Liberty City residents Suneliz Santana and Vincent Scott have been together for eight years and have four children. Their lives haven’t been easy.
Scott, 28, who was raised by his grandmother in Allapