Imani Woodin: Miami Service Spring 2022

Student Bio

Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.


I volunteered with my classmates at The Deering Estate, one of the few remaining Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) in Miami-Dade County. We were brought out by the one and only John Bailly and allowed free entrance from the Estate because of our volunteer work.

We first arrived to the site as a tribe of Miami in Miami students, but we later floated off into our mini groups. I stayed with 4 other people who wandered with me to pick up drifted pieces of plastic, which I am very grateful as the journey was not easy.


Although I am not the most environmental person on paper, I love any activity that takes place outside. This cleanup was a great way to explore Florida’s natural wilderness while helping the natural habitat. I don’t know down to the details why plastic is bad for the environment, just knowing that it’s a problem is enough to have me get down into the wilderness (even if I have to dodge hundreds of spiders along the way).


I was lucky enough to be a part of the Miami in Miami class as an FIU Honors College student and this was our activity on the last day of class.


Fallen boardwalk at Deering Estate

The original intention for our class day was to kayak to an island off of the Deering Estate and cleanup there. The reason we didn’t go was because of choppy water, however I feel lucky that the day went this way because I got to discover a natural area like I’d never seen before.

In the morning of April 20 our class was politely standing on the lawn of the Deering Estate, eager to see what was in store for the day. We were led Professor Bailly who opened a gate for us and showed us the fallen boardwalk pictured above. “It was destroyed during Hurricane Irma in 2017.” He told us.

Our immediate thought was do we have to pick up the fallen wood? But thankfully, the answer was no, we were there to pick up the more dangerous pollutant: plastic.

Unfortunately for this blog but fortunately for the environment, I did not bring my phone out with me while cleaning up. This was because I knew I was going to get down and grimy and losing my phone wasn’t worth it. While cleaning the area, everyone in my group fell down multiple times… Claudia (our TA) even lost her shoes in the swamp. But nothing stopped us from gathering the scattered trash.

I found water bottles, shoes, plastic bags, fallen signs, and other miscellaneous pieces of junk while out there. My team was ambitious in our endeavors, as we went far beyond the fallen boardwalk, however we didn’t realize how far we were until we had to turn back. The hardest part about returning wasn’t finding directions, but escaping the invisible maze of the hundreds of spiders and their webs that hung between the mangrove trees. Did one of my team members have spiders crawl on her? Yes? Will I say who? No, Claudia would get too embarrassed. But after a long guessing game and lots of stress, we found our way back to safety with 7 full trash bags.

Paola’s white converse after the swamp.



The mangroves of the deering estate

The day of the excursion, I was ready to clean up, but I didn’t know how much of an adventure this trip was going to be. I am so glad I got to clean the area with other people from the class and share this experience with them. It was refreshing to be outside and feel the lull of the wind while using my hands to clean Mother Nature and I can’t wait until I get to do it all over again.

Imani Woodin: Surfside, Spring 2022

Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.


Surfside is a town in Northern Miami Beach, Miami-Dade county. It is bordered on the south by the touristic North Beach neighborhood; north by an upscale neighborhood, Bal Harbor; and west by the small town of Bay Harbor Islands. As detailed in the map on the left, Surfside extends from 87th St to 96th st and is marked by signs that welcome you in.

 Surfside sign on Harding and 96 st. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

The natural landscape in Surfside and the rest of Miami Beach was removed in its development. Contrary to popular belief, Miami Beach is not supposed to have sand (it’s imported from the Bahamas!), what originally occupied this space were mangroves. Now, the most nature to be seen are palm trees that line the streets. The closest natural area is the beautiful Beach Oceanside Park in North Beach.


The Surf Club in 1931 from

The first to call the area that is now called Surfside home was the Native American Tequesta tribe. The first evidence of their village and burial mound was found during the 1923 clearing of the land by the Tatum Brothers who platted Surfside to build a large subdivision. They were attracted to the beautiful beach and the prominent social life in the area, as it was home to the illustrious Surf Club. Where, in addition to the parties, the club offered an assortment of entertainment options including extravagant musicals and balls, games such as bingo and bridge, elaborate luncheons with poolside fashion shows and an assortment of other high-profile soirees hosted by the club (George). 

The residential area built by the Tatum Brothers served as home for 50 residents when in 1935 the town of Surfside was incorporated. The population boomed following World War II and single family homes, apartment buildings and condominiums started popping up. Collins Ave was the most desirable area, as it was once filled with small apartment complexes and beachside motels before today’s skyscrapers were built. A victim of this change is the Surf Club which was bought by the Four Seasons.

Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, Surfside, Florida uploaded by Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, Surfside, Florida.


According to the census, Surfside had a population of 5,725 in 2019. 86.4% of the population is white and of that white population, 53.6% is white alone while 44.9% is hispanic or latino. 4.3% have two or more races and 0.7% is asian. The median household income in 2020 was $57,775 while the median value of owner-occupied housing units was $619,300 and median gross rent was $1,631. 55% of the population is female.

When walking through the neighborhood, it is obvious that you are in a majority jewish area. Cultural differences come through in subtle ways, you might catch someone reading a book in Hebrew, or notice how the population is dressed more conservatively than in the rest of Miami-Dade County.


Paulo Sufrediné is a retired engineer who has had a beach apartment in Surfside since 2002 and started living there permanently in 2015. I spoke to him at the Surfside Tennis Center, across the street from where the condominium collapsed almost a year ago.

Imani: “What’s your favorite restaurant in Surfside?”

Paulo: “My favorite is Café Ragazzi on 95th and Harding. It’s the best one here. An Italian restaurant.”

Imani: “Has Surfside changed since you started living here?”

Paulo: “Quite a bit. It’s much more crowded. The traffic is chaotic.”

Imani: “Were you here the day the building collapsed?”

Paulo: “Yes I was. I was sleeping so I did not hear [it], but lots of people in my building did, one of them was my son. He went to my bedroom to tell me what happened.”

Imani: “Do you remember that day?”

Paulo: “Clearly. I remember at 5:00 in the morning that day because it was chaotic and very traumatizing.”

Imani: “How long did it take for them to clear it”

Paulo: “Somewhere between 2 and 3 months”

Imani: “Do you think the incident poses a threat to the other residents here?”

Paulo: “No.”

Imani: “You think it was just that building?”

Paulo: “Absolutely. Buildings don’t fall like that. It was very strange.”


Surfside is home to the natural landmark of the beach, the economic landmark of Harding Avenue, and the tragic landmark of the Chaplain towers.

Surfside Beach

Surfside Beach around 6:30pm by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Surfside is home to a one-mile long stretch of sand and Atlantic. The beach is much more mellow than other areas in south Miami Beach and is one of the few natural areas of Surfside. It’s fit for any type of activity, whether you want to chill out or work out, Surfside Beach is the place to be.

Harding Ave

You haven’t been to Surfside until you’ve walked through Harding Avenue. Some would say that it’s heart of the neighborhood- most of the markets, restaurants, and businesses call this street home. If you ever want to visit the places I mention below, you can park on 94th and Harding across from Publix for less than $2 an hour. Walking the street here cultural experience I’d never had before. I highly suggest taking a trip.

