I am an author, speaker, teacher and walking tour guide dedicated to helping people confront and heal from racism and global white supremacy.
I earned my Ph.D. in Global & Sociocultural Studies (anthropology, geography and sociology) from Florida International University with an emphasis in Critical Race and Whiteness Studies. I also hold Graduate Certificates in Africana and African Diaspora Studies and Afro-Latin American Studies. I have led walking tours since 2006, also working as a consultant on equitable placemaking and civic engagement.
My understanding of race and white supremacy is also greatly enhanced by my study of U.S. and Latin American history and religion. For more than a decade, I have studied Afro-Atlantic, European and other eco-spiritual traditions and mystery traditions, also learning sacred music and dance. These teachings have helped me understand more fully the significance of embodied knowledge and remembering. During my eclectic life journey, teachers, leaders and humble folk from diverse cultures and communities have shared their wisdom with me as well.
Trained and certified in Permaculture design (by Grow Permaculture, formerly the Permaculture Guild), I embrace whole systems thinking that borrows from or directly utilizes patterns and resilient features found in natural ecosystems.
I do not try to fit into corporate or academic norms. I think white supremacy is a threat to all of us on planet Earth, including those of us who are socially white. My goal is to help people learn about, confront and heal from fear-fueled violent pasts, so that together we can find the courage to reconnect for a kinder, more regenerative, and more just future.
My career spans work in consulting, teaching, tourism, civic engagement, online publishing, and urban planning. What ties it together is my commitment to equity, inclusion, connection and access. Throughout my career, I’ve consistently played a “changemaker” role, proposing new ideas and regenerative systems, forging creative partnerships, and opening up spaces–online and in person–where people can come together across borders for dialogue, fellowship, deliberation, and creative, meaningful connection.
I am often asked how and why I got involved in studying race, white supremacy and placemaking. Below I share some details from my eclectic career journey. Within each topic area below, I give a chronological account of my journey.
- Researching and Teaching About White Supremacy
- Building Capacity for Equitable Placemaking
- Race, Space and Memory: Using Walking Tours to Teach Transnational Histories of Race, Racialization and White Supremacy
- Spirit of Place and Eco-Spirituality
Researching and Teaching About White Supremacy
My interest in racial justice started at a very early age, thanks in part to my anti-racist family.
As my elderly Midwestern grandmother said to me before she passed, “racism is not permitted in our family.” She told me that my great, great grandmother’s home was a stop on the Underground Railroad leading to Canada.
My other grandmother, a Southerner eligible to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (but refusing to do so), was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Vanderbilt University. In 1964, she launched a three-year study on race. It was published in 1969: Group Portrait in Black and White: A Study of the Racial Attitudes of Older Adults. My grandmother was interested in the relationship between space and race, and she was firmly against racial segregation.
Her study, aided by an interracial research team, documented reactions to recently desegregated social spaces in Nashville, Tennessee; it focused on a specific senior center.
I walk in the footsteps of these women.
In high school, my favorite class was “African American Literature.” It inspired me to continue reading poetry, literature and autobiographies by people of color.
My own research explores the role of urban planning and design, heritage tourism, and “spectacles of violence” in constructions of race, racial order and white supremacy. Currently, I’m currently working on a book based on my in-depth study of the racial politics behind the development of Little Havana’s heritage district. It is based on my Ph.D. dissertation.
In the classroom, I teach students about environmental racism, the privatization of public space, and the racial/spatial wealth gap through projects that combine digital mapping and archival research with mini-ethnographies.
For years now, I have also led walking tours that re-examine dominant, taken-for-granted scripts about cities and neighborhoods. Popular scripts tend to erase inconvenient truths, marginalize or distort the contributions of people of color, and propagate racial stereotypes.
My other work on race and white supremacy is mentioned throughout the sections that follow.
