by Don and Mera Rubell. The Rubell family has been collecting art for the past 54 years. Their collection consists of 7,200 works by more than 1,000 artists, and they are continuously adding to it.

We had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Rubell herself. When asked about which piece was her favorite, she explained that it is a nearly impossible question, like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. She continued by describing how during different periods of her life, she has had different pieces that mean more to her than others, but it isn’t necessarily her “favorite”. She said that it depends on what is going on in her life, and I think that it’s beautiful that she sees her life in the pieces that she collects. She described how the exhibit that relates to her life the most right now is the candle exhibit in the front room. She described it as both candles representing her and her husband, and how the candles are on different tracks in life, they still intertwine in the middle. This meant a lot to me because it just helps to relate to how even though you and your significant other may be on different walks in life, you can still make it work because your lives will overlap at one point or another. I think that it is a beautiful representation of how life works in mysterious ways and brings you to the people you are meant to be with.

Before this trip, I had never truly understood the concept of contemporary art, it never stood out to me. I never found something that drew my attention away from everything that I had been worrying about that morning, until I came here. I loved having the opportunity to hear from Mrs. Rubell herself but being able to immerse myself into the works of Yayoi Kusama was by far my favorite part of the day. Both the “Lets Survive Together” (the infinity mirrored room) and “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” exhibits were so mesmerizing. I loved the how the mere 30 seconds that I spent in both exhibits felt like a lifetime, I didn’t want to leave. The “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” exhibit completely took my breath away as I felt like I was standing in the stars. It was these exhibits that made me realize that art isn’t just something that is for art majors, but it can be enjoyed by everyone. I truly feel like they connected me to something bigger, and I would do anything to have spent longer in these rooms.

Untitled as Text

Untitled Art Fair – South Beach Miami.
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Untitled Art Miami Beach, December 1, 2021.

Untitled Art is “An innovative and inclusive platform for discovering contemporary art. It balances intellectual integrity with cutting-edge experimentation, refreshing the standard fair model by embracing a unique curatorial approach.”.

It was founded in 2012 by Jeff Lawson. This year there are over 145 international galleries and organizations featured. Not only do they have these international galleries, but they also connect the best of contemporary art with live events and artist performances and are expected to have more than 40,000 attendees during Miami Art Week.

While walking around the art fair, I realized just how much it made sense that we have this in Miami. Miami is such a rich and diverse community with many different peoples and cultures. It is something that you won’t find in any other city, it’s just “Miami”. It is so much more than a city where people party all the time or drive fancy cars, it is full of people from so many different backgrounds

Just how each piece is different, so is every person that lives here. Every piece has its own story and background, and some may not make sense to you but will make sense to someone else instead. Each piece is original and makes sense in its own country or culture, but they also make sense here in a completely different area amongst other pieces that are amazing in their own way. I loved seeing how the art from Ghana as bizarre as it may have been, made sense when placed next to that of France or Miami. They were all different, but when put together under the same roof it was all Art, there were no differences.

I think that this is what not only drew me to Miami, but to contemporary art as well. I never thought I would be living in a big city, much less the place my parents moved away from, but the more I researched FIU and the more I have learned since I moved here, it is a decision that will change my life forever. I link this to contemporary art because I had never understood the concept of contemporary art before this class, but after seeing how everyone has different ideas and they are all so beautiful in their own way, I am more interested in it than ever before and I want to take the time to go to more art fairs and museums in the future. I think that it is incredible how one trip made me see art differently, and I love how I am connecting this to the city that once stressed me out, but I am now so over my head in love with.

Everglades as Text

Everglades National Park
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0.


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Everglades National Park, January 12, 2022.

The Everglades National Park is a critically important ecosystem in South Florida. It is an hour drive away from the craziness of Miami and entering it can only be described as entering another world.

It encompasses exactly what South Florida used to be before industrialization. It is a beautiful landscape that encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitat and is one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. It is home to about 40 threatened species, 300 fish species, 50 species of reptiles, 300 species of birds, and 40 species of mammals, including the American Alligator which is a keystone species and the invasive Burmese Python.