Champlain Towers

Champlain Towers on June 25, 2021 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The skeleton of the Champlain Towers April 2022 by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

I can’t talk about Surfside without mentioning the partial-collapse of the 12- story condominium on June 24, 2021. After standing for nearly four decades, one wing of the building simply caved in.

The skeleton of the towers is at the entrance of Surfside and is covered by a fence. There’s an odd calm in the area. There’s no way you can visit without thinking of all the lives lost and families impacted.


Surfside Tennis Center

Surfside Tennis Center by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

Located on 88th st and Harding in south Surfside, the Tennis Center is a quaint place to sit under some trees or walk your dog, but the bustle of Collins Ave takes away from the ease of the nature. True to its name, there’s also a tennis court in the park that you can use by reservation.

Notably, there is a memorial on the wall as an ode to the condominium collapse which happened across the street.

The memorial of the 98 victims who lost their lives at the Champlain Towers South.

96th Street park

Picture of 96th street park by Imani Woodin

Located in north Surfside, 96th street park is the perfect place for locals to clear their head or to let their kids run their energy off. Amenities include an athletic field, 2 playground areas, basketball courts, a handball/tennis wall, and a restroom facility.

Paws Up Dog Park

Paws Up Dog Park by

If you are ever in Surfside with your furry friend, Paws Up is the perfect place for them to run free. Located at the corner of Byron Avenue and 93rd Street, the park opens daily at Sunrise and closes at 8 p.m


The main mode of transportation is the car, of course, however commutes have become trickier in the last few years along with the population increase. According to a number of locals, parking has gotten harder but the amount of parking spaces remains the same.

Other than that, I took note of more mopeds and bicycles than I usually see in the rest of Dade County. This is probably because locals live by most places that they need to go, and it’s also cheaper.

In terms of public transit, the 120 and S bus runs through the area. You can get anywhere by bus here, it may just require a few transfers.


Something I learned at Surfside was that in Kosher eating (a Jewish diet), dairy and meat are consumed separately. If you ask someone for a restaurant suggestion, the first question they ask is “meat or dairy?”

kosh sushi grill

One example of a meat restaurant is Kosh. They have a calm dining environment with outdoor and indoor seating. On my visit, I had a delicious, well prepared sushi. Everything that is in a typical sushi roll that might disrupt a kosher diet, such as shrimp or cream cheese, is imitation. I would definitely recommend this restaurant, just be ready to spend (if you’re on a college budget)!


For dairy, Failkoff’s is the place to go. Compared to the other food joints in the area, this is the most casual (and affordable) option. Their limited menu was refreshing, as they only serve pizza with regular sauce, pizza with spicy(ish) sauce, and french fries.


Serendipity is another great Kosher dairy place to try! The rocky road is delicious and their pastel theme is super cute.


The grove

If there is one place I love in Surfside, it’s the Grove. If you or another friend have never been out of the country, this is a great place to experience what a supermarket outside of America looks like. As you can see on the middle right picture, all the brands that are sold at the Grove aren’t the typical ones that you’d see at Walmart- everything is Kosher. The magazines, as you can see on the middle left picture, are in completely different languages and are about topics that are completely foreign to me. The best part was the pastry area. Everything was baked in house, is affordably priced and DELICIOUS. Even the corn muffin (bottom of the bottom picture) was mouthwatering. 10/10 experience.

Miami beach chocolates

A great local business that deserves more love is Miami Beach Chocolates. You can go in and have a bite of your favorite kind of chocolates, buy a premade box of chocolates for that special someone, or order a large order for an office party. They even sell wine that can be paired with any type of chocolate you can imagine.

Tsniout runway

Tsniout Runway is the place to go if you’re looking for the latest fashion. The boutique is one of its kind and sells modest clothes.


Third Thursday at Surfside by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

Visiting and getting to know more about Surfside was a treasure. There are many cool events that are thrown there by the town (check out for more info)- just like the Third Thursday event pictured above. The area, however, does feel overdeveloped as there’s so little nature, and the skyscrapers on Collins Ave really took away the old-towny feel. Overall it was such a unique place to learn about and see. I really hope you get a pastry at the Grove next time you’re in the area.

Works Cited

Al-Jamea, Albright, Blaskey, Conarck, Handley, Leibowitz, Newcomb. House of Cards: How decades of problems converged the night Chamlain Towers fell. Dec 30, 2021. Miami Herald.

George, Paul. History of the Town of Surfside. March 30, 2020.

Town of Surfside. Home. Parks and Recreation. Parks Information.

Imani Woodin: Buena Vista 2021


Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.


The southernmost part of Buena Vista begins about 45 blocks from the northernmost point of downtown Miami and about four blocks from the northernmost part of Wynwood. 

Photo by Open Street Map (photo leads to link)

Buena Vista, according to City Data is bounded by NW 54th St to the north, I-195 to the south, I-95 to the west, and Biscayne Boulevard to the east. However, this definition includes the Design District, which many would argue has taken a life of its own. While the Design District’s luxurious shops sit right next to Buena Vista, you wouldn’t find the same kids who play football in their front yards at Louis Vuitton. 

The working geographical location of Buena Vista gives it an L shape. It has the same parameters as the City Data but excludes the area of N 36 st to the south, N 43rd St to the north, W first Ave to the west and Biscayne Boulevard to the east.

Photo by Metro Atlantic (photo leads to link)
Plants in Buena Vista. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The area sits at an average of 23 feet above sea level, which is high compared to many other sections of Miami. Because of this difference in altitude, the plant life here is a little different than that of a neighborhood that sits closer to the coast, such as Bayside, allowing for taller, bushier trees to grow.

While the neighborhood is mostly residential, there is a strong artistic influence from Wynwood, the art district neighboring Buena Vista.


In the 1890s, Buena Vista was a small village whose founding and growth paralleled Miami’s . Originally home to many “cracker” immigrants from southern states such as Georgia and North Carolina, the neighborhood soon became popular with the owners of nearby businesses. (Historic Preservation Miami)

During the early to mid 1920s, which is now known as the ‘land boom’ in Florida, those who were both strategic and well-off sniffed the Buena Vista area out. As Rodney Kite Powell writes: “with very little money down, one could purchase a great deal of land, then turn around and sell it for a profit without ever making a mortgage payment.” (Tampa Pix)

A developer who saw the potential in the Buena Vista area and around the rest state of Florida was David P. Davis. He bought land one to two miles from Miami City Hall for $165 a piece and upsold them for $275 later. (USF Digital Commons).

Once Davis started to buy and sell land, Buena Vista continued to expand. The vibrancy of this newfound community still radiates through the streets to this day.


The total population of Buena Vista is 6,453, according to Point 2. 52% of the population is female and 48% is male with a median age of 36 years old. 3,509 of the residents are US born citizens while the other 2,944 are either not citizens or are foreign born citizens. 76.55% of the population are white collar workers and 23.45% are blue collar workers.

There are a total of 2,215 households, 1,258 family households, and 958 non-family households with an average of 3 people per household. Only 29.62% of the households have children. The average household income is $58,487 and the median household income is $47,142.