Building Capacity for Equitable Placemaking
In Junior High School, I participated in an experimental, semester-long environmental program called Eco-Box, made possible through a partnership with a local nature center. Instead of taking math, science, English or social studies classes, we learned about the history, ecology and geography of the local area and worked on our own independent place-based research projects. We did our work in a gym that had been converted into different micro-environments (e.g., a creative space, a living room-type space, a meditative space, etc.).
For my project, I documented the history of a quarry popular as a play site for local kids, and interviewed the owner of the land. He was furious that people trespassed on it. I realized how differently people can perceive land and place.
In college, I worked part-time as a cartographer and researcher for the Race and Ethnicity Chapter of the Historical Atlas of Massachusetts and took courses in Environmental Perception and Spatial Behavior, Cartography, and Land Use Planning.
Los Angeles, CA
In the early 1990s I entered California’s Internet industry and soon became an outspoken advocate for bridging the “digital divide.” I was especially concerned, however, about the ability for people to develop content for these new online spaces and communities.
I volunteered at a non-profit community technology center in South Central L.A., where I proposed organizing a summit on the need for more online content produced by people of color. The organization’s director connected me to three other activists, and we partnered with Howard University to produce what was likely the nation’s first summit on online content by, for and about people of African descent, held in Washington, DC in 1997: “Internet Opportunities for African Americans.”
As the managing editor for a “website directory,” I proposed new categories aimed at helping women and people of color find the new online communities that were emerging in mid-1990s. Eventually, I became an Internet consultant who helped clients plan and design user-friendly, accessible and engaging websites.
In 1998, I moved from Los Angeles to Washington, DC and began to focus my efforts on equitable placemaking in the material (versus virtual) world. Before I made this transition, I worked as Director of Communications for a DotCom aimed at women business owners and professionals, and as Director of Multimedia for an international youth journalism nonprofit.
As a public participation consultant for the revision of the DC Comprehensive Plan, I developed a model for constituency development foundational to the public engagement process. A “Matrix of Public Participation” I proposed became a crucial element of the engagement process. An in-depth interview with me is featured in the textbook, Becoming an Urban Planner: A Guide to Careers in Planning and Urban Design, in its chapter on public participation.
In line with my commitment to equitable placemaking, I proposed a collaboration between the DC Office of Planning and DC’s Office on Latino Affairs. Based on my recommendation, the city held its first roundtable of local Latinx leaders and outreach workers to discuss strategies for building meaningful Latinx engagement in local planning efforts.
As a consultant to the Community Technology Centers’ Network, I developed and wrote the curriculum for a youth civic engagement program piloted in after-school programs nationwide: “Youth Visions for Stronger Neighborhoods.” During the six-month program, youth analyzed media representations of neighborhoods and residents, conducted interviews, and crafted proposals for building on local assets. Participating youth met with mayors, organized community planning meetings, and formed youth councils.
During my free time, I volunteered for organizations like Byte Back, which addressed the digital divide issue in DC’s neighborhoods, and as a faculty member at the National Building Museum, for its CityVision program engaging DC youth in placemaking projects.
At the neighborhood level, I expressed my commitment to equitable placemaking as Chair of the Economic Diversification committee for Adams Morgan Main Street. At my urging, our committee launched a program aimed at helping mom and pop businesses, including immigrant-owned businesses, survive the demographic shifts and rising rents resulting from increasing gentrification.
I had decided to move to DC after attending the Adams Morgan Day Festival (DC’s largest neighborhood festival) in 1997, and in 2006 I directed the festival. I came up with the idea for a Dance Plaza, which remains one of the most popular features of the annual event. The Plaza features local cultural-social dance groups that perform and teach festival attendees basic moves so they can participate, too.
In the mid-2000s, I directed Imagine Miami, a South Florida civic engagement and visioning initiative of the nonprofit capacity-building organization, Catalyst Miami. In this role, I launched Miami’s first Summit on Arts and Civic Engagement as well as a series of Imagine Miami Changemaker Conferences. I also developed programs and designed participatory processes for expanding cross-sector, multiracial collective action.
