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Murders over Money: Bethune Cookman Tragedy

Miami Times Front PageMurders over money

Tragedy leaves gunman, two Bethune-Cookman students dead

Penny Dickerson | 9/23/2015, 2 p.m.
York Zed Bodden

“Murders Over Money” Miami Times Online

DAYTONA BEACH — Money meant everything to York Zed Bodden. Human life meant nothing.

The convicted felon from Miami had dollar signs etched on his chest when Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers arrested him on Friday. He was the sole suspect in the murder of two Bethune-Cookman University students and attempted murder of a third. Bodden was also the rogue wheel in the trio’s roommate set-up. They offered him $200 to leave. But that wasn’t enough—Bodden insisted on $400.

Following a domestic dispute that morphed into a violent fist fight, the 27-year-old felon left the Carolina Club apartment in Daytona Beach and retrieved what police believed was a 9mm or .380 mini-revolver. Within minutes, he returned to the scene and shot in the head Timesha “A’lisa” Carswell, 21, and Diona McDonald, 19. Both were struck at point blank range. He then pumped six bullets into the face and jugular vein of Michael Parham, their 21-year-old male roommate who remains critically injured and clings to life.

Bodden fled the crime-scene and managed to evade a statewide manhunt. At 1 p.m. on Friday, Federal law enforcement agents arrested him at a North Miami apartment. The next day, his short-lived life ended. Prisoner #150020036 was found hanged in the K-28 section of the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami-Dade.

The three shooting victims were music majors from Michigan. McDonald is a Detroit native and Carswell and Parham are from the neighboring town of Inkster. Carswell was dating Bodden who authorities confirmed had been living with a Daytona Beach State College student just one week earlier. A criminal motivated by money, Bodden’s victims lived honorable lives that were the polar opposite:

“There were no signs of drugs or (drug) money anywhere in the house or in the student’s cars,” Chief Michael Chitwood of the City of Daytona Beach Police told the Miami Times. “Every one of those students were good young men and good young women who’ve never been in trouble with the law. They were good students and well respected at Cookman, so that’s what makes this really difficult. These are kids that had a brilliant future. These are kids that would be the future of what America is all about,” he added.

DOMESTIC DISPUTE

The bedrock of communication is rooted in conflict-resolution, but for college roommates who realize, “things weren’t working out,” even a voice of reason wasn’t enough to intervene.

“Micah and Timesha felt it wasn’t going to be pretty when they asked him [Bodden] to move out, so they asked their classmate Sidney Washington of Oklahoma if he could come over and lend some support,” said Chitwood.

“And they were right. When they asked him to leave, a big fight erupts between Micah and our shooter. It got so violent that Mr. Washington armed himself with a knife and you can see in the back room that somebody got shoved through the wall because all the sheet rock was busted, so it was a physical fist fight first.”

 A conciliatory agreement ended the brawl and Bodden went as far as to shake hands with both men. But none of the students could have been prepared for the fatal events that followed when Bodden returned. And police were not prepared to discover a crime scene that revealed how the students ran for their lives.

One female victim was found dead at a closet entrance. The other was on a bedroom floor. Parham was initially shot in a closet, but made his way to the kitchen floor. Washington tried to overtake the shooter, but ultimately dodged death by jumping through a first-floor window. He escaped harm.

FELONS WITH GUNSBCU Campus from Bethune Blvd

The tragedy took place off-campus and almost five miles away from Bethune-Cookman. The university is an institutional jewel that is rich in Southern heritage and seeks to develop students who enter to learn and depart to serve. Carsell and McDonald both departed before their time and at the hands of a felon who never should have been in possession of a gun.

These brutal murders mark the ninth gun-related crime at Bethune-Cookman in the past seven months. Previously, nine students were wounded—this time two students and a shooter are dead. Amplified is Florida’s existence as a fledging “Gunshine state” that continues to search for law enforcement and criminal justice solutions to curb gun-related crimes.

“How do you stop somebody, especially in our society that is so pro-gun everything? You can’t stop ‘em from getting a gun. Especially here in Daytona Beach,” said Chief Chitwood. “All you gotta do is drive into a parking lot and see an F-150 flying the rebel flag and you can rest assure there’s a gun in there. He’s got his bumper sticker screaming ‘I love the NRA’ and ‘Long live the second amendment,’ and that’s what the bad guys break into. They get guns that way.”

BODDEN’S RAP SHEET

York Bodden

York Bodden may have died in a damp county jail, but he left a legacy of felony arrests and convictions that began eight years ago and continued in three-year increments.

• 10/26/2007 False Imprisonment.

• 10/26/2007 Felony Battery

• 04/16/2010 Burglary of an occupied dwelling

• 04/16/2010 Burglary of an unoccupied structure

• 09/17/2015 Capital Murder in the first-degree and aggravated assault.

• 09/19/2015 Felony Suicide

Had he not hanged himself, Chitwood’s recommendation would have been life in prison.

“Part of me is a death penalty advocate and part of me isn’t. He should (have) sat in that jail cell and rot the rest of his life away thinking of what he did to those families,” said Chitwood. “Whatever it was to be, his days of being free and able to hurt anyone else should be done….life in prison may even be too good.”

At press time, the Miami Times was unable to contact Bodden’s next of kin for comment.

Meanwhile Walter Clark, president and CEO of Special Consultant for African-American Government Employees (SCAAGE), is questioning why an inmate in transit ended up dying in police custody.

“The prisoners are not being supervised properly,” Clark said. A similar situation happened to an inmate that was in transit at the jail. They are not equipped to take care of unruly prisoners.”

EXEMPLARY YOUNG WOMEN

Both McDonald and Carswell are B-CU music majors who were active in the university choir and described as “kindhearted girls.” They were exemplary students who both had a parent precede them in death. McDonald’s mother died of breast cancer just months ago and Carswell’s father succumbed to cancer when she was three.

“I hope to God, in my lifetime, I never know the pain that those parents know because I don’t know if I would be able to live in the shoes they’re in, especially Mr. McDonald,” shared Chitwood, whose own daughter is a college senior at a separate institution. He finally allowed her to move off campus this year, but after these shootings, he regrets that decision.

Prayer vigils were held on campus the day following the students’ tragic deaths. The Miami Times spoke with Ira Johnson, the uncle and pastor of Carswell. It was his family who raised his deceased niece after her father [Tim] Carswell died:

“She always called me “Uncle Ira J” and the whole family called her “Lisa.” She was always smiling and such a great spirit,” Johnson shared. “ We have a huge family, but Lisa was the heart and soul of the family. She was an encourager. After the Charleston shootings, she went on Facebook and lifted up other cousins by saying, ‘Don’t worry Cuz, it’s gonna be alright. She would often call and say ‘I love you’ for no reason,” Johnson added.

BETHUNE COOKMAN STATEMENT The office of president Edison O. Jackson released the following response last week:

“It is with saddened hearts that Bethune-Cookman University announces the loss of two students and the critical injury of a former student. The students were victims of a fatal domestic violence incident that occurred at a privately-owned apartment complex in Daytona Beach, Florida early Thursday afternoon.

Bethune-Cookman University’s first priority is the safety and wellbeing of the students. We will continue to communicate and educate the BCU family about domestic violence and general conflict resolution.

Our Department of Public Safety is readily available to assist all students who are in need of conflict mediation and security services. In addition, personnel in Counseling Services are available for grief counseling. This is a very unfortunate incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones and fellow classmates of these students.”

Surviving student Parham remains in intensive care at Halifax Regional Hospital. Chitwood is expected to launch a campaign in the coming days for donations in the form of gift cards to restaurants that will be extended to Parham’s family. They arrived from Michigan and have remained at his bedside since last Thursday.

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Angela Robinson “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”

Arbus NovDec 2013 FKudos to Angela Robinson for serving as a master-example of how a girl with a dream can become a woman boasting stardom.  She is a Jacksonville-native and graduate of William M. Raines High School who has journeyed a route to be admired and an apt lesson for all who dare to dream and are confronted with the “fear of failure.” Angela looking beautiful

What knows Angela Robinson of failure? Nothing. Disappointments? Yes, but she has persevered and shares with readers how they, too, can do the same.

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”

http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?i=186755&p=52

Beyond her natural beauty is an admirable narrative that takes readers from the halls of her high school years to the Broadway stage.  Now, she’s a leading television actress on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network in Tyler Perry’s first scripted drama, “The Haves and The Have Nots.”

Angela Robinson over Jacksonville

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”

http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?i=186755&p=52

 

 

 

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The Last Responders (Funeral Directors)

Three gatekeepers of COVID-19 death

 Updated 

Miami Times

The Last Responders

Miami-Dade County morticians are tasked with helping area families lay their loved ones to rest with dignity amid social distancing mandates that restrict public gatherings to only ten people who must then remain six feet apart.

 

The business of burying the dead six feet deep has been compromised by a mandate that keeps mourners six feet apart. COVID-19 is changing the way America lives and how swiftly we die. The virus now serves as a torch for final breaths passed from hands on the front lines to the care of last responders.

Miami Shores mortician Gregg L. Mason laid to rest a 29-year-old young woman in April during the height of a pandemic. Her celebration of life was not a funeral, but rather a private family service held in the chapel and attended by ten closest next of kin.

The guest book familiar to somber occasions was perched on a podium along with a fine point pen. Both were manned by staff, and each were carefully wiped with sanitizer after a signature was scribed. Clergy stood close by wearing masks.

“There has been a change. It is totally out of the norm to see a funeral with only ten people due to social distancing,” Mason told The Miami Times April 11.

“People waited for an hour and waved in the sunshine as the coach led her remains all the way down 6th Avenue to the cemetery for interment,” Mason added.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mason’s funeral home serving a rainbow of people. His clientele includes a Haitian contingency that traditionally attend funerals in droves. That, too, has changed along with Mason’s dual role as counselor.”

“One of the most important aspects of bereavement is to extend physical reassurance, and at Gregg Mason we’re known for that touch,” Mason shared.

“I catch myself now when offering comfort. It’s difficult to refrain from doing so.”

Prestigious roots

The allure of warm weather enticed Mason to migrate from Chicago to Florida in 1995. In shy town, he worked for the prestigious Earnest A. Griffin funeral home, the proprietor who handled arrangements for noteworthy Blacks including the honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Johnson publishing family of Ebony magazine fame.

In a career spanning four decades, the funeral director and graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale has witnessed firsthand how disease can be a determinant for widespread change.

Coronavirus and AIDS

“We’ve embalmed three bodies with coronavirus. All have been in their 90s and some from nursing homes,” said Mason. “Either the family or hospital would inform me and the medical examiner actually came to our facility to test and confirm their status. In one case, the family disclosed coronavirus as cause of death.”

Mason recalls how the 1980s AIDS epidemic presented the funeral industry with many unknowns in the 21st century, COVID-19 is doing the same despite a drastic shift in social perspective.

“We were so afraid of AIDS cases back then, deceased weren’t even embalmed. It was either direct cremation or direct burial,” Mason explained. “As we grew more knowledgeable, universal protection for embalmers came up and later became law that we wear personal protective equipment.”

More bodies, less room

The acronym PPE is arguably the crisis runner-up to COVID-19. Hospitals and healthcare workers don’t seem to have an adequate supply, and the flow of dead bodies across state lines has called for refrigerated trailers to serve as makeshift morgues.

The Florida Dept. of Health reported 21,019 cases of coronavirus as of Monday, April 13. Florida has 470 documented deaths with more than 100 in Miami-Dade County.

The New York Times reported April 2, “On an average day, 158 people die in New York City from every imaginable cause. But with at least that number dying daily from the coronavirus alone…the usual method of funeral homes collecting bodies from hospitals and working with families to bury or dispose of them is being severely tested.”

“The Miami-Dade population drastically differs from New York where there are countless of homeless without identification, but cremation is a liability” said Mason who confirmed that many South Florida funeral homes are overwhelmed with capacity.

“A colleague in Broward said he brought in a refrigerated truck to store bodies. You can always go back to claim a body if the next of kin shows up. If you cremate, you can’t.”

Evans St. Fort – Haitian son

One Miami family called upon Evans St. Fort when their relative in New York passed away from coronavirus. No facility or morgue had the capacity to accept his body, so the deceased was flown to a South Florida hospital and placed in the in-house morgue. St. Fort funeral home retrieved the deceased and helped plan arrangements.

Since 1980, St. Fort has offered full-service funeral and cremation services to the North Miami Beach community. The 41-year-old graduate of Miramar high school grew up in the industry. He is son to Yves St. Fort, a veteran mortician who owns three funeral homes across Haiti.

New normal funerals

“This week I’ve received two confirmed cases of coronavirus,” he told The Miami Times April 3. “We deal with traditional clientele that follows the tradition of visitation after death and a church service. The pandemic has really changed that.”

According to St. Fort, his businesses unique menu has always implemented computer technology during the planning phase. Phone conferences have proven to work well and virtual services have been a mainstay for years.

You only die once

“To comply with CDC protocols for social distancing, more families have chosen to livestream services,” said St. Fort. “It’s a tough mission but many are also choosing to stay in a holding pattern to see if the quarantine is lifted because they want many people to attend.”