According to City Data, 44% of Buena Vistans are Black, 39% are Hispanic, 10% are white non-hispanic, 2.7% are Asian, 1.8% are two or more races, 1.6% are ‘some other race’ and 0.8% are Pacific Islanders.

Within the population is a small yet vibrant group of LGBT youth who have taken the neighborhood and have made it their own.

I met Sabrina Johnson at a party she threw in the area this summer. She was extremely welcoming and personable so I asked her to do an interview about her experience in the neighborhood.

Selfie by Sabrina Johnson CC 4.0
  • Where did you grow up?
    • “I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin but I came to Buena Vista in 2017”
  • Do you identify as queer?
    • “Yes, I identify as queer, trans, fem, and then nothing at all.”
  • What was it like growing up as a queer individual?
    • “I was never able to hide myself, but I would always be told to lower it down, but growing older I was able to exude my confidence of being a queer person without making people feel some type of way about it.”
  • What was it like coming to Buena Vista? Did you feel more accepted here?
    • “It was a little easier to find work here at the time and Milwaukee had a ways to go.” 
  • What type of work are you in?
    • I’m a makeup artist, creative director, I do hair, and I bartend sometimes.
  • When did you start throwing raves?
    • When I went to a rave (here in Miami), I was like “oh my god!” The vibe would give me a bit of anxiety and excitement all at the same time because I didn’t know what to expect. Right after I went to my first rave, I thought of throwing one because I needed a little money. One party turned into five and that’s how I started raving in Miami.
  • Do you feel like you’re part of your community here in Miami?
    • I feel like I’m a part of a community. I’ve learned recently that I’ve made some type of impact on people with what I used to do as far as throwing parties, going out, and providing a space after the party. When the sun comes up, we need people with their doors open. We need people with their arms open. And that’s where I feel like I am part of the community. I am a part of this community. This night life. 
  • You open your doors to the queer individuals in the community?
    • Correct. My targeted demographic would be black queer folk. It is a need for us to have that haven, that little bit of peace, you know? 
  • So after you started throwing these raves and opening your doors to the queer black community, do you feel a stronger connection to the community?
    • Yes, I feel like within the community there is a lot of work (that’s needed), but I found a community nonetheless. When I first moved down here I didn’t really interact with other LGBT folk outside of work as a makeup artist. When I started raving I did find more community and I was able to be more of my authentic self.
  • How long do you think you’ll stay in Miami?
    • I don’t think I’ll ever leave Miami. I might visit other places, but I’ll never leave Miami.


Buena Vista Post Office photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The Buena Vista post office was the first establishment to solidify the neighborhood. The neoclassical architecture gives the building an official air, as if to say that the neighborhood is here to stay.

This wall in south Buena Vista is unmissable. Painted on a neglected wall, it was dedicated to a local woman named Angeles who was battling stage 3 cancer. The mural embodies the community’s support for their neighbors.

Nothing unites a neighborhood like a church. The Full Gospel Assembly, founded in 1992, sits at the intersection of NW 2nd Ave and 39th St. The hold yard sales every other Saturday as fundraising for the church, which unites the community and invites everyone from all walks of life. They even have a K-12 school called Ebenezer Christian Academy which teaches in both English and Creole.


Pullman Mini Park by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The Pullman Mini Park is a unique use of a small plot of land. Surrounded by houses, it’s a great place to go if you want to soak in the sun or take your kids to let their energy out.

North Bay Vista Park photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Although North Bay Vista Park is located next to the interstate, its still a calming place to clear your head. If you want to feel like a kid again while on the swing or find a cool place to sit and read under a tree, North Bay Vista is the park to go to.

Buena Vista Greenery. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

If you are craving to see some green, Buena Vista is your neighborhood. As long as you aren’t on the main streets (NE 2nd, NW 2nd, Miami Ave), nearly all the houses are surrounded by trees, providing shade while you stroll down the sidewalk. The green makes the houses pop and gives the neighborhood a homey feel.


Trolley and Metrobus stops in Buena Vista photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

While the majority of Buena Vista’s population navigates their way through the city  with their own cars, there is also a good amount of the population that hop on the Little Haiti Trolley which goes as far south as I-195 by the Design District and as far north as NE 84th street by El Portal via NE 2nd Ave and NW 2nd Ave.

Map by Google Maps. Photo leads to site.

People also use the metrobus which costs $2.25 for one bus and $5.65 for a day pass and runs 24 hours a day (Introducing Miami). The Little Haiti Trolley, on the other hand, is free of charge, but only follows NE 2nd Ave and goes as far south as 36th Street and as far north as 84th Street. (Miami Dade)

Map by Miami Dave Transit. Photo leads to link.

Outside of motor transport, approximately 4.0% of the population relies on two wheels or two feet to get around (Point2Homes). Bicyclists and walkers take advantage of the area’s proximity to the city to go to school and work.


Roots is a family run restaurant and kava bar that started in late 2015. Before they had the building, they ran the business out of the house pictured on the right. Kava is a root that is originally from south Polynesia. Taken as a beverage, it gives you a sedative, relaxed feeling and is used as short-term anxiety treatment.

Buena Vista Deli offers a wide selection of French cuisine. While I’ve never been to France, their pastries are what I hope French chocolate and fruits to taste like. Although it’s on one of the busiest streets in the neighborhood, it has a cozy and inviting feel to it.

Mandolin Aegean Bistro. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

If you want to fill your stomach without feeling heavy afterwards, Mandolin is the place to go. Named after the Italian instrument, this Mediterranean spot has fresh and affordable dishes and offer vegan options.


Miami Nautique is the place to go for all water sports equipment. Whether you need a surfboard, wetsuit, or water ski, they’ve got it all. A perfect mix of upscale business and artsy aesthetics, the mural on the side of the building sets the tone for the modern Buena Vista.

Mi Pana Convenience Store and Market. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

If you want to pregame for a party or just get a snack, Mi Pana is the local Puerto Rican corner store where you can get all your edible essentials.

Upper Buena Vista. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Upper Buena Vista is a high end shopping area which opened in summer of 2017 containing several restaurants and boutiques in North Buena Vista. If you are looking for an indie vibe in an açai place or a coffee shop, this is your place to go.


Buena Vista has some of the friendliest people I’ve come across since moving to Miami. People who saw me walking on the sidewalk by the house would say hi and almost everyone I asked opened up to me about their experience living in the area… I even got invited to a church service at Full Gospel. It was an amazing experience.

The biggest threat to the neighborhood, I believe, is the expansion of high end boutiques and shopping centers, such as Upper Buena Vista. The area is very expensive and almost exclusively marketed for a white audience (as seen on their Instagram) although the neighborhood is 10% white.

My fear is that the people who have been there for their whole lives will be pushed out because of this new movement.

Overall, I highly suggest visiting this neighborhood in its entirety. It’s a very unique area where people from all over the world live on the same street. The atmosphere is very comfortable and the greenery is very inviting. Go by yourself or with a friend. Take the trolley. Have the full Buena Vista experience. See you there.

Imani Woodin: Miami Service 2021

Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.


Miami in Miami 2021-2022 photo by John Bailly CC 4.0

On October 6th of 2021, my FIU Honors class and I took a mile long canoe trip to a tiny island called Chicken Key which is located off the coast of the Deering Estate. The island has no man made structures on it like roads or homes. What has started to fester around the sand and mangroves, however, is trash that washes upon the island and suffocates the wildlife in the area such as water bottles, broken pieces of plastic, and styrofoam- when I was there, I even saw a stop sign laying in the sand. Almost anything harmful to natural life has found its way into Chicken Key.

To show you how bad the trash is and how well it blends into the area, we’re going to play a game of Spot the Trash. In these two pictures below, you’ll have to spot where the trash blends in. Slide the bar to the right of the photo to see the original picture and slide it to the left to see the answer. Let me know if you’ve spotted trash that I didn’t see!

Spot the difference round 2 by Imani Woodin CC 4.0


Before going to Chicken Key, I had done beach clean ups in elementary school with my girl scout troop. Back then, I was upset that I had to wake up early on a weekend and be in the hot sun all day. I remember dragging my feet along the sand just waiting for the day to end. 

Picking up trash. Selfie by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The day I went to Chicken Key was different. I still woke up early to be there and I got baked by the sun, but in contrast, I found the task to be therapeutic. As I’ve mentioned in my other As Text blogs, my appreciation for nature has deepened the longer I’ve stayed in this concrete city. Not only was it relaxing to go back to a natural environment and listen to the sound of the waves lapping onto the mangroves, but I also felt a sense of fulfillment while aiding the nature. 

Recently, I heard someone say that nature cannot remove its toxins, instead it finds a way to react to them in ways like heat waves and hurricanes. Even if my effort that day in Chicken Key did not solve climate change, it was a small step in the right direction. Nature cannot cleanse itself, but at least I could do my part to help it.Another reason I might have found it fulfilling is because of a realization I had recently. As an international relations student, most of what I’m taught is on a multi-national scale. However, when I study thinking with that mindset, I begin to think in a more global mindset… to the point where I neglect my local community and environment. The more I accepted the world as my home, the more I failed to look after my local topography. Not only this, but I also realized that what happens locally affects the world: the pollution that happens here in Miami affects the ocean waters which touch every corner of the world. So my effort is felt worldwide, I just have to focus on being present.


My professor, John Bailly, had the idea to do a clean up at this location long before instructing this section of Miami in Miami. During the trip, he told us that he had kayaked to the island a few years back and all he could see was mounds of trash. He showed us a picture of how it was the first time he went out there and in some places you couldn’t even see the sand under the garbage. Since he could not clean the island up in one day, he goes back periodically to conserve the island’s natural state. On this particular day, he brought us with him.

Professor Bailly’s first trip to Chicken Key photo by John Bailly CC 4.0


After arriving at the Deering Estate at ten in the morning, two of my classmates and I got onto a canoe and set sail with our lunches, water bottles, and sandbags-turned-reusable-trash-bags in tow. We first set sail in the wide port at the estate. The wind was blowing gently against our skin. Our arm movements were synchronized as we paddled in a steady motion. I remember thinking to myself that there was no rush, we would get there eventually, as I squinted at the tiny dot in the distance.

My amazing canoeing partner Joheily at the Deering Estate port. Photo taken by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The island got bigger and bigger in view until we were close enough to duck the mangroves that stuck out. All around the island, I noticed, were huge pieces of trash mangled in the mangroves.  Once we found a place to dock, we set our belongings down and went out in the bay for a swim to cool off. After a little while, we returned, ate lunch, then started the clean up. 

While collecting trash, my first impression was that there’s been some improvement since Professor Bailly’s first visit: no longer are there mounds of trash, but there is still a plethora of plastic, glass, and styrofoam scattered around the island in pieces both large and small. Most of the trash, though, is so small that it’s mixed into the sand. Even when you dig 6 inches down, you still see little shards of plastic in every color- some come from Solo cups, others from inflatable rafts. They’ve all become part of the island.

Pulling into Chicken Key with my other canoemate, Samantha. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.
Small pieces of trash. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

My goal was to get as many of those shards as possible. While I saw most people walk around the island and spot the large pieces of trash, I thought that they wouldn’t need another person to do that so I spent my hours sifting through the sand and pulling the tiny parasites out.



Although trying to weed out the shards of plastic was honorable, I would have to admit that in the couple hours I spent sifting through the sand, I probably only collected 0.001% of all the plastic on the island. This might sound discouraging, but overall I know I did more harm than good that day, and that’s really all I can hope to do.

I loved spending time in nature, I think it can reset something in a person and reground you. Overall, I had a rewarding day that I will never forget. Thank you Professor Bailly for bringing us out there. I hope to return soon.

Nature at the Deering Estate by Imani Woodin CC 4.0
Trash our class collected by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Imani Woodin: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.

Downtown as Text

By Imani Woodin of FIU at Downtown Miami, 01 September 2021

It’s so easy to romanticize a city like Miami: The ocean breeze. The palm trees. The fresh mangoes and limes. But when we only pay attention to the easy parts of the city, we oversimplify and ignore its past and present issues.

Longhouse in Lummus Park Miami River taken by Imani Woodin

One of the first stops we made in our tour of downtown was to the Longhouse in Lummus Park (Miami River), less than a mile from the city’s government center. The structure was built in the 1840s by enslaved African people- only 20 something years after Spain sold Florida to the US in 1821. Seeing this building in the heart of Miami unveiled a truth that I had considered but never really learned about: the foundation of this city- just like every other American city- is built off of the labor of displaced, enslaved Africans.

It was enlightening to learn that this structure was built by the hands of enslaved people, however I did not notice any signs or plaques that shared this information. I believe that it is important to educate the public about these details. Not only will people have a deeper understanding about the foundation of the city, they’ll also have a realer interpretation of how Miami is impacted by the sociocultural hierarchy in place.

Many Floridians try to shrug off our state’s history when it comes to slavery, segregation, racism, and the byproducts of these horrors. However this mentality is dangerous. It undermines the experience of the persecuted along with their descendants.

Portrait of Henry Morrison Flagler. J. J. Cade – The Cyclopaedia of American biography. 1918.

The horror and glory of the city of Miami can be personified in the man, the myth, the menace- Henry Flagler. On one hand, Flagler, who co-founded Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller, connected Miami to the rest of the United States by adding it as a destination to his Florida East Coast Railway. On the other hand, Flagler openly disgraced native culture when he flattened and removed a Tequesta burial mound to build his hotel. On top of that, Flagler introduced segregation to Miami and displaced a black diaspora community of American southerners and Caribbean immigrants to an area called Overtown (formerly referred to as Colored Town). The black population dealt with unequal educational and professional opportunities, which still linger today as more than half of Overtown residents live below the poverty level; 34% are unemployed; a large percentage of youth are neither in school or working.

Miami Dade County Courthouse/Flagler Statue taken by Imani Woodin

After visiting the Longhouse, we went to the Dade County Courthouse. At the front of the Courthouse stands a statue of Henry Flagler. I chose this photo of the courthouse specifically because sitting at the steps before his statue sat a black woman who appeared to be homeless. I couldn’t help but to think to myself that this woman who carried her life in reusable bags and looked to be in poor health, was in her situation in part because of Flager’s actions.

