Genesis Lee-Smith: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Genesis Lee-Smith is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Business with a concentration in Management Information Systems. Lee-Smith has always been into the arts and strives to combine her creative skills with her knowledge in order to inspire and help others. She is passionate about improving the lives of those around her based on her values and beliefs. Originally from Georgia, Lee-Smith decided to move out of her small hometown to the city of Miami in order to step into a world that was different from what she was used to in the suburbs of Georgia.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Why Not Allow Love?” by Genesis Lee-Smith of Florida International University on August 31, 2022.

“Where Love Lies”, taken by Genesis Lee-Smith / CC by 4.0

The lives of William Wagner and his wife Eveline Aimar touched my heart based on their love for each other and those around them. Their kindness and love broke boundaries and walls for others. Their love painted life in such a beautiful way because they did not get caught up in the opinions of those who tried to ban their love. 

William Wagner, a man of fair skin, was from Germany. He effortlessly chose love for Eveline Aimar, a light brown woman from Creole. No matter the laws or boundaries of that time period, here in the city now known as Miami, they both chose to love rather than discriminate or get caught up in what other people thought. They chose love by quieting out the negative voices of those around them.

Together they raised three kids, one daughter that they shared and two of Eveline’s sons. They were known to be a family that was willing to open their doors and let people in. The Wagner family did not disguise their odds of love by hiding away or removing themselves from others. Instead, they opened their home to those around them. They willingly opened their doors no matter the consequences that they were bound to face. 

One story about the loving Wagner family that stood out to me was the story of them inviting some of the Indians over to their place for a meal. This story stood out to me because, during this period in the 1800’s, most people groups mingled within themselves. This image of the Wagner family, a white German man, a light skin Creole woman, a mixed daughter, two Creole boys, and Indians paints a diverse color palette of humans simply enjoying each other’s company without getting caught up in race or things that do not matter. They were humans simply enjoying the company of other humans. There was not any pride of any other race in this situation. They just welcomed everyone fully. 

Whenever I hear stories like this, it inspires me to stand on what I believe instead of letting those around me try to switch my views. The Wagner’s believed in love and chose love over anything else. Their love never caused harm to anyone else even though it caused harm to them. They faced discrimination and their son was murdered because of the hate people had toward the Wagner family all because they chose to love outside of their race.

This story also touched my heart because I grew up in a mixed household from the age of three. My stepdad is Puerto Rican with fair skin and my man is light skin brown. I also have two mixed brothers. Years after the Wagner story, people still say ignorant things now. Not because they are trying to be offensive, but simply because they are used to hanging around only people that look like them. Some cultures are different from others and it is beautiful to see how other cultures do some aspects of life differently and how some cultures are similar. 

I can not imagine growing up in my family during the time of the Wagner’s. I think that life would be completely different. It makes me wonder if my parents would still choose love at that time. Would they be willing to put their lives and my siblings’ life on the line so that their story of love could inspire others later on in life?

Wagner’s bravery to choose love and quiet the voices around them left a legacy that impacted my life many years later. Their love story was not just created for them but created for those to later be impacted by their story.

Overtown as Text

“Disrupted Peace” by Genesis Lee-Smith of Florida International University on September 25, 2022.

“Place of Peace”, taken and put together by Genesis Lee-Smith // CC by 4.0

As I walk through the history of Overtown, I imagine the things that blacks found their hope in during the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Being a minority race, they had to find something that brought them joy and peace with all the ruckus and racism surrounding their everyday lives. I picture them in Overtown at Lyric theater excited to see performers and excited to listen to music they loved. I picture them smiling, dancing, and singing along as a way to block out the terror of the rest of the world for just a moment. I picture them in church fully relying on God and singing hymns of praise. I picture them in these moments full of joy. Able to ignore the damaged world for just a moment.

Once I heard that the peace of blacks was destroyed in Overtown because of the construction of the two interstates of I-95 and I-395, it shattered my heart. It shattered my heart because all the places that brought them joy and peace were purposely interrupted by the busy streets of the newly constructed interstates. Those interstates separated blacks from each other and cut a line through their neighborhoods. They cut a line through what they called home. It was another way to purposely separate people. With constant noise and pollution, it became hard for blacks to live in Overtown. There were already limits on where they could live and enjoy life, but the construction of the interstate kept stripping away their communities.

As we walked around Overtown and stood outside of churches, I could hear the constant noise from the busyness of the streets. Most of the noise from the interstate came from I-95 located directly by the church “Mount Zion.” There were cars honking. People revving their engines. People blaring music. Just constant noise to disrupt what was once known as a town where blacks were forced to go and could collectively live together.

As I heard Wendell, the man who showed us Greater Bethel, explain how the church was stripped apart because of the construction in Overtown, it really broke my heart. It was mind-blowing to me that that church had speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X speak at the church. It is mind-blowing that the room used to be packed all the way to the balcony. Now, it is just a small local church that has decreased in size because of construction. This story hit home to me the most because I know that some people, especially blacks during that time, attended church because they could not find hope in the cruel world. They ran to Jesus because their hope was in Him. The church was a place of communion for them. The church was home. Yet, it was stripped apart. The construction of the interstates destroyed homes and made it difficult for them to actually focus with all of the outside noise.

To this day, Overtown is still being destroyed. Overtown is still being split apart. Condominiums are being built right in the heart of what some people know as home.

Even though, with all of the craziness of the world and the deconstruction of Overtown by the construction of interstates, I hope that blacks at the time of construction were still able to find a place to express their joy and peace. I hope that they still found a place to smile, sing, and dance in peace. I hope that they still found a place to worship God. Even though their homes and places, temporary things, were destroyed, I hope they still found a place of communion. Their homes and everything else could be taken away, but who they were deep down inside could not. I hope that the joy and peace they had while singing, dancing, and praising, never left them.

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