One of the most important communities in the Everglades is that of the Periphyton. Periphyton at first glance doesn’t look like much, but it is essential to life in the Everglades. It is a community of organisms including cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates, algae, fungi, microbes, plant detritus, and small invertebrates. As a primary producer it is the foundation of the food chain and is essential for the primary consumers that live there. It also creates a habitat for many small creatures including worms, insects, and even eggs, on its surface or inside it. Periphyton is also especially important because it is excellent at absorbing water, so during the dry season animals will still be able to use it as a source of water after all the water around it has dried up.

We walked through the Cypress Dome as well, which is also important to this ecosystem. It is home for many species of wading birds, fish, orchids, and air plants, and it is also where alligator holes may be found. Cypress domes are so interesting because it is made up of Bald Cypress trees, and the oldest trees are found in the center while the young ones are found on the outskirts. In the middle of the dome the water is deepest because the ground will start to give away under the oldest trees, and Cypress trees can’t survive in that deep of water so it will continue to deepen as the older trees begin to die off. This is also when alligator holes begin to form. Alligator holes are important to wading birds and fish especially during the dry season because it is one of the only places where water is stored during this time, which is what makes alligators a keystone species.

This all just brings me back concept of home. When I think of home, I am tossed between my home where my parents are, my dorm where I currently reside, or I often think of my relationships because when I’m with them I feel at home regardless of where we may be. Home is different for everyone, but the characteristics are the same, it’s somewhere where you are safe and protected, have shelter, food, and water, and perhaps are surrounded by your loved ones. The Everglades has all these aspects for the species that live in it, and it feels this way for me as well.

When I am here, I feel completely at peace, like I am at home. Even though I am far away from my parents and those I love, I love being here because it is just another part of me. I love being able to go to these places and to connect with them. We took a moment in the Prairie to find a spot and just stand in silence for a minute, and it was so calming. Hearing all the sounds of the birds, feeling the rush of the wind, and the sogginess of my shoes was oddly comforting, and I would do anything to go back and do this again. It is so important to connect to the environment and whenever I can do this I just feel at ease, and I can’t explain it any better than being at “home”.

Coral Gables as Text

Coral Gables – “the City Beautiful”
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“More than Words”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Coral Gables, January 26, 2022.

What stood out to me the most on this trip, was not only the controversial past with its founder George Merrick, but just how the whole neighborhood went together. From the architecture of the Biltmore to the Books & Books that was once a clinic, Miracle Mile, and the Coral Gables Museum which was originally the fire department, there was something new to look at around every corner and a story behind everything.

Coral Gables was founded in 1925 by George Merrick. He wanted the city to be attractive to both businesses and residents. When speaking to his salesman he would say “Remember that what you are selling here is not just land. It is not just a piece of ground on which to put a house. What you are really selling is romance, the stars, the moon, the tropics, the wind off the blue water and the perfume of flowers that never grew in northern climates.”

While walking around the city, I was surprised at how different it was from other parts of Miami that I have been to, but also how similar it was in relation to Vizcaya and South Beach. Merrick was greatly influenced by James Deering’s Vizcaya and Charles Deering’s House. The area is filled with wide, tree-lined avenues that are named after Spanish and Italian towns. Most of the buildings were built in Mediterranean Revival, which is what Merrick took from Mexico and Central America, and contains plazas, parks, and fountains. Even though this is something I wouldn’t normally expect to see, I wasn’t surprised that it is in Miami.

We made a visit to the Biltmore, and as beautiful as it was inside, my favorite part of walking through Coral Gables was walking down Miracle Mile. I loved how it was made so pedestrians could walk through at a distance away from the cars. It was very charming and unlike anything I had seen at home. Miracle Mile is an outdoor shopping mall with over 150 ground floor businesses and hundreds more upper-level office spaces. My favorite part were the signs made by Hank Willis Thomas named “The truth is I welcome you“. It features “messages of truth” translated into 22 different languages. Each sign contains a line from the Truth Poem written by Hank Willis Thomas and Ryan Alexiev. The phrases of the poem “showcase universal statements about the human condition and the translations communicate the essence of each English statement, as opposed to a direct interpretation”. I thought that they were beautiful, and they resonated with me in way that I can’t explain.

