Tag Archive | "Office of Civic and Community Engagement"

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Illuminating Moonlight: President Frenk and Tarell McCraney Discuss the Playwright’s Academy Award-Nominee

A screening at the Cosford gives UM President Julio Frenk an opportunity to talk to one of the creative forces behind the Academy Award-nominated ‘Moonlight’

By Robin Shear
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 30, 2017)—The evening after Moonlight received eight Academy Award nominations, the University of Miami hosted a special screening event at the Cosford Cinema, with a Q&A between UM President Julio Frenk and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright and Miami native whose largely autobiographical work inspired the critically acclaimed film.

McCraney has been a professor of theater and civic engagement in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2015. During that time he also launched an arts leadership project for young women of color at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City, one of the local resources that gave McCraney a rare refuge from the poverty, crime, and bullying he struggled with growing up in the neighborhood.

After last Wednesday’s screening of the 111-minute drama, currently slated to run at the Cosford through February 9,  a visibly affected audience paused briefly before breaking into applause.

Moonlight, already a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture-Drama, tells the story of Chiron, also nicknamed “Little” and “Black,” in three gripping acts. Chiron lives with his drug-addicted mother in Liberty City during the turbulent 1980s. With troubles at home and school, the quiet but intense Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) traverses dangerous terrain, buoyed by fleeting moments of sanctuary and support from a drug dealer named Juan, based on a significant figure in McCraney’s youth. Unlike Chiron, McCraney took another path and went on to become a renowned playwright, recognized in 2013 with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

“This is a stunning example of how artists can move us to new understandings of our world,” Frenk said during his introduction of McCraney, who has “story by” and executive producer credits on Moonlight. “Tarell is a son of Miami. He is an artist of Miami. And he is an advocate for Miami. The film we just saw is such a beautiful, poetic, loving portrait of our incredible city in all its dimensions.”

But it is a story that might never have been widely known. When McCraney was 22, his mother died of AIDS-related complications. Trying to make sense of his life up to that time, he wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Though never staged, almost a decade later the work came to the attention of director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, also raised in Liberty City. Their collaboration has garnered a powerful response that has pushed the self-described “painfully shy” McCraney into a new kind of spotlight.

Among Moonlight’s eight Academy Award nominations are Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. At the Q&A on January 25, McCraney spoke openly and eloquently about what it was like to be part of such an intensely personal project and why he thinks it has resonated with audiences and critics as one of the best films of the year.

Crediting the authenticity Jenkins brought to the screen and a “one-of-a-kind” ensemble cast, McCraney said, “There hadn’t been this kind of storytelling in a while, specifically about people of color from this part of the world. I think there was an appetite for it.”

He also credited School of Communication lecturer Rafael Lima, who taught playwriting at McCraney’s high school, with the words of wisdom that helped him begin to share this poignant and intimate piece.

“I had tried to figure out ways to create the story before and didn’t really understand how to do that,” said McCraney. “He said, ‘If a story keeps coming to you visually, then it’s a film. If you hear it, then it’s a play.’”

Asked by Frenk what he would tell young people who live in a world where they, like Chiron, may face violence in terms of their race, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of their identity, McCraney replied, “I don’t know if I would tell them anything, to be fair. Having sat in that chair and having to listen to adults figure out how to fix an ill of society by telling you something feels counterintuitive. The thing I often try to do in those circumstances is show them where they actually belong. One of the initiatives I’ve appreciated since I’ve been here at the University is the Culture of Belonging because it’s a powerful tenet. We have work to do here, but that’s where it all starts. One of the things that Juan does in the film for Little is he says, ‘You belong somewhere, you’re a part of something.’ And that’s what I would try to show rather than say.”

Praising Moonlight, School of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd asked McCraney to expand on the character of Juan, complexly portrayed by Academy Award nominee Mahershala Ali. McCraney started with an anecdote about walking up to Ali backstage after seeing the movie with an audience for the first time in Toronto. “My tie was askew and [Ali] started fixing it,” recounted McCraney, “and I burst into tears because for me he had just sort of transformed into this person I had not seen since I was 6 or 7 years old.”

The character of Juan, he explained, was based on his mother’s boyfriend, a man named Blue. “He was a drug dealer, and he was every bit of a hero to me,” McCraney said. “He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to swim. He told me that I was good enough. He often stemmed my mother’s abuse from affecting me in many ways. I was the best-dressed kid in Liberty City for a long time. I always wanted to honor that memory but not expunge it of any of the things that, actually, he did.”

Thanking McCraney for coming to speak to one of his classes previously, UM student Jeremy Penn asked him to discuss the bullying and violence portrayed in the film and how the “school and police fail to address the systemic issues that are going on.”