The Lynn University graduate earned an associate in science degree in mortuary science and garnered stateside training from a prominent mortician in Ft. Lauderdale. St. Fort’s funeral home houses an onsite morgue with storage capacity for 16 bodies and said an embalmed body can be stored for up to three to four months. St. Fort has waived the storage fee during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I love what I do,” St. Fort declared. “Helping people is a huge feeling, and you do a lot of things in life more than once, but you can only pass away one time.”

Range – an established name

The family name, “Range” is a name dropper in the Miami-Dade County Black community. Located at 5727 NW 17th Ave., Range Funeral Home has an extended location in Coconut Grove and a namesake M. Athalie Range Chapel of Restful Peace in Homestead.

Award-winning mortician and industry leader N. Patrick Range, Sr. took the helm in 1960 following the death of his father and founder, Oscar L. Range, Sr. Third generation son N. Patrick, II is current manager and general counsel, and the legacy business owns bragging rights for guiding the 15-year training of Gregg L. Mason.

Obeying the rules

“We have had three funerals for those who have passed away from coronavirus,” Range told The Miami Times April 13. “Funerals have long been a gathering of friends and family as the loss of a loved one is heartfelt, but we’re just trying to obey the indications given by the health dept.”

Range will hold an upcoming service where again, only ten immediate family members can enter the funeral home or travel to the cemetery.

“It’s just not in the best interest to hold a viewing where people are sitting and chatting close together,” said Range. “I want to do all I can to eradicate the virus and not do anything to help it spread.”

 

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University, and Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Temple University.

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Fist pound to a Haitian poet

Enzo Silon Surin’s new collection is a voice to save Black boys.

Penny Dickerson

 Updated 

Miami Times

Enzo Silon Surin

“Young black boys suffer a great deal from PTSD and consequent mood disorders as a result of the type of violence they are exposed to. Instead, what we mostly get is a perspective that portrays such young boys as active or potential perpetuators. I believe being able to name an experience and putting it into a context that one can understand is both validating and empowering.”

-Enzo Silon Surin

The Revolving Door Reading Series: Online Edition Part III kicked-off at 8:00 p.m. sharp in a grid-view on Zoom. In this era of shutdown that defies the new normal, artistry prevails, friends continue to gather and poets show up. Some showed out like Ebony E. Chinn, a freelance copy editor from New Jersey who welcomes forthcoming publications on Callallo. A Salvadorian-American poet from Inglewood, CA and managing editor who answers to the name Cynthia Guardado read her ethnic insights and there, too, was Chicago poet, Lisa Farver.

But closing out the night was a quiet giant who waited patiently. His head glistened under light and he donned a tailored jacket that offered a glimpse of an Eddie Bauer t-shirt, if your perception was keen. My instincts were stoked. I waited in anticipation, but not like a giddy fan. It was simply out of respect to witness the literary manifestation of why poets bring pen to page.

Enzo Silon Surin did not disappoint. The Haitian-born poet, artist, publisher and social advocate is author of When My Body Was A Clinched Fist (Black Lawrence Press, July 2020), and the chapbooks, A Letter of Resignation: An AmericanLibretto (2017) and Higher Ground (2006). He is a PEN New England Celebrated New Voice in Poetry, the recipient of a Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation and a 2020 Denis Diderot [A-i-R] Grant as an Artist-in-Residence at Chateau d’Orquevaux in Orquevaux, France. Surin’s work gives voice to experiences that take place in what he calls “broken spaces” and his poems have been featured in numerous publications and exhibits. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and is currently Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College and founding editor and publisher at Central Square Press.

Enzo, too, is a language beast. A rhythmic master. A storyteller to reckon and after interviewing him for The Miami Time on Friday, April 24, I can personally attest that he personifies transparency. We talked the delicate matter of Black boys and dealing with mental health and anxiety, being a Brown Haitian in Black America, and how he eventually opened a clinched fist to become a loving husband and father of two boys who exudes the sensitivity he never knew as a child, but realizes it is as necessary to life as breath. Here’s what he shared in our four-question exchange:

PD: I’ve read it has taken you ten years to pen your upcoming collection, When my body was a clinched fist that will debut in July 2020. What served as the motivator to continue creatively until you reached the finish line?

Enzo: Whether I wanted to or not, my body was already telling a story about my experiences and that story would have remained trapped unless I released it. As someone who spent most of his youth and adult life grappling with anxiety,  it was not a complicated decision to make but it surely was one of the toughest decisions of my life. Writing about my experiences meant I had to relive each and every single one of them. As a result, I had to create safe spaces for myself and also proceed at a safe pace—having to walk back down streets I had spent years paving with a pen did not make necessarily make them any safer. 

