While some people and issues – whether by nature or by choice – are largely absent from the online conversation, the organizations featured here haven’t forgotten them. They are doing the work that fosters something bigger: belonging.
By Kacie Brown
More Than “Just a Diaper”
From SNAP benefits to clothing drives, we hear a lot about initiatives to provide essential needs. But when was the last time you thought about diapers? Do you know how much they cost? Parents earning the federal minimum wage can spend more than 8% of their income on diapers alone, and in Florida, diapers are not included in government assistance programs. One in three families in the United States doesn’t have enough diapers for their children. And when families can’t afford diapers – or have to make tough decisions between diapers and other basic needs like food – it doesn’t just have dire implications for babies’ health and hygiene. Parents suffer, too.
“Most people like to say it's just a diaper, but really we're allowing them, empowering them, to feel like the best parents that they can be,” says Gabriela Rojas, executive director of Miami Diaper Bank.
The bank had humble beginnings. In 2012, Miami teen Jonah Schaechter focused his bar mitzvah community service project on collecting diapers for families in need, and with a local, poster-promoted school drive, he collected more than 10,000 diapers. Ten years, 6,200,000 diapers and 82,000 families later, Jonah’s dream serves six South Florida counties.
Gabriela states it’s their ability to mobilize a massive community of businesses, nonprofits and volunteers that enables them to disperse millions of diapers each year.
“Community and belonging, for us, just really mean the world because we wouldn't be able to do what we do without the community, without having that sense of we can do this together,” Gabriela adds.
“I'm here. I'm alive. I'm enjoying today.”
Sometimes our basic physical needs overshadow our most intrinsic spiritual ones. When optometrist and breast cancer survivor Rosemary Carrera founded 305 Pink Pack, she found that the cancer patients she was hoping to help wouldn’t come to traditional support group sessions. So, they started gathering just to spend time together.
305 Pink Pack still provides basic services like rides to appointments, help with grocery shopping and mentorship through complicated treatments. They serve mostly Black and Latina women referred by social services because their circumstances or lack of resources may prevent them from completing treatment. But they also meet for mani-pedis and meals. They fundraise at drag brunches and open mic nights. It’s not the kind of support and visibility that someone who hasn’t experienced the disease might imagine needing.
“When I was going through chemo, on the days that I felt well, I wanted to go out and conquer the world. But what was worse for me on those days, because I was bald and wouldn't wear a wig or a scarf on my head, someone would look at me with that pity face of oh, poor thing,” Rosemary says. “And it was like, no, don't look at me that way. I'm here, I'm alive, and I'm enjoying today.”
305 Pink Pack, by Greg Clark, Good Miami
In 2021, 305 Pink Pack partnered with Good Miami photographer Greg Clark, who took portraits of Pink Pack women and their families at a local park. Rosemary says in photos of people with cancer, you often see the illness, but in Greg’s photos, you see women and families enjoying a day at the park.
“It was such a wonderful sense of community and belonging because all those women knew why they were there. We’re obviously united by this one big thing called cancer, but cancer didn't come up in the conversation at all,” she says.
In the Workplace
For some, belonging comes through purpose. “I feel like I belong where I work, and am made to feel like I belong,” Jairo Arana says. But many on the autism spectrum, like Jairo, don’t have that opportunity.
He says many employers don’t realize that people with disabilities each have unique needs. Accessibility is about making sure wheelchair ramps and braille are available, but Jairo says these commonly-known accommodations aren’t the only ones that should be, well, common. He says accessibility also means creating quiet areas, providing captioning, using plain language and more; by considering the experiences of people of all abilities, the needs we often call “special” would no longer stand out.
“The culture of belonging is to create spaces that are more accessible through universal design,” he says.
Jairo Arana and Shelly Baer serve as advocates for UM employees with disabilities.
Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
Now, Jairo is making meaningful employment a reality for more people with disabilities. He works for University of Miami’s Center for Child Development, which provides leadership-focused training for anyone interested in advocating for greater accessibility. People with disabilities and their family members, students, and employers who have participated in their programs have led initiatives like “Inclusive After-School Activities” and “Improving Employment for People with Disabilities at the University of Miami.” Active advocates make accessibility the culture, not the exception.
Jairo says that self-advocacy is a huge component of the center’s programs for people with disabilities, but that they also help people see beyond their own needs. And perhaps while showing others they belong, they’re finding space for themselves.
“What I've learned is how to address the barriers that other people with disabilities experience, to [call them out] and find solutions,” he says.
A Mural of Unity
“Belonging, for me, means that we’re all on the same team,” says Dr. Anna Price. She’s a former mayor of South Miami – the city’s first Black mayor – and one of the founding members of United Survivors of South Miami, or US, as Dr. Price calls it. This group of six women – three Black and three white – are working to heal the racial divide.
These women convened through mutual connections in the summer of 2020, shortly after George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota. As South Miami residents whose professional backgrounds range from architecture to education, they had reached what Dr. Price described as a critical mass. These women knew the nation’s trajectory of racism could only lead to more pain, and not just for the victims.
“If you keep your foot on my neck, you cannot move,” Dr. Price says.
The United Survivors were ready for change, and started their journey toward unity by interviewing longtime residents about their experiences with segregation in the city. Many of the women of US had lived in the area for decades but were surprised to learn about Jim Crow-era zoning laws that shut out Black businesses, discriminatory lending practices that kept property ownership out of reach and yet another segregation wall in the American south that served as an architectural manifestation of racism.
US had unearthed a vibrant community that was senselessly repressed, and they wanted to celebrate it. We tend to think of change as a slow, grueling process, especially when government is involved. But these six women move fast. They pushed to have Juneteenth recognized as a paid holiday in the city of South Miami, and succeeded. Artist Gayle Alexander will soon turn a rediscovered segregation wall into a mural of unity. Architect Alice Gray Read, a professor at Florida International University, is working on a virtual recreation of a street that, in the 1960s, was home to a thriving Black community: South Miami’s 59th Place. Visitors will be able to explore the street as it was before changes in zoning laws stifled South Miami’s Black business community – filled with stores, restaurants, hair salons, body shops.
Dr. Price has already restarted South Miami’s community relations board, which fosters mutual understanding among community members through educational programs and events, and the Marshall Williamson scholarship fund, named after South Miami’s first Black property owner. And these are just a few of the group’s ventures.
“We had no idea when we met that first time that all of these things would come forth,” Dr. Price says. And though the women of US come from vastly different backgrounds, she says they’ve achieved so much change because they’re united behind a common goal. United Survivors isn’t just showing people they belong in their communities or making space for people previously pushed out, they’re showing the community that they belong on the path to unity.
“We’re all on the same team, and the team is called life,” Dr. Price says.