River of Grass as Text

Nike Missile Site and the Everglades.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Everglades National Park, February 16, 2022.

This trip to the Everglades was different. We hiked through and saw two of the oldest structures in the Everglades, but what stood out to me on this trip was our stop at the Nike Missile Site.

The Nike Missile Site was completed in 1965 in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This was the closest the U.S. ever came to a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. The site includes: three missile basins, a missile assembly building, a guard dog kennel, barracks, and 2 Nike Hercules missiles.

By the time the site had finished construction in 1965, it had 22 buildings and 18 surface-to-air Nike missiles. The site was fully functional from 1965-1979 and remains virtually the same today as it did in 1979. It was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2004.

What fascinates me about this whole thing, is how President Kennedy handles the situation. Even though they were in the face of war, he kept his cool and made his decisions based on his prior experiences. He knew what it had been like to be in war, and he didn’t want to do that again. He was mocked for insisting on using a blockade, but if he had not done this, he would have started a nuclear war. If he had allowed his troops to invade, they would have encountered over 10,000 Soviet troops and would have been massacred.

All I can do is compare this to what is currently occurring between Russia and All I can do is compare this to what is currently occurring between Russia and Ukraine. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we were under different administration? Would we have sent troops over already? Would we still be watching and waiting? I have listened to people say that we should be backing up Ukraine already and have troops over there defending them, or that we should’ve bombed Russia while we had the upper hand. I don’t know how this is going to play out, none of us do, but I can’t help but wonder how we will be portrayed in history books in 50 years or so. What will future generations learn about this event, will they be learning it as WW3 or another event that could’ve led to WW3 but didn’t? As terrifying as it is, I know that it will depend on the decisions of our world leaders, and I hope that they will look back on the past to make their decisions because at this point, we are just reliving history all over again.

Wynwood as Text

Wynwood – A collection.
Bottom left photo taken by Professor Bailly, all others taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0.


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Wynwood, February 23, 2022.

Wynwood is an eccentric neighborhood home to many art galleries, retail stores, antique shops, bars, restaurants, and most importantly open-air street art. It is recognized as a destination for “art, fashion, innovation, and creative enterprise”. It is one of the largest creative communities in the United States.

In the mid-late 1900s, Wynwood was a hub for Caribbean immigrants and housed Miami’s Garment District. In the early 2000s, developers and property owners renovated old warehouses, factories, and other buildings into the businesses that are still standing today.

Wynwood is popular for its restaurants including Panther Coffee and Zak the Baker (bottom right picture). There are also popular bars and stores in the area, but Wynwood is best known as “A hub for contemporary and street art”. There are more than 70 galleries which sell pieces at all prices.

One of the most popular spots in Wynwood is Wynwood Walls. Wynwood Walls opened during Art Basel 2009. It was made possible by Tony Goldman who came with the simple idea of: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place”. He wanted to create a center that people would be drawn to and want to explore. Goldman also believed that graffiti and street art were under appreciated and not respected historically, and he wanted to change that. Since Wynwood Walls was founded, it has seen hundreds of artists representing different countries and has covered over 80,000 square feet of walls.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting this neighborhood. I had been to the Design District before, but when asking my parents about Wynwood before I went with class, they weren’t sure what I was talking about even though they used to live down here. I was pleasantly surprised and blown away at how different this neighborhood was than others I had visited with this class.

Although I didn’t take many pictures while walking through Wynwood, I, like so many others before me was stunned by the street art. I wish I had taken more time and care to take more pictures this day, but the great thing about living in Miami is I can go back whenever I want. I will make plans in the future to go to Wynwood Walls and visit the different restaurants in the area as well.

Key Biscayne as Text

Bill Baggs State Park
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0.

“Giving Back”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park, March 16, 2022.

Bill Baggs State Park is located at the tip of Key Biscayne and is just 15 minutes from the hustle and bustle that is Downtown Miami. It is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse which was built in 1825, and has an immense amount of history surrounding it. It is the oldest structure in Miami-Dade County, and has almost 200 years of history within its walls.

After being built in 1825, it was later damaged during the Second Seminole War and was rebuilt in 1846. It remains the oldest standing structure to this day. We had the opportunity to climb up the lighthouse and see the incredible views from the top while also learning about the history, and although this was fascinating my favorite part of the day is what we did after.

After lunch, we participated in an exotic species cleanup. Exotic species are species that are those that are human introduced. There are exotic non-invasive which are those that do not present a danger to the environment, humans, or the economy, and exotic invasive which present a harm directly to humans or the economy or to the ecology of the environment.

The species we removed goes by many names, they are called Devils backbone, mother of millions, and alligator plant. They are currently found in only one area of the park, so they although they are exotic species, they are currently not taking over and can be managed by park rangers and volunteers who come out and remove the plants.

When we went to the park, most of these plants were in bloom, which made them easy to identify by their large stalk with red flowers that rose high above the plants themselves. They were easy to remove as well, but even though we spent over an hour in the location that they are found, there were easily hundreds of plants still there and the complete eradication of the species will take years to complete, if it can ever be accomplished.

This was my favorite part of the day because even though it was manual labor and it was hot out, I felt good knowing that I was doing some good for the environment. I love being out in nature, and since my major is Sustainability, we have done a lot of talks and lectures about invasive species and the like. Being able to go out and do something about this issue was extremely rewarding because I felt like I was making a difference, and that is everything I want to accomplish with my degree. I can’t wait to go back and do this again when I am able to, and hope that I will have this opportunity soon.

Coconut Grove as Text

Coconut Grove.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Everything Changes”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Coconut Grove, March 30, 2022.

When we went walking through Coconut Grove with class, we visited two different churches and a cemetery. They were all beautiful and breathtaking, and although people don’t normally say that about a cemetery, I felt a real connection when walking through there and can only say that it was incredible to experience.

We went to the Coconut Grove Cemetery first. It was first used as a cemetery in the early 1900s, when the Bahamians who lived here relocated their prior cemetery to this location. It is connected to the “Grove Bahamian Cemetery” which is now called the Charlotte Jane Memorial Cemetery in honor of E.W.F. Stirrup’s wife. Something weird but cool about the cemetery is that they filmed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” here! The same statue that’s in the video is in the cemetery, and although that doesn’t sit very well with me, it is certainly interesting. The cemetery also has 12 “head-and-shoulder” stones, which can only be found in Miami-Dade County. Today the cemetery is cared for by the Coconut Grove Cemetery Association.

The Christ Episcopal Church was founded by West Indian churchmen that wanted their church to be rich in Bahamian culture. They had their first meeting on March 24th, 1901, in the home of two of the founders, and the founding members were Mr. & Mrs. E.W.F. Stirrup, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Roberts, Mrs. Lula Reddick, Mrs. Catherine Anderson and Mr. Azariah Sawyer. On December 20, 1901, Bishop William C. Gray visited and officially organized the congregation officially known as Christ Episcopal Church.

At the Christ Episcopal Church, I was deeply moved by the stained-glass pieces that they had. I had never seen stained glass that was not depicted with the traditional sense. I thought it was fascinating that one of the pieces had Martin Luther King Jr. in it, and how another one that they had included their saints as women. I think that we often get hung up in the “traditional values” (Not that I’m saying those are wrong) and are not open to the fact that we don’t know what Christ looked like, or any of his followers.

I find it fascinating that another neighborhood in Miami has Bahamian influence, and it feels like nobody truly knows about the history behind it. I feel like this does not do the people who lived here or their families any justice. When we visited the Christ Episcopal Church, the volunteer met with us told Professor Bailly who later relayed to us, that she is originally from Coconut Grove, but she had to move from the area due to the increase in taxes in the area, and that she now lives in Homestead. She has family in the Bahamian Cemetery, and her family has been involved in the church for generations, and she now must drive over an hour to go to the church where she volunteers and grew up in. This is honestly really saddening, and I know that her story is one that is not only shared across the community, but throughout the U.S. I was deeply touched when Professor Bailly told us about this, but I feel like that just shows even more how much of an influence this community has on its people, and people need to know about the history behind these areas instead of watching them get turned into completely different neighborhoods than they were before.

Author: SamanthaJ

I am a junior at Florida International University studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. I love the beach and am passionate about the environment.

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