That being said, the reason why I worked so hard and for so long to cross the finish line, chiseling away at these poems, is because one day when someone happens to read said poems they might feel seen and heard in their own struggle to overcome similar situations. I want them to feel, even for a minute or two, that this thing called life is worth the hard and long chisel and that they too are worthy of such a dedication.

PD: When my body was a clinched fist is metaphorical in that you have evolved from the restraints — the streets — of adolescence into a creative force who appears quite comfortable in his own masculine skin. Tell The Miami Times how your writing process and poetic indulgence helped both evolve.

Enzo: Poetry allows us to provide what Ken Burns refers to as a “safe harbor to express our emotions.” Being both introverted and a sensitive black youth presents a far greater challenge to navigate the perilous streets of one’s life. I spent a good amount of time not just avoiding the violence but also trying to protect myself emotionally. And it was very difficult to balance the two worlds.

Society doesn’t often provide the perspective that young black boys suffer a great deal from PTSD and consequent mood disorders as a result of the type of violence they are exposed to. Instead, what we mostly get is a perspective that portrays such young boys as active or potential perpetuators. I believe being able to name an experience and putting it into a context that one can understand is both validating and empowering.

PD: Why is this collection of poems such an important reference and voice for young Black boys who have chosen to abandon violence? How can it help those who resist peace?

Enzo: When My Body Was A Clinched Fist is an interjection in the conversation about what happens to sensitive black boys in a very tough environment, especially those who choose to walk away, as recommended, and not contribute to or participate in the violence they face every single day. They become members of a subculture of society that does not receive much support or recognition for the challenges they face by making that decision. As such, they grapple with mental health issues of a different caliber, one that doesn’t manifest itself as profoundly as a strike or blow but is traumatic nonetheless. The toughest part is always walking away, finding fifty different ways to not expose oneself to the rain is not an easy task when you live in a climate prone to precipitation.

PD: How important is your Haitian heritage in the advancement of your creative voice?

Enzo: Haitians don’t shy away from difficult conversations. There is no other direction that Haitians know to move forward than that of moving forward. There is so much still going on in Haiti and our community is connected to that political structure. We are still connected to fighting two different forces. America only has to worry about America, Haitians have to worry about America, Haiti and being Black and Brown within the fight. And everyone is affected and certain people get targeted over and over. One of things I got as a kid growing up was listening to storytelling every Friday and Saturday night. You don’t get that from an MFA program, it’s an art that helps you write music like hip hop, like Haitian Soca, merengue. All of that feeds into the creative voice.

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Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University, and Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Temple University.

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Two sides of homeless plight in the wake of COVID-19

A two-sided fight may cost the vulnerable a win

Penny Dickerson, managing editor

 Updated 

Miami-Dade homelessness
The Miami-Dade County community learned that a public citizen known to be homeless passed away from coronavirus on April 17. He was a 26-year-old resident of the Chapman South Homeless Assistance Center in Homestead, Florida. At his family’s request, his name was withheld. His life not only mattered, he represents a vulnerable population in dire need of COVID-19 testing and shelter. While homeless advocates are aligned in their intent, an unkind divide exists between two influential men. Their reconciliation could leverage all efforts to provide for the homeless.

“My job is to guard the money and stretch it as far as any rubber band. I am cheap and frugal, but I refused an offer of 2,000 rapid antibody tests because it is not FDA approved. Everything Dr. Henderson is saying about me is a lie.”

-Ron L. Book, Esq.,

Chair of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust 

Book oversees a $68.5M budget to implement the homeless plan

Ron L. Book, Esq. is arguably misunderstood. Raised in North Miami, the former track star studied law at Tulane University and is now over 60 years old and a voluminous presence. He has triumphed cancer and says he is “the poster child for the immunocompromised.” He has not been tested for coronavirus, but is ensuring that his approximate, 165 sheltered-seniors and 476 staff are able to access COVID-19 testing.

Book has reigned as a community leader representing the underserved for 25 years and is current chair of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. The position holds him accountable for overseeing a reported $68.5M budget to implement the county’s homeless plan. He is an avid storyteller who wields words with speed, but Book admits his entire world stopped when he learned one of the Trust’s “own” had died.

“I publicly cried most of the day Saturday,” Book told The Miami Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday, April 19. “We thought we were past the peak one week ago and had made it without losing any of our homeless people. I received a call from my staff at about 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and was just devastated.”