One of my classmates, Amaranta, asked if it was ethical to have a statue of Flagler in the city. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Miami River taken by Imani Woodin

After the Courthouse, we found our way to the Miami River, which was once the source of fresh drinking water before early developers of the city dumped raw sewage into it. I don’t know how many times I’ve passed the waterway since moving to this city in January, but I never realized the history or significance of this site until this day.

African American Leaders in History Miami taken by Imani Woodin

Our final destination was to History Miami. One display that caught my eye exhibited African American leaders from the city, including figures such as Florence Gaskins who organized the Black Junior Red Cross during World War I and opened the first black employment agency in the 1920s. This section of the museum was significant to me because in school I never learned about black leaders who helped the black community- only black leaders whose work was significant enough for the white patriarchy to pay attention to. Although figures such as MLK are important, it’s essential to celebrate individuals who helped to improve their marginalized community. Sadly their impact is overseen by most educators in this country. This recognition not only gives young people of color idols to look up to, but it also humanizes black figures of the past for those who might not be familiar with their plight.

This type of education demonstrates that there is no one race in Miami (or in this country)- the city is made up of several communities who took care of themselves when the groups in power refused to. Educating locals and visitors on the several different groups that reside in this city opens a forum in which we can all relate to one another and become more considerate of our neighbor’s history, struggles, and customs.

We are one Miami-Dade taken by Imani Woodin

On the bus back home from downtown I saw this sign and thought it was a perfect summarization of Miami. Diversity has been a defining factor of this city, and everyone who is presently in Miami, whether residing or visiting, is a small yet significant part of the city. Whether you’re walking Ocean Drive or driving through Westchester, we all feel pride in hearing people singing or rapping about being at Miami Beach or bragging to northerners about how winter is not a word in our vocabulary, however we need to balance that honor with consideration and inclusion, which has been put on the back burner for so many.

Make sure to educate yourself and the people around you on the full history of this city or whichever city you live in. Make sure to teach the next generation about what came before them and make sure it’s the whole truth- from multiple perspectives. If you want to learn more about Miami’s history, you can start by visiting

Overtown as Text

By Imani Woodin of FIU at Overtown Miami, 15 September 2021

Greetings from Overtown mural. CC by 4.0 Imani Woodin

What stuck to me the most about Overtown was how hospitable the people were. Although Miami is a vibrant city, it isn’t exactly known for having the sweetest people. Overtown, the people went out of their way to say hi and to thank us for visiting. (I learned that the city is called Overtown because it was the second black settlement in Miami, which was “over town” from the first one in Coconut Grove. When you hear the locals talk about the area, they don’t say “in Overtown the people are so kind,” they say “Over town the people are so kind.”)

I-95 in Overtown CC 4.0 Imani Woodin

I think the people Overtown might have been so appreciative of our visit because most the people who go there don’t go with open hearts to embrace the history and to meet the people. Instead they go in with green eyes, looking to see how much of it they can take. Gentrification trickled Overtown slowly but surely. The event that broke Overtown was the construction of I-95. Now they see it in other ways. Sometimes it’s a blueprint for another 40 story building. Then the rent goes up another $100. Every day it gets more and more flooded with new living expenses until the people who’ve lived in the area all their lives can’t afford to stay there any more.

One of the locals who saw us walking around pointed at a skyscraper and said “do you see that? they tore down my elementary school to build that.”

The town part of Overtown is getting phased out for the bustle and the expenses of the city to come through and the community that once thrived is getting pushed away.

Some of the only original structures standing in the area are two churches: Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal and The Historic Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. So many historical moments happened in them: MLK spoke in both of them, in fact he spoke at Mt. Zion 5 days before he passed away. Sit-ins that changed the way this country functions were planned in both churches. Not only are these places where people went to realign themselves sprititually, these are hubs where people came together to uplift one another and to change their community for the better.

Linda Rodgers at Mt. Zion Episcopal CC 4.0 by Imani Woodin

Both the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal and The Historic Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church was special, however our visit to Mt. Zion resonated with me the most. There, we met a woman named Linda Rodgers. I’d never met anyone who spoke with such eloquence. Her presence is what I envisioned it to be like if I’d ever met Maya Angelou. Not only could she capture an audience and maintain an unwavering composure, but she also told us stories of her interactions with influential people such as Martin Luther King Jr, who she said visited the church she attended while in college.

At the time she knew him as Martin the church goer. They would see each other every once in a while but what stuck out to Miss Rodgers, she recollected, was while she had to call all the other men at the church by their surnames “he let me call him Martin.”

One day at church, she told us, a couple got into an argument which escalated into a man hitting his wife and knocking her to the ground. As the whole church turned to see what happened, Martin rushed over and helped the woman up then quickly turned to the man to condemn his actions saying, “violence is never the answer.”

That story goes to show that kind gestures go much further than the moment you do it. I doubt that as Reverend King was helping that woman he was thinking about what others would be thinking about him- but that was his character- he was good and he didn’t need recognition for it.

Vizcaya as Text

By Imani Woodin of FIU at Vizcaya, 13 October 2021

Gates going into Vizcaya CC 4.0 Imani Woodin

As you drive up to the gates of Vizcaya, the greenery of the neighborhood contrasts the concrete plains that cover most of Miami. Along with that, the intricacy of the statues and arches laugh in the face of dull modern architecture that surrounds it.

The long walkway you take before going into Vizcaya gives you a sense of anticipation, like you know something grand is to come. The trees add to the ominosity by covering the full view of the building. Your sense of curiosity and excitement grows with every step you take until you finally get to the pond that sits in front of the home.

I have this theory that every person wears a house in the same way they would wear clothing. If you imagine it, your uncle would look really different in a pair of Levis than if you wore them. Similarly, when you go into a room in your home, you might like to use the ceiling light while your roommate prefers to use the nightlight on the wall. Maybe your wife prefers lighter colored comforters while you’d choose a darker one. These small differences reflect each person’s style and contribute to how you experience a living space.

When you’re in Vizcaya, you and your roommate don’t need to argue about which light to pick or which color scheme to choose from- all you have to do is explore every room so you each can enjoy the one that matches your style. Each room has its own atmosphere. For minimalists, you might enjoy the entrance room which is centered around symmetry, as you can see in its paintings and the reflection of the floor and ceiling patterns. For those who appreciate music, there’s a music room and for those who enjoy haphazard environments, you might prefer the north hall for its rococo style. There’s something for everyone to love there: even in the most flamboyant room there’s some simplicity and in the most simple room there’s flamboyance. Deering not only built a house, but living art. I think he understood that in what he built, everyone is able to experience the house in their own way.

As you walk through Vizcaya, it almost feels like it’s your own. In all its flair, there’s a part of it that you can find which can speak to you. At the beginning of the tour my class took, we saw how Deering chose to keep a statue of Ponce de Leon at the back entrance of Vizcaya. He compared to himself to the explorer, saying they both exported culture. In the sculpture, de Leon is stepping on a globe and at the center of the world is south Florida- specifically Vizcaya. And truly, when you’re in the villa, it feels like center of the world.

