Cecilia Gutierrez: Works to Lift Kids Out of Poverty

By Charlotte Libov

Cecilia Gutierrez goes to work each day in Liberty City, Miami’s poorest and toughest neighborhood, which is where she chooses to be. As President and CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI), Gutierrez is not only the neighborhood’s chief advocate, but she urges others to embrace it as well.

Cecilia Gutierrez
Cecilia Gutierrez

MCI is committed to lifting the neighborhood’s children out of poverty by creating a community-based network that uses many tools, but primarily focuses on education as a way out of poverty.

This is a goal that Gutierrez knows intimately.

“I grew up poor and I got a scholarship to go to Boston College, and then I got a scholarship to get my master’s, so I am someone who fundamentally understands that the one thing that will end generational poverty is education,” says Gutierrez.

This is a goal that Gutierrez has spent her adult career fostering, and it is why she will be honored with the prestigious Pa’Lante Award on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 by the Gay8 Festival, a free Latino art, music and food street festival that celebrates Miami’s diverse communities. The festival takes place on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

While Gutierrez is pleased with the honor, she does not like to have such accolades take away from her attention to her work, she says.

“I have the privilege of working for the poor so for me to be even recognized around the effort that I am investing heart, soul, mind and spirit, reminds me to be focused on the work,” she says.

And her task is monumental, when you consider that Liberty City was showcased as one of the three communities– along with Overtown and Little Haiti – where 8,280 individual gunshots rained down within a year– an average of 22 bullets a day in just a four square-mile area, the Miami Herald says.

But, despite the drive-by shootings and other tragedies, Gutierrez finds Liberty City a story of hope and a place in which she can make a difference.

In working her own way out of poverty, Gutierrez earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, then went on to earn a Master’s in Public Administration as a National Urban Fellow from Baruch College, CUNY.

She also carved out a career in senior level leadership, focusing on helping students and families gain access to quality education. She served as Executive Director of an education non-profit organization in Miami-Dade County, Breakthrough Miami and as a Senior Program Officer for the Beaumont Foundation of America, managing grants valued at approximately $11.5 million.

Also, for more than three years, Cecilia served as Special Assistant to a member of the New York City Board of Education crafting policies on instructional technology, improving middle-grade schools and strengthening bilingual education.

In 2011, she joined MCI, initially as the Vice President for Development and a now as its’ President/CEO.

It is a career that has intertwined education, senior leadership, and, most of all, service.

And it all led Gutierrez to Liberty City, because, she says, “I want to go not only in the neighborhood in need but to go into the pocket where people say, don’t go there, because you’ll be shot,” she says.

Because it is here that she finds not only tragedy – but also hope. And love.   I can tell you, particularly in Liberty City, I have met the kindest, most loving people that I’ve met anywhere in my life. On a daily basis, I get hugs from kids in the neighborhood,” she says.

And, for Gutierrez, this is reward enough.

Steve Adkins: Winning A Place at the Table

By Charlotte Libov

When Steve Adkins got involved with the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the organization had only about 30 members. Now, about a dozen years later, that membership stands at 700.

Steve Adkins
Steve Adkins

Thanks to his work, the MDGLCC is now on par with all the other business chambers in Miami-Dade County, and provides a way for the LGBT community to make their influence known in all of South Florida.

For his achievements, Adkins will be honored with the prestigious Pa’Lante Award on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 by Gay8 Festival, a free Latino art, music and food street festival that celebrates Miami’s diverse communities. The festival takes place on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Miami’s Historic Little Havana.

“I feel very honored to be given this award. Gay8 is a young organization but they’ve created these awards to look back over the history of the LGBT community here and reward those who have been working over the years. I’m very proud to be part of this group,” says Adkins.

A San Diego, Calif., native, Adkins was born into a banking family. Following his family’s footsteps, he succeeded, holding several positions in the banking world. In the mid-to-late 90s, he served as vice president of international trade and finance manager for the Union Bank of California, Southern California; handling such major accounts as Aldila, Inc.; Cubic Corporation, Titan, Inc., ASI Aerospace Group; and Jenny Craig.