McCraney said that in his own life the system didn’t fail him. “At some point the bullying stopped because I was led out of danger,” he explained. He was offered free classes at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and attended the New World School of the Arts, “so I could be in a place that was just a little bit more accepting of who I was.”

But that’s not everyone’s story. McCraney notes that Chiron’s story doesn’t follow his own trajectory of success. “One of the reasons I wrote [the story] in that way was, what if I took that one missed step to the left? And both things cost. No matter what school I’m at, no matter what instructor I’m with, I still carry the scars of that time.”

President Frenk concluded by thanking McCraney—who will be returning to his alma mater, the Yale School of Drama, in July to serve as chair of the playwriting department—for his artistic creation, his work at UM, and his service to the greater Miami community.

“Obviously on Oscar night all your friends and family at the U are going to be rooting for Moonlight. We hope it does very, very well,” said Frenk. “We wish you well—and you know this will always be the home where you truly belong.”

The evening was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Communication.

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Food for Thought: UM Marks World Food Day

Activities include a talk on implementing healthy eating habits in schools, a Fair Food Fair, and Tropical Fruit Crush.

UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 28, 2016) – As a teacher at an elementary school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1990s, Nancy Easton often saw how a poor diet affected students’ ability to learn. “They started the day with soda and chips, were fed an insufficient lunch, and couldn’t concentrate,” Easton recalled.

It was no surprise to her, then, that the school had some of the lowest test scores in New York City.

When the struggling school was shuttered, Easton could have moved on to another job and forgotten about those kids altogether. But she didn’t forget. Instead, she continued to focus on those students and others like them, starting a national nonprofit organization that inspires healthy eating, environmental awareness, and fitness as a way of life for school-aged kids.

Today, Easton’s Wellness in the Schools (WITS) impacts more than 50,000 students in 100 schools across the country, helping to provide them healthy, homemade meals, active recess periods, and fitness and nutrition education.

Last Monday, as part of the University of Miami’s observance of World Food Day, Easton spoke at UM’s Shoma Hall about the success of WITS and the plans to expand the initiative to three South Florida schools.

WITS, Easton noted, works with schools for three years to initiate a culture of healthy eating patterns for their students, using the same federal procurement list of cafeteria supplies and groceries provided to schools to create alternative menu items, such as vegetable chili, and then introducing the new menu choices to children and staff through classroom presentations and cooking demonstrations.

The model is working, said Easton, because pre- and post-surveys conducted at schools where WITS has been implemented show that children are smiling, running, and playing more often, spending less time in front of the television screen and home, and eating more vegetables.

Last August, according to Easton, WITS began working with Miami-Dade County’s Charles R. Drew Elementary School and Key Biscayne Community School and Broward County’s Watkins Elementary to bring the model to their campuses.

With childhood obesity rates triple what they were 30 years ago and 42 percent of Americans projected to be obese by 2030 at a health care cost of $550 billion, Easton said it is critical that her work continues.

She urged the audience to support local school and become a WITS volunteer.

Easton’s lecture, presented by the Office of Civic and Community Engagement (CCE) and the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, culminated a day of National Food Day-related activities on the Coral Gables campus. Among the other events held last Monday: a Fair Food Fair featuring tasty treats and literature on healthy eating, local farming, and community gardens, and a Tropical Fruit Crush that raised awareness about expanding access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

CCE, Green U, the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, the Herbert Wellness Center, Student Health Services, UM Dining, the UM Community Garden Club, and the Food Forest Project from the Miami Baptist Collegiate Ministry sponsored UM’s Food Day activities.


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Global Citizen Natasha Koermer Receives Statewide Service Awards

UM News

Surrounding Natasha Koermer, third from left, are the Butler Center's Lindsey Woods, Samantha BonenClark, and  Andrew Wiemer.

Celebrating Natasha Koermer, third from left, at the gala are the Butler Center’s Lindsey Woods, Samantha BonenClark, and
Andrew Wiemer.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 18, 2015)—Senior Natasha Koermer, a biomedical engineering major who has created sustainable solutions to global engineering and health issues, received the Student Excellence in Service Award and was honored as a Newman Civic Fellow at Florida Campus Compact’s annual gala this month.

Both awards were presented during Florida Campus Compact’s annual conference, held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, where Koermer was invited to speak on a student panel that highlighted civic engagement. It is a subject with which the triathlete, recent inductee into Iron Arrow, and self-described global citizen is well-versed.

Also minoring in Spanish and public health, Koermer has initiated a number of community projects, including a local urban sustainable gardening initiative, a STEM outreach program for high school students, the on-campus Take Back the Tap campaign, and a 5K Run/Walk for Water to raise funds for Engineers Without Borders’ Ecuador Project.