At the conferences, Miami’s grassroots community leaders came together to share ideas, projects, resources and skills. National partners included PolicyLink, Project for Public Spaces, WorldCafe, and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Animating Democracy project. Attendees learned from local and non-local case studies and built skills in placemaking, dialogue facilitation, asset mapping and equitable community development.
I developed an inclusive and participatory process for planning the conferences and facilitated WorldCafe dialogues at each event.
Since leaving Catalyst Miami, I have continued to offer my services as a facilitator of civic dialogue on place-related projects. Since 2013, I have led a workshop on arts and civic engagement for Broward County’s (FL) Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute.
After moving to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood in 2007, I quickly become engaged as one of its civic leaders. I began as director of its popular arts and community development organization, Viernes Culturales, which runs a monthly outdoor arts festival.
As co-founder and Vice Chair of the Little Havana Merchant Alliance, I launched a community weekly breakfast series and organized the neighborhood’s first Open House, which brought together more than 100 community leaders, merchants and residents, as well as representatives from local organizations, to learn about various projects taking place in the neighborhood.
When gentrification threatened to displace many of the neighborhood’s immigrant and lower-income residents, also affecting the area’s historic architecture, I joined fellow activists in speaking out for equitable placemaking. All Things Considered (NPR), the Miami Herald, CityLab, the New York Times and other outlets (see media mentions) quoted me for their stories on Little Havana, and PBS featured me in its “Women and Girls Lead” documentary series, which aired nationwide.
After naming Little Havana a national treasure, the National Trust for Historic Preservation featured me in its “Little Havana Me Importa” (Little Havana Matters to Me) exhibit highlighting ten local personalities. In 2019, the local newspaper, Calle Ocho News, gave me a “Community Champion Award.”
I am currently a planning committee member for the Trust’s national PastForward Conference in 2020. Earlier, I served on the advisory committee for the Little Havana Revitalization Master Plan, winner of the 2019 Honor Award for Excellence from the Making Cities Livable Conference. In 2020, I spoke on white supremacy and housing policy at the annual meeting of the Community Reinvestment Alliance of South Florida.
Race, Space and Memory: Using Walking Tours to Teach Transnational Histories of Race, Racialization and White Supremacy
In Little Havana, I began leading walking tours as early as 2007, when I served as director of the neighborhood’s monthly arts festival. Based on my active involvement and documentation of Little Havana, Cuban-American sociologist Guillermo Grenier asked me to co-author a book about Little Havana.
Our A History of Little Havana (The History Press, 2015) is a “people’s history” of Little Havana that recognizes people of African descent (including Afro-Latinx), Central Americans, LGBQT residents, and others often excluded or marginalized from dominant histories of the neighborhood and its development.
While I was working on the book and adapting to my first year of my Ph.D. program, many tour operators swooped into Little Havana to lead tours. I became increasingly unnerved by their narratives about the neighborhood, which I overheard or read about on their websites or in articles about the tours.
As I began to do extensive archival research on the neighborhood, I realized the extent of the racial politics behind these narratives, and their connections to placemaking (and memory-making) efforts in Cuba and other parts of Latin America. I wrote my dissertation about the racial politics behind the development of Little Havana’s heritage district.
I decided to share my findings during my tours, and to use my tours to challenge racism and white supremacy.
From the fall of 2015 to the summer of 2016, I served as a Graduate Teaching Fellow and Advisor for “Civic Engagement & Neighborhood Revitalization: Issues and Options for Miami’s Little Havana,” a graduate level course in urban planning at Florida Atlantic University. In addition to classroom teaching, I connected students to local stakeholders, led field trips, and offered guidance for student research projects, which were shared directly with community members.
In 2016, the tour operator Classic Journeys hired me to work as a tour leader for its walking tours in Cuba. Since then I have become the senior tour leader for its trips to Cuba (in 2019, Travel & Leisure rated Classic Journeys the #1 walking tour company in the world). I was also a guest lecturer for Pearl Seas Cruises trips to Cuba until cruises to Cuba were prohibited. In my Cuba lectures and on my Cuba tours, I have maintained my commitment to anti-racism in the choices I make in terms of narratives, itineraries and the choice of local guides and activities.