South Beach as Text

By Imani Woodin of FIU at South Beach Oct 27 2021.

The feeling of the sun hitting my skin on this 87° (31° C) October day reminded me of how beautiful life can be. Something about the air in Miami Beach makes you want to run around like a little kid and just enjoy yourself. Every time I go there, it reminds me of the joy I got from pool days or beach trips when I was younger. As you walk around and look at the the cruise-ship like windows of the art deco buildings or the people of all ages zooming around on their skates, the whole island reminds you that it’s always summer in Miami Beach.

Something I never knew about until we went on this excursion was Art Deco. Honestly, I thought Art Deco was a museum before this day. Now I know it is an architectural style that can be recognized by many different features which are not always mutually exclusive.

The first characteristic is the incorporation of natural themes such like the birds at the bottom of the building in the photo above. Some buildings have palm trees, some have waves, some don’t have any of these features. Another characteristic is the signature pastel colors. One of my classmates, Anna, said that being in South Beach felt like she was in a Nickelodeon show, and what really gives it that effect is the pastel colors. One other trait is Art Deco’s “Rule of Three.” In all of the buildings above, you can see that its face is divided in threes. This is an Art Deco signature and now that I’ve learned about it, I can’t stop seeing it. There are even some buildings on campus that I just noticed to have Art Deco feautres.

Theater-turned H&M in Lincoln Road, South Beach. CC 4.0 Imani Woodin

Our class also saw how some historic buildings have been converted into something more mainstream. For example, the historic Lincoln Theatre is now an H&M clothing store.

While at South Beach, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude to have been here at this time. I’m aware that I couldn’t enjoy the area as a traveler if I had come 2 generations ago because of segregation. What I am able to do in Miami beach now, at 19 years old is a lot broader than what my grandmother would have been able to do had she been here when she was my age. This is what I was reminded of as we learned about the Bahamian laborers who built Miami Beach then were thrown out after it was developed. It is what I treasured as I learned about the Jewish people of Miami Beach and the confines they endured as they were unable to live in the wealthier areas of the island and had to take a fairy to go to the synagogue in Miami as they were not allowed to pray there.

It’s fun to enjoy a place like Miami Beach and I am grateful that Professor Bailly makes sure we acknowledge the whole history of the island. I recommend that all of you honor the lives of those who built the island, those who lived in it in but were persecuted, and those who were forbidden from the island because of race, ethnicity, or religion before you to go to Miami Beach and enjoy the weather and the atmosphere then live like it’s your last day at least once in your life. See you there.

Deering Estate as Text

By Imani Woodin of FIU Nov 10 2021

Ocean front at the Deering Estate CC 4.0 Imani Woodin
Inside the Stone House . CC 4.0 Imani Woodin

History: The Deering Estate was purchased and owned by Charles Deering, who was the half-brother of Vizcaya owner James Deering. The land was purchased in 1916 and his Stone House where he kept his art collection was built in 1922 (left). The land was Deering’s until his death in 1927.

However, before that, the area was inhabited by native Americans of the Tequesca tribe who used the land as a burial site. Although Deering and his developers respected some of the burial grounds, he also removed some graves because to build on it. This could be because the Tequesca buried the dead above ground and covered them with sand and shells, as we learned during the lecture.

Deering made the best of his time in Miami. The 1920s was the period of Prohibition, and while most Americans either resorted to speakeasies or settled for sobriety, Deering had both easy access to the Caribbean to buy alcohol and storage so he could hide it in his home. The cellar (below) is hidden at the lowest floor of his Stone house and locked behind three vaults. The photo doesn’t do justice to the enormity of the cellar.

Part of Deering’s Liquor Cellar CC 4.0 Imani Woodin

Preservation to nature: The Deering Estate has maintained the local plant and animal life so the highest degree in anywhere I’ve seen since moving to Miami. I love nature, but this was my first time being immersed in it in this section of Florida. The best part of the day was going into mangroves. I didn’t understand how important mangroves are to south Florida until today. Their dense roots are the reason why sand is able to settle in the ocean and improve water quality by keeping pollutants from spreading across the ocean while providing a habitat for a diverse wildlife population.

I was also grateful to enjoy the nature at the estate because it is so different from the rest of Miami because the area sits at a higher sea level. I was thinking about my trip to the Deering Estate the other night, and I realized that there’s no other place like it in the world. You can’t manufacture a natural environment like that of the Deering Estate. It’s an incredible experience being there and enjoying pure nature.


Leaving Untitled Art at sunset by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

During Miami art week, and Untitled Art specifically, art from around the world was showcased. It was a compilation of Miami’s beauty, mystic, and wonder in the form of paintings and sculptures. Some art made you feel, some made you think, and some made you wonder why in the world someone would make it.

Some art was jaw-droppingly intricate. I couldn’t wrap my head around how much time it might have taken the artists to come up with the idea, make prototypes, and complete the work.

Crocheted coral

Some art was trippy and nostalgic. Again, I can’t fathom the time and thought that went into the work.

Photos by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Some art was just beautiful.

I can’t express how special it felt to be at Untitled. I’d only ever heard of galleries like it before. It was an honor not only to see the art, but to hear about the pieces from the gallery owners and some of the artists themselves. I’m definitely going again next Untitled so I can feel the wonder of being surrounded by beauty once more.

Everglades as Text

Imani at the Everglades photo by Alex Fielder CC 4.0

I want to start this blog by stating that although I’ve traveled to multiple countries and multiple continents, nowhere evokes the feeling of home to me the way Florida does. I was born in Gainesville, I’ve lived in St. Augustine, Apollo Beach (by Tampa), and Tallahassee. I’ve travelled throughout Florida, as the majority of my life has been spent in the sunshine state, but it wasn’t until January 19, 2022 when I stepped into the Everglades for the first time. My experience was wild and unexpectedly mind-opening. I’ve read a lot about the national park, but hearing about it and experiencing it is like seeing a place at night versus in the day.

One element about the national park that caught me by surprise was its biodiversity. The picture on the left is of a sinkhole in a flat, grassy area of the park. At first, it seemed like just a hole in the ground to me, but then the park ranger who guided us, Dillian, mentioned how the plane of grass we stood on was its own micro-ecosystem within the Everglades ecosystem, and the little hole in the ground was its own micro-ecosystem within that one. What she said resonated with me so much because it gave a unique perspective to how special the location we were was, and how something doesn’t have to be seen from a satellite to be noticed.

The grassy area above on the right was taken just a few hundred meters from the pictures below… as the ground level rose, the water level dropped, making the area less habitable for trees, but the open field made it easier to find birds. The grassfield felt infinite as we were walking in it. It was just person and nature, which now I realize is rare to the average modern Miamian, but it was one of the most Miami sites just a few hundred years ago.

One thing I appreciate from this class is how it brings me out of my comfort zone. Going around with my class pushes me to do things that I would have never done had I come with a different group. This trip, I was taken out of my comfort zone when the class decided to go into an alligator’s den. I was scared at first, but when Ranger Dillion told us that the gator wouldn’t attack since we were in a large group, I felt a little more assured.  I also learned that only males have their own dens. Although I wasn’t scared, I still couldn’t get over how we were in a 8 foot gator’s home just for the sake of it. I’ll never forget this experience.

The Everglades as a whole caught me by surprise. I never imagined it would be so beautiful and I would recommend that everyone take a trip and go on a slough slog (walking in the swamp). As an essential part of our ecosystem, it’s important to acknowledge its vitality- and understanding this is much easier when you’re waist deep in it. Being surrounded by nature is rejuvenating and as long as you’re physically able to do so, there’s nothing I recommend more.

The Twists of Coral Gables

As our class walked through Miracle Mile and along the sidewalks of Alhambra hearing the stories of how Coral Gables was founded, I realized that the neighborhood is built on a series of twists and turns, both literally and figuratively.

The first of these twists are from the artwork that line the streets and hold the buildings of Coral Gables. These artistic influences come from around the world and unite to create a smooth, delightful atmosphere. The Colonnade Hotel and Office Building, for example, was designed by Phineas Paist in collaboration with Walter DeGarmo and Paul Chalfin, James Deering’s interior designer for Vizcaya. The structure is a mixture of Spanish Colonial and Baroque. Going inside was like a corporate wonderland. But even if you don’t have to visit Coral Gables to go to a budget meeting for your job, I recommend you go see this incredible building with incredible details.

The Coral Gables Museum, on the other hand, uses depression architecture with Mediterranean details. The quaint building has subtle beauty, as you can see inside and outside of the building. Some of the carvings on its façade show its European influence mixed with tropical touches of native fauna. Finally, some of the world-famous Biltmore Hotel’s art was derived from Andalusian influence, which is a fusion of Arabic and Spanish. It’s jaw dropping architecture and interior design is enchanting. It was the highlight of my trip.

Coral Gables itself, planned by George E. Merrick was developed with Mediterranean Revival style along with Mexican and Cuban influences. These elements are felt in the Spanish style roofs and sophisticated architecture with tropical elements. This microcosm of different cultures and art styles twist together to build the most charming neighborhood in South Florida.

Statue of George Merrick in front of the Coral Gables city hall.

This next twist in Coral Gables history is about its foundation. The mastermind behind the city, George Merrick, was liberal with his creativity but heartbreakingly conservative in his social views as he was a raging racist. He advocated for racist policies including the Negro resettlement plan which sought to remove black residents from Overtown to West Miami Dade in order for white families to move in. Some of the advertisements he commissioned for this plan included caricatures and sayings, such as “remove the monster.”

Merrick was so proud of his efforts to displace black families that he published his own speech to the Miami Board which introduced the Negro resettlement plan. It is said that the scroll in his hand in the statue above is that same speech.

Some people defend George Merrick, saying that above all he was a good man of good intentions, but I simply cannot say the same and I take offense to anyone who would respect this side of him. Knowing that he would not want me and anyone who resembles my complexion around his town leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The fact that he was so comfortable displacing families who were in Miami longer than he was startles me.

I know that someone reading this is going to be annoyed to the extent I’m talking about this topic, but I feel the need to speak about it because this part of history is overlooked. If you google George Merrick, you won’t see an article about this part of him on the first page, even though it was a huge part of his personality. If anything, he was proud of his racism, so this is a part of George Merrick that he would want you to know. The way history books and tour guides gloss over these parts of history is alarming, but I’m trying my best to let you know about the real Miami.

Poolside at the Biltmore Hotel. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

Overall, I believe that learning the full history of a place allows for you to enjoy the visit even more. I suggest you visit Coral Gables with this knowledge, as you will be able to see the entirety of the neighborhood.

River of Grass as Text

Imani in the Everglades photo by Claudia CC 4.0

Ranging from enormous caimans to microscopic insects, the Everglades is home to countless wondrous creatures that are often only found in this area. Normally, when you hear about the national park, people tend to exaggerate the wildlife, especially the potentially dangerous- overlooking its other incredible sites such as a missile base used during the cold war.

Nike missile photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Most would think that a national park is not the place to build and house a missile base but thats exactly what the U.S. government did. The missile base, used for storing about three missiles during the early 1960s until the the end if the 1970s, was called the Nike HM-69 and was one of the many missile bases across the country. They were all named Nike after the greek goddess of “victory”. The area for the base in the Everglades was nicknamed the “Hole in the Donut” for the fact that it was built on the private property of Iori family who operated a farm within the government-owned Everglades national park. The base was built immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which led to the belief that if a Cuban airstrike were to happen, it would completely destroy South Florida’s defense leaving the United States open to Russian attack from the south. All of the Nike bases were constructed quickly and durably, as the notion of security felt more and more necessary.

Picture of the missile during the cold war
Picture of missile propaganda on Cheerios cereal

The base had two main areas: the control center and the storage/launching center, which were separated so in case the launching center was attacked, the the staff that worked and lived at the base would be too far to get hurt. The base, barely visible in the landscape of the Everglades, was home to over 140 staff workers who maintained the three missiles at the base and kept them ready for deployment at a moment’s notice. Being stationed in the middle of a wildlife preserve caused some unusual issues for the employees of the base such as rats, mosquitoes, and alligators; yet the most dangerous issue of all was the equipment igniting wildfires that would be fueled even more by the dry grass. Despite this rarity, the wildlife of the Everglades is not the only aspect of being located in this national park that differentiated the base to other Nike bases.

Dry grass at the Everglades

See, unlike the other Nike bases, HM-69 could not be stored in an underground area because of its low water level, for this reason they were stored in these above ground barns. Despite its odd location in a national park, some were intrigued by it’s location, such as frequent visitor: commander-in-chief, John F. Kennedy.

Top Secret NIke HM-69 files.

The Nike HM-69 base never once fired a missile, but all its personnel were awarded the Army’s Meritorious Unit Commendation, one of the few instances in which it was awarded not for engagement but deference. The Nike HM-69 operated until it was decommissioned in 1979 and was after granted to the Everglades national park.

The Nike HM-69 missile base was one of the best preserved Nike bases, making it possible for the park offer tours of the site. This is another unique spot here in Miami that I recommend visiting. Even if you aren’t really into history, the stories of what happened and the collective fear around the height of the cold war is an incredible piece of both local and national contemporary issues to learn and think about.

For further reading, visit:

Wynwood as Text

From the Marguiles Collection by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Miami’s art district is filled with wonders, including the incredible Marguiles collection located in West Wynwood. While the whole establishment was astounding, I was blown away by the work of Anslem Kiefer.

How the art found its way to me

Kiefer was born March 8, 1945 in Donaueschingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. His upbringing during the post-war climate inspired his career as the theme of destruction is evident in his art. An example of this can be seen in the piece above. While it may look very confusing at first glance, I think part of its appeal is that it makes you look. The stacked canvases mixed with the sediment make it look like a deconstructed home; maybe a victim of chaos during the war. Its muted colors are primarily seen, but at closer glance there are patterns and colors make up the piece. At the bottom, carpet-like designs cover the canvases while towards the top, sky and tree blues and greens pop out. If you notice on the right side of the structure there’s a photo scroll hanging. This- to me- might be distant memories. Maybe it’s his parents’ memories of what it was like before the war, maybe they were his own, all I know is it gave the piece a nostalgic feel. That’s what I find beautiful about this work- instead of painting a destroyed home, he made one.

In my interpretation, the piece represents the silverlinings of chaos. The beauty behind the madness.

After seeing the sculpture above, we travelled to the room that resonated with me the most, pictured below. It was also made by Anslem Kiefer and in the same fashion as the first piece, the pictures don’t do the experience any justice. The room was the same temperature as the rest of the gallery but it felt like it was on fire. The color scheme, the subtle flames in the paintings and the abandoned concrete structures all evoked the feeling that everything was scorched.

The painting on bottom picture towards the left shows a lit match with a snowy background and to the right of it a flattened, dirty child’s dress. These elements are even eerier when seen in person. The whole room raised my awareness while at the same time making me empathize with Kiefer and his family. I wonder what it was like for him to grow up in land of uncertainties. After so much destruction, I’m sure the only light he might have seen was that from fire. Long winters , ruined childhoods, and unstable governments and families might be found in his art. This not only tells his story but that of many others from Germany and other places in the world.

In order to feel art you need to first be human. If you ever go to the Marguiles Collection (which I highly recommend, as entry is free for Floridian students), I advise you to feel the art instead of thinking about it. If you try to make it logical for yourself, you might throw yourself in a pit of disappointment; however if you feel your way through the art, you’ll come to see that Kiefer is also trying to piece together memories and figure out his feelings, so why not join him on his journey?


Mosaic from Christ Episcopal Church photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

One thing I’ve learned to be aware of is who tells the story in history. In history class, ninety per cent of the time it was a white man who was telling the story: his fight, his successes- which took away so many perspectives on the American experience. Women were seldom brought up, African Americans were enslaved and then freed by Martin Luther King Jr, Asian Americans just kind of showed up, and Latin Americans just don’t exist (apparently).

Thankfully, this class doesn’t teach history in that light. While Coconut Grove is marketed as a “fun and funky” bayfront destination on google, Professor Bailly keeps it real by sharing Miami’s real history and current state of affairs.

One of the first things I learned in this course was how Bahamian immigrants who fled from slavery helped build Miami. We are reminded of this history in almost every class- whether it’s Vizcaya, Coral Gables or downtown, Bahamian immigrants were the backbone of Miami’s development. Because the landscape in Miami was similar to that of the Bahamas’, Bahamians knew how to work with local materials like oolite stone unlike northern settlers. Without the Bahamian contribution, treasures like the Deering estates and Miami Beach would be more bleh… they wouldn’t have that Miami magic.

That’s why our of Coconut Grove began in the heart of the Bahamian neighborhood- Evangelist Street (now known as Charles Avenue), where hundreds of Bahamians immigrated over a hundred years ago and where their descendants still reside. The path was paved by pioneers such as Ebeneezer Woodberry Frank Stirrup who immigrated to the area in 1899 and constructed more than 100 homes, many of which still remain.

Evangelist Street/Charles Ave photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

Another treasure we discovered was the one and only Christ Episcopal Church. The West Indian gem has been a focal point of the community since 1901, and although we did not attend service, I was still able to notice an accepting air as the mosaics displayed religious figures with dark skin. This is so monumental to me because I have been to many black churches in this country and in Kenya, my maternal country, but all of the churches showed a Jesus that was white as snow. From a black standpoint, so much has been fed to us as greatness because of European origins or affiliation. To have a black Jesus is to say that goodness comes from someone who looks like you. It might not mean a lot to other people but I’ll never forget it.

Mosaic from Christ Episcopal Church photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

In our year long discovery of Miami, this is an area that I’ve been waiting to see since the first day of class. The Bahamian contribution has been greatly appreciated yet devastatingly misdirected towards rich men like Flagler and Merrick. Which made me think, where in my life do I credit the wrong people for what I cherish? Should I celebrate the writer of the movie or the person who won the Oscar? Should I applaud the construction worker along with the architect? I appreciate Bailly’s awareness of where we are and how it became what it is. I think it’s what I’ve learned most from this class and what I want to carry out into other parts of my life.

Key Biscayne as Text

Beautiful day at Crandon Park, Key Biscayne CC @ponticelli on instagram

The Oasis of Key Biscayne, before it was filled with colorful umbrellas on the shore and ice cream shops inland, was once home to the turtle hunting tribe known as the Tequesta. The seafaring native American tribe were some of the first to fish the Florida, and strategically built their villages on palm pilings to live at sea level, right next to their food supply.

Bounty from the Sea by Morris Theodore

The Tequesta people were written about extensively in the 1575 memoir Memoria de las cosas y vosta y indios de la Florida by Escalante de Fontaneda. He was a Columbian boy who landed in Key Biscayne after a shipwreck while sailing to go to school in Spain. After living in the area for 17 years, he saw every part of life, writing, ““The common food is fish, turtles, and snails, and tunny and whale; which is what I saw while I was among these Indians. Some eat sea wolves; not all of them for there is a distinction between the higher and lower classes, but the principal persons eat them.”

Change came in waves for the Tequesta, notably, in 1563, Pedro Menéndez de Avila, an explorer sent by the King of Spain to  St. Augustine, arrived to the island to take refuge from a hurricane and later tried to convert the Tequesta into Catholics which led to hostility and conflict.

An illustration of Christopher Columbus arriving in North America in 1492. 
Gergio Deluci/Courtesy of L. Prang & Co., Boston/Wikimedia Commons

The island became known by colonizers as Vizcaya, named after the Spaniard province of Biscay in the Iberian region by a Spanish sailor after he shipwrecked on the island. Though along with rest of Florida Vizcaya was handed over to the English from the Spanish until the revolution ended the British control, leading to Florida being  return back to Spain, who in 1825 handed it over to the US. Around that time, the Cape Florida Lighthouse was erected and still stands today.

The lighthouse of Key Biscayne by

Soon, Key Biscayne had farmers setting up plantations of exotic fruits, naturalists coming to see its subtropical flora and fauna, which attracted many tourists who came to see the island’s world renowned beauty. After the Second World War Key Biscayne was still largely underdeveloped, but after the building of the Rickenbacker Causeway major developments were made and the population increased exponentially. The Villages of Key Biscayne in 1950 by the Mackle brothers, the houses built went for at most $10,000, mostly sold to veterans of the war. Now, these houses known also as “Mackles,” go for one million dollars, though now they are scarce.

Mackle House by Wiki-Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne eventually gained enough popularity to became vacation paradise for influential Americans, such as the 37th president Richard Nixon who had a ranch style compound as his winter retreat, he chose the area because his friend Charles “Bebe” Rebozzo owned the only bank on the island. Nixon spent huge amounts of time at compound during and after his  presidency leading to it being dubbed the “Florida White House”. Most of Key Biscayne is now mansions and condos, also it has become expensive but it stills has some its original beauty from the Tequesta period such as Bill  Baggs State Park that still contains the native plants of that time.

The beauties of Key Biscayne reveals itself in each visit. The treasures the Tequesta got to live under and people went out of their way to experience is still here in eastern Dade County, and each minute on the Key is a minute to be savored.

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