As past president of the University’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA, she helped implement a $30,000 sewage system in Las Mercedes, Ecuador. She also assisted research projects in the School of Nursing and Health Studies on Intimate Partner Violence and adolescent health in Nicaragua. And this past summer, she worked in Limpopo, South Africa, on a performance and acceptance evaluation of a novel water treatment technology.

“As a triathlete and global citizen, I am really motivated by pursuit of ‘better,’’’ Koermer said. “I know that I can always work harder, train harder, and run faster. That same dedication to improvement applies to my perspective on international development and health. Health outcomes have increased significantly around the world in the past decades, but there are still communities with basic unmet needs that students with skills and passion can help solve.”

UM’s Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, along with the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, nominated Koermer for both awards, with the support of Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs, and former UM President Donna Shalala, who presented Koermer with Newman Civic Fellows Award earlier this year. The award recognizes the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders.

“She is an incredibly bright, civically engaged student and will no doubt continue to bridge the gap between cutting-edge research and its practical application in solving real-world issues,” Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement, said of Koermer.

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UM and FIU Form Consortium to Tackle Housing Inequity

By Andres Tamayo
UM News

The South Florida Housing Studies Consortium will address the major issues of housing inequality in South Florida

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 14, 2015) — Affordable housing is a growing concern in South Florida, and the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement and Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center have joined forces to tackle the issue.

With long-standing expertise and interest in South Florida’s housing affordability, the two university centers have formed the South Florida Housing Studies Consortium (SFHSC) to further research and develop data-driven strategies that promote affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents and young professionals who have been forced to move away from expensive employment centers. The consortium will leverage UM and FIU’s current efforts and generate new areas of collaboration with community partners. The SFHSC will provide thought leadership on policies and programs that address housing affordability as a critical element of an urban community.

“Local communities are increasingly looking for solutions, such as the creation of more location-efficient communities characterized by mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented development; the preservation of existing affordable housing through refinancing and rehabilitation; and the development of policies that support affordable rents,” said Robin Bachin, assistant provost for Civic and Community Engagement at UM. “We believe the time is right for a university collaboration that works with local community organizations and policymakers to make housing affordability a priority.”

The first initiative of the consortium will be a project with the Miami-Dade County Public Housing and Community Development department. The SFHSC will provide guidance and document the community engagement process for the revitalization of the Liberty Square housing development, an ambitious project that seeks to transform the nation’s second oldest public housing project. Areas of focus include improving the quality of housing units, increasing the amount of affordable housing available, and creating a park-oriented, mixed-use, accessible, mixed-income community.

“We are excited to create a new forum for cutting-edge research and technical assistance that promotes the development of local policies and programs that address housing issues and exemplify holistic community development principles,” said Ned Murray, associate director of FIU’s Metropolitan Center. “Housing affordability is a critical element of an economically and socially vibrant urban community, and by joining forces with the UM Office of Civic and Community Engagement, we will be able to better address our community’s needs.”


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UM Launches New Digital Tool for Improving Affordable Housing Needs

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UM Launches New Digital Tool for Improving Affordable Housing Needs


Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement, discusses the MAP mission at The Beacon Council.

By Andres Tamayo
UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (May 29, 2015) – University of Miami officials last week officially launched the Miami Affordability Project, or MAP, an interactive online tool that provides rich data about affordable housing and development.

In a meeting at The Beacon Council, more than 100 community officials, executives, and local media turned out for the event, which has been more than a year-and-a-half in the making and was spearheaded by UM’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement and the Center for Computational Science.

The MAP program is free to use and visualizes neighborhood-level housing market dynamics, and assists in developing data-driven strategies for housing and community development.

“The overall goal of our housing and community development work is to increase the availability of affordable housing and to promote balanced, people- and place-based revitalization strategies that are sensitive to the history and culture of neighborhoods,” said Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement.

The project, which focuses on improving housing opportunities for residents of low- to moderate-income Miami neighborhoods, was funded through grants from JPMorgan Chase and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund.

Miami ranks first in the nation in severe cost burden, meaning that more people in Miami than in any other metropolitan area spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing.

“With the development of MAP, courtesy of Dr. Bachin and her team at the CCE, we will now be able to better measure, better manage, better provide for affordable housing because our basic assumptions will be right, not wrong,” said Michael Liu, director, Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development. “It will be based on empirical data and analysis not on myth and anecdote.”

Liu joined fellow community officials Arden Shank, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida, and Barbara “Bobbie” Ibarra, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, as speakers. The launch also featured speakers from JPMorgan Chase and The Beacon Council.

The innovative project is only the second of its kind – the first was done in New York. For more information on the MAP and its capabilities, visit http://comte.ccs.miami.edu/housing/.

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