I have also applied my ideas about tourism to tours of other places. For the 2019 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Washington, DC, I designed and co-led (with Afro-Latino community leader Roland Roebuck) a field trip focused on remembering black history and black placemaking in Adams Morgan and Malcolm X Park.
Spirit of Place and Eco-Spirituality
I grew up in a New England college town, the daughter of a Southerner and a Midwesterner. Since then, I’ve lived in trailer parks, on sofas, in garages, in attics, and in apartments in Southern California (including L.A.); Durango, Mexico; Washington, DC; and East Little Havana in Miami. My travels by bus, by car, by boat, by plane–and my walks, in particular, contribute to the perspective I share with you.
I feel gratitude to have experienced spaces where I felt a sense of communion and fellowship with other beings — humans, plants, animals.
In my Twenties, I spent several months away from my new home in California to return to Massachusetts for an internship at the NACUL Center for Environmental Architecture. There, as in my college class on environmental perception, I learned about some of the ways in which people “feel” the spiritual dimensions of spaces, and how they cultivated this feeling in their design of the built environment.
On a more recent trip to Massachusetts, I took a weekend workshop on labyrinths and dowsing with Sid Lonegren, founding member of the Labyrinth Society.
In DC, I earned a Certificate in Visionary Leadership at the Center for Visionary Leadership, which “helps people develop the inner, spiritual resources to be enlightened and creative leaders.” I also began taking classes in Afro-Cuban sacred and folkloric dance and music at the Latin American Folk Institute, which sadly no longer exists.
I was fascinated with the stories behind popular divinities of Afro-Cuban religion; each is associated with particular natural forces and place types. Taking these classes gave me profound insights into the role of the body in white supremacy; it also revealed to me people use their agency to resist racial injustice.
In DC, I had a special place in my heart for the Sunday drum circles in Malcolm X Park, in which I participated for nearly a decade (as a cowbell player). I partnered with the late Afro-Cuban photographer Nestor Hernández on a project to document the historic drum circles in Washington, DC’s Malcolm X Park and Dupont Circle (“Rhythms of Place, Rhythms of Identity”). We were one of 18 finalists in the national Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor documentary prize competition.
At the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, I earned my self-designed undergraduate degree (Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in Communications and Anthropology), with a Minor in Geography.
I earned M.A. in Speech Communication (Communication Studies) from California State University, Northridge. with a specialization in Cultural Studies, Critical Theory and Performance Studies. My M.A. thesis is called, “Where We Are Comin’ From”: Placing and Black Students’ Discursive Construction of Community.
In 2019, I finally earned my Ph.D. in Global and Sociocultural Studies (GSS) from Florida International University (FIU), also receiving Graduate Certificates in African and African Diaspora Studies and Afro-Latin American Studies. My dissertation title is: Commemorative Bodies in the Crossroads: (Un)Making Racial Order and Cuban White Supremacy in Little Havana’s Heritage District.
Fellowships also contributed to my education. As a Graduate Fellow with the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies Program, I completed my Practicum at the Anacostia Community Museum under the guidance of Afro-Latina anthropologist Ariana Curtis. For my practicum, I worked with archival materials from Black Mosaic: Community, Race, and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC, in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the landmark exhibit.
I also received a prestigious Goizueta Graduate Research Fellowship with the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami, which allowed me to spend a month gathering archival data for my dissertation.
Embodied Wisdom and Out-of-the-Classroom Learning
“Embodied wisdom” and powerful stories taught to me by fellow old souls have also shaped my understanding of the world. These old souls have included my gardener mother, my storyteller father and my anti-racist grandmothers, Afro-Cuban dance teachers and priests, Chicano mural artists and teatro performers, activist educators, black and Latinx poets, traditional healers, travelers, and many others I have met on my life journey.
And sometimes I’ve learned just by sitting, standing or walking outside, and paying attention.