But he made a huge pivot in 1999, moving to Miami Beach to realize his dream of running a bed and breakfast. He operated Jefferson House, which has been South Beach’s only licensed B&B for years, until he decided it was time for another change.

He needed a bigger arena, and he realized that there was a way to combine his new identity as an openly gay man while taking advantage of his business acumen.

“I had transitioned from a long banking career in California. During that time, I had been pretty closeted, so this was my first foray into being an openly gay business person,” says Adkins.

“I didn’t want to go back into the closet, so I decided to look at what I could do to help my community and at the same time make a living.”

These days, Adkins is busy overseeing all aspects of the MDGLCC, which has grown into a major and influential business organization, but he still finds time to reach out to the community, and make sure that everyone finds their place in this fold.

“My goal was to raise the bar, so our Chamber would be on equal footing with all of the other chambers in Miami-Dade County. And now, whenever there is a discussion on business, tourism, travel, or any other topic that affects our life here, our voice is heard as a legitimate member of the community,” he says.

Gay8 Festival Honors Trailblazer Desmond Child

By Charlotte Libov

Latin Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Desmond Child is esteemed as one of the most successful musicians, songwriters and music producers in history, but his contributions go even beyond his iconic status.

Desmond Child
Desmond Child

A Florida native of mixed Hungarian and Cuban ancestry, Child credits his passion for songwriting to his mother, Cuban songwriter Elena “Mimi” Casals, who was his first inspiration.

Child will be honored with the prestigious Pa’Lante Award on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 by the Gay8 Festival, a free Latino art, music and food street festival that celebrates Miami’s diverse communities. The festival takes place on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

“I am profoundly humbled to be nominated as a recipient of the Pa’Lante Award. In fact, I am very emotional about it as my mother, the late Cuban Bolero composer and poet Elena Casals, and I literally lived up and down Calle 8 in one cuartería or another for many years as she struggled as a single mom to make ends meet and also be recognized for her soulful songs in this new country,” Child said.

“While she smoked, drank cafecitos and talked politics with the crowd of refugiados gathered around the open windows of the café’s, I learned to play dominos with the old men in the guayaberas… some whom had known my grandfather in Cuba. Calle 8 was our only tie to our lost world and survival in the new one. It’s the one place I can really call home,” he added.

Child attended Miami Dade College, forming his first group “Desmond Child and Rouge” in the 70’s and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s won accolades that range from a Latin Grammy to an astounding list of credits, which include over 70 Top 40 singles – including several Billboard chart toppers.

His collaborations run the gamut from Aerosmith to ZEDD, Bon Jovi to Ricky Martin, KISS to Kelly Clarkson, Cher to Katy Perry, Garth Brooks to Carrie Underwood, and from Megadeth to Mickey Mouse and Kermit The Frog.

Child’s reach is astounding. Ricky Martin’s megahit “La Copa de la Vida,” the official theme of the 1998 World Cup, was performed in front of two billion viewers. Even greater success followed a year later when Child co-wrote and co-produced Martin’s first English language smash hit “Livin’ la Vida Loca.”

He is receiving this honor because his accomplishments go far beyond the world of music.

In 2013, he co-founded the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame to educate, preserve, honor and celebrate the legacy of the world’s greatest Latin songwriters.

On a personal note, Child co-wrote and starred in “Two,” a documentary tracing the 12-year journey of he and his husband Curtis Shaw to create their new modern family, which now includes their sons Roman and Nyro.

Gay8 Festival Returns to Little Havana’s Historic Calle Ocho

Businesses and Community Celebrate Local Diversity Through Music, Food & Art

Miami, FL. – Miami’s top bands, businesses, community leaders, and all of Miami will once again come together on January 15, 2017 for the second annual Gay8 Festival. Gay8 (GayOcho!) is the first Latino LGBT art, music and food street festival in Miami’s historic Little Havana, and features some of Miami’s most celebrated musical talent – bands like Lucy Grau, the Spam Allstars, Sonlokos and Locos Por Juana. The inaugural festival surpassed all expectations with an estimated 17,000 in attendance in 2016.

“We were so thrilled to see such a great response on a first-year event. The LGBTA* community is honored to host a festival meant to open doors and connect people who traditionally don’t connect” said organizer Damian Pardo. “We hope Gay8 will continue to represent a fun-filled day for all Miamians where we celebrate connection and collaboration.”

Gay8 also features a number of events surrounding the street festival – including dance parties, food tastings, free film showcase, cigar tastings and pop-up art performances. Miami’s richest flavors fill the air with captivating aromas, as noted local restaurants host booths that will feature some of the best South Florida cuisine.

Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater and the Miami International Film Festival will showcase 3 LGBT themed movies during the festival. Visual arts are also aplenty at Gay8, as some of the best artists South Florida has to offer will punctuate the festival at booths displaying unique, authentic works of art.

There will be spontaneous performances throughout the festival in varying locations, free historic walking tours of the area and much more.

Further, the festival will highlight the issue of gun violence in our community, including an exhibit by the Stonewall National Museum and Archives related to the Pulse nightclub shootings.

For more information including schedule of events, booths and sponsorships, visit www.gay8festival.com.

WHO:               Local businesses and community leaders

WHAT:             Gay8 Festival (GayOcho Festival)

WHERE:           Calle Ocho (Miami’s SW 8th Street) from 14th to 17th Avenues

WHEN:             Sunday, January 15, 2017 from 11 AM to 10 PM

WHY:              Gay8 Festival aims to connect Miami’s diverse communities while blending all of South Florida’s delights into one gigantic block party.
By connecting South Floridians, Gay8 Festival looks to ignite opportunities by bringing people together through food, music and fun.

To download logos and photos visit: http://tinyurl.com/Gay8-Festival-Media-Kit

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allies

RJT Founder Denise Brown to be Honored With the Pa’Lante Award

By Charlotte Libov

When Denise Brown’s son, Roman Bradley was in a drive-by shooting, no one would have blamed her if she withdrew into herself.

Denise Brown
Denise Brown

Instead, she was guided by her faith to seek a way to help families of other murdered children. But she didn’t want to honor Bradley alone; instead, her thoughts went to JaQuivin Myles, who had been fatally shot alongside Bradley, and to Trevin Reddick, their friend, who had been killed in a drive-by shooting the year before.

“The boys had gone to elementary school together and so I didn’t want to separate them,” says Brown. And so the RJT Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps the family of other shooting victims, was born.

The idea for the foundation – including its name – was ‘divinely inspired,’ she says.

“I was so devastated when Roman was killed, I knew nobody could help me but God himself. So I prayed for him to guide me, and, through prayer, that is exactly what the Lord inspired me to do – to establish the foundation, and name it in honor of the three boys, using their first initials, but also that the initials would stand for “Restore Joy and Trust,” she says.

Brown, the founder and CEO of the foundation, will be honored with the prestigious Pa’Lante Award on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 by the Gay8 Festival, a free Latino art, music and food street festival that celebrates Miami’s diverse communities. The festival takes place on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

The mission of the RJT Foundation is to support grieving families, and it does so in a myriad of ways, from providing funeral and burial assistance to lending morale support in navigating the law enforcement and judicial systems. It also offers grief workshops, educational, cultural and recreational experiences and even provides new families with care packages.

The fact that the RJT Foundation is growing is impressive enough, but what is even more amazing is that Brown oversees it while balancing her fulltime job as an administrative assistant to the Miami-Dade County Public School System’s Chief Communication Officer.

But Brown does it because RJT is her mission, she says. “Whenever anyone loses a child, they have a difficult journey, but when it’s a loss because of violence, that’s different. The people who commit these crimes don’t realize they aren’t just affecting the person, they are affecting the whole community.”