Pandemic planning

According to Book, the deceased male had underlying health issues including “serious diabetes,” and when it was discovered a male in the public-private partner, Chapman Partnership male dorm tested positive, every known Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention protocol along with mandates provided by the Florida Dept. of Health and division of emergency management.

“We started negotiating four or five weeks ago with hotels to make sure we had shelter reserved if we needed it,” said Book. “We know you can’t just snap your fingers and make things happen if the need arises and you need to evacuate hundreds of people, so we’ve been planning ahead since the pandemic’s onset.”

That planning began mid-March with the dissemination of information on social distancing and the threat of coronavirus in English, Spanish and Creole to as many of the 1,024 homeless individuals who dwell outdoors in the county that could be reached. Families and individuals at the Salvation Army, Lotus House, Camilus House, Chatman Partnership and beyond were, too, included and given masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Hands-on, street testing

Who launched an initiative to test the homeless and the preferred methodology remains a debate, but Book said he was on the street with his Project Lazarus and Camilus House team last week.

“I wasn’t satisfied with the pace. Why in a five hour period, could we only complete seven or eight tests?” Book wondered. “In one day, we still only did 20 tests, and the main reason is that it takes a great deal of time to convince a homeless person to take the test, complete paperwork and acquire signatures. I have begged, and they shake their heads and say, ‘I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna.’”

According to Book, testing is ongoing with more than 3,500 more swab kits on order. The  culmination of much of Book’s efforts are marked in the Trust negotiating a contract with Dunns-Josephine Hotel to house clients who have been tested and need to remain quarantined pending results.

“The last guy I touched was a 77-year-old man who lives in the underpass of Jose Marti Park,” said Book. “He tested, but then refused to accept a hotel room.

That’s not uncommon and people don’t factor those situations into the equation when seeking to understand the Trust’s dilemma.”

People’s perception of the homeless is jaded, discriminatory and unfair. We are grateful, humble and appreciative to be here.”

-Metris Batts-Coley, sales and marketing director, Dunns-Josephine Hotel.

Black-owned business bridges the gap

Historic Overtown welcomed Dunns-Josephine Hotel to the neighborhood  in December of 2019. The Harlem Renaissance-themed bread and breakfast is adjacent to cruise ports and the airport with 50% of the clientele being international travelers.

It is also situated blocks from  tent city occupied by the homeless community, their new clientele. Owner Kristen Kitchen and the Miami Dade County Homeless Trust have engaged a contract to assist the greater good.

COVID-19 contract with Homeless Trust

The Miami Times reported April 1 that the business first experienced pandemic-related occupancy following the cancellation of the Miami Gardens Jazz in the Gardens music festival scheduled March 13-15.

Kitchens was quoted to have said, “We had 42 cancellations in 24 hours that weekend…it was a train wreck you couldn’t stop.” The Dunns-Josephine is one of few, local Black-owned businesses who have experienced an economic reprieve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We signed an initial, one-month contract on March 25 for $32,000,” Metris Batts-Coley told The Miami Times April 18. “The room rate is $76 and our maximum occupancy is 15 rooms in a two-story dwelling. The Southside of the second story, houses eight rooms and  opens up to a breeze way that allows clients to smoke.”

Book said he entered negotiations for the short haul, but expects he may have to extend to meet needs.

“We need to ensure that people have access to housing during the testing period and beyond,” Book said. “I am guessing the contract will last 60-90 days or longer.”

Public health expertise

Batts-Coley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in marketing from Johnson & Wales University and met Kitchen through economic development circles. But her background in public health proved to be the link need to successfully collaborate and meet a critical need during an unexpected pandemic.

“I was the HIV/AIDS minority coordinator for Palm Beach County,” Batts-Coley said. “I have worked for Catalyst Miami, and I am rooted in continuum care. To pull this off, I didn’t solicit the help of residential workers, but rather those in behavior health who had been furloughed or laid off.”

An expertise in protocol development helped Batts-Coley transition the hotel to emergency accommodations where social distancing and all CDC guidelines were followed. A television, Netflix and Wifi are also provided in each room along with a coffee pot, microwave and refrigerator.

“We are not offering a hotel experience, this is isolation. The clients who come here are quarantined until their test status is known,” Batts-Coley explained. “There is no room service or turn-down. Rooms formerly named Josephine Baker, Marcus Garvey and Zora Neale Hurston now have numbers and clients who check in are from Chapman, Lotus or various shelters and arrive with masks and gloves, but we also have N95 masks and bleach cleaning.”

“Ron Book is a prison lobbyist. I am a doctor not funded by the Trust nor am I afraid of Book’s power. During this pandemic, I felt compelled to do more.” -Dr. Armen Henderson

Henderson was handcuffed last week– now, his work continues

Armen Henderson became an unwitting media darling the week of April 13 when he made national headlines for being racially profiled. He was handcuffed in front of his own home while his wife and two young children sat nearby. A city of Miami police officer suspected Henderson of dumping trash. He was actually loading tents to distribute to the homeless as part of his ongoing street advocacy.

Henderson also offered The Miami Times an exclusive interview on Sunday, April 19 and made clear he was more than a Black man in handcuffs and a headline. And don’t let the baby face fool you. The 34-year-old Philadelphia native is a graduate of the city’s renowned Central high school and excelled at hoops as a Mansfield University undergraduate. Meharry medical college followed along with a residency at Jackson South where he currently practices as a licensed physician of internal medicine through the University of Miami Health System.

Verbal handshake to backtracking

“On March 20th, my friend Mario Bailey, who is a Tallahassee lobbyist and familiar with my community work, encouraged me to reach out to Ron Book,” Henderson said. “I was then referred to Vickie Mallette, executive director of the Homeless Trust. I told her I was going to start testing the homeless  and she said, ‘Great! Let me know if any test positive and we’ll house them in hotels.’”

“Vickie seemed amenable, but two days later when I identified symptomatic homeless people needing quarantine according to CDC guidelines, the conversation ended. She said they didn’t have any hotel rooms,” Henderson explained.

Henderson is an experienced street soldier in disaster management whose training includes three stints in Haiti and working stateside following hurricane Irma. His alliance of cohorts includes the Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Smile Trust and Dade County Street Response Disaster Relief team.

An evolution of distrust ensued that included Mallette allegedly reporting Henderson to the Florida Dept. of Health. Brought into question was both his medical credentials and who approved him to pursue county testing? That was March 22 and while Henderson provided text messages, The Miami Times reached out directly to Mallette.

In a statement provided to The Miami Times April 21, The M Network provided the following on behalf of the Homeless Trust: “Thank you for reaching out to the Trust for a comment. We really do appreciate it, however, at this critical point in time, opening up this conversation does nothing to advance efforts to serve homeless individuals in Miami-Dade. No one benefits.”

Public demand for change

On Friday, April 17, Henderson was front and center at lot 15 of the Miami Parking Authority where he held a press conference in conjunction with community organizers, clergy and medical providers.

His call for action was the very charge Book claims he has championed all along. According to the press release, Henderson is calling for Book and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take immediate action and announce an expansion of the group’s efforts to provide resources to Miami’s homeless community.

“We wouldn’t be out here if the Homeless Trust, which receives millions of dollars in tax revenue every year, we’re doing what needs to be done to protect the homeless,” said Henderson who dually serves as director of health program for the Dream Defenders.

“Chairman Ron Book has left our most vulnerable communities out on the streets, without testing them, without giving them a place to shelter, wash and eat. This negligence is putting our entire city at risk in the face of the pandemic. The way I was racially profiled and arrested on Saturday is business as usual in Miami Dade County. Their response to a pandemic in our communities is to criminalize, rather than protect, the most vulnerable, especially poor, Black people.”

Henderson is equally advocating for what he deems unwarranted and exorbitant arrests of homeless people in the county, an activity he believes is directly related to Book’s lobbyist activity on behalf of the for-profit prison company, the GEO group.

“In my public data search of Miami-Dade jail bookings between March 12, which was the start of the emergency pandemic period, and April 18, there were 264 arrests where the address is listed as homeless, that’s out of 2,708 entries,” Henderson told The Miami Times. “That’s 9.75% of all arrests and 21 of those entries were second and third arrests for the same person. So, in reality, 243 homeless individuals have faced arrest since this pandemic began.”

Henderson is passionate in his quest to seek resolve and it is his belief that the Trust just started testing the homeless “three days ago,” indicating they launched April 16.

“We should all be working together, but the Trust could be doing more,” Henderson said. “I want to get everybody who wants to be off  the streets, off the streets, and now that we have Ron Book’s attention, he can do more too.”

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University, and Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Temple University.

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‘Hamilton’ is digital and free!

‘Hamilton’ is digital and free for classrooms during COVID-19

EduHam is the online companion to the Broadway hit

Getting a ticket to see “Hamilton” was a stroke of good luck even before the COVID-19 virus forced Broadway to go dark. The desperate music theatre fan nearly bartered their first born or came close to selling plasma, or skipping rent, for a single chance to acquire a pair of tickets to see “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel’s history chronicle set to hip song and dance.

A mezzanine seat was acceptable. Front row or orchestra? Forget about. The “die hard” enthusiast would settle for a standing-room only aisle slot after waiting in line in the rain at the Time Square ticket booth. “Hamilton” is hot for audiences young and old. The intended point has been driven home.

Now, a popular learning companion is available to the stage show through a digital, in-school program known as EduHam. It is being made available through August, free of charge, to teachers, parents and students from coast to coast who are held captive in virtual classrooms.

What they will be viewing is not the film version of the megahit Broadway musical on stage at the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York or on tour, that version is scheduled for release in October 2021. But now, a brand new audience has a ticket and can proclaim that “Hamilton” is in the house. Their house.

The launch of EduHam at Home was announced Tuesday, April 21 by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and his partners in the venture: producer Jeffrey Seller, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which developed the curriculum. The program uses a love of the musical to spark students’ interests in creative pursuits and tie them to historical research.

EduHam was born as an offshoot of “Hamilton” itself, and Miranda says the project — in which 250,000 students nationwide have participated — has proved to be a hit as much with cast members as younger people.

“It quickly became our favorite thing we do as a company,” Miranda said in a telephone interview. “I am so inspired seeing what these kids draw on and are able to create.”

The digital version, available for download at gilderlehrman.org/eduhamhome, has been in development for a while. The launch was moved up as Miranda and others recognized a need for kids to have educational projects at home during the coronavirus-induced shutdown of classrooms.

“As a parent, I’ve been so grateful for the curriculum that has popped up online,” the actor-composer said, adding that he’s been a de facto “kindergarten teacher” for his own children: Sebastian, 5 and Francisco, 2. Other Broadway hits are unveiling home online versions of their school-based curriculum now, too: Disney Theatrical Productions, for instance, has just released “The Lion King Experience” (LionKingExperience.com), which trains students in the process of staging their own versions of the musical.

In its original form, EduHam was designed for Title 1 schools — that is, schools in low-income areas receiving federal aid — to bolster the teaching of history.

“Hamilton” has, up to now, offered it in cities in which the musical is performing, whether on Broadway or in Chicago or on tour. It asks students to research figures and events from American history and, as in Miranda’s work, compose songs, poems, scenes or hip-hop numbers based on what they’ve learned. In the live version, students performed their work at the end of the unit; in the digital version, students will submit their work online. Cast members will choose the 10 best every week, to be featured on the website and shared through social media.

“This whole thing is in the DNA of ‘Hamilton,’ ” said James G. Basker, professor of literary history at Barnard College and president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

With the encouragement, too, of historian Ron Chernow, who wrote the biography of Alexander Hamilton that Miranda used as his source, Gilder Lehrman adapted the EduHam program for the online version. It was then tested with students in a pilot program involving 70 schools in 37 states.

The instructional aspect of the program, Basker said, is to familiarize students with using primary source material. On the website, he explained, users will find an instructional video by Miranda and 40 characters from the Revolutionary period: some of them figures in “Hamilton,” and others, such as Dolley Madison, wife of the nation’s fourth president, James Madison. Fourteen historical events — for example, the Boston Massacre — are detailed, and a trove of original documents from the period will be available.

It’s the students’ job to pick from among the references as an inspiration for their song, spoken-word piece, or rap number. Basker framed the experience in Miranda terms: “He was looking at the Founders, getting at their ideas, and putting them in the idiom of now.”

“I think it could be the best way to save some parents,” said Seller, “Hamilton’s” lead producer, who was also one of the producers of “Rent.” “This is a great opportunity for kids and their parents to work together and use ‘Hamilton’ in an educational manner in a way to be both entertaining and super-instructive.”

The program has the additional advantages of keeping “Hamilton” current, and forging a connection to the musical in parts of the country that it has not been able to reach in person. The show itself, which employs 450 people in its six companies, is temporarily sidelined, as are some of Miranda’s other projects.

He said he was two weeks into directing a Netflix film version of “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson’s musical “Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom!” when the virus forced production to shut down. As a result, Miranda’s directorial debut is on hiatus, too.

“It’s a time to cope, for the most part,” he said of the suspension of normal life. “That’s not, though, not to mourn the alternate timeline.”

In this timeline, the hope is that a groundbreaking musical can continue to play a leading role in sparking young imaginations.

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University, and Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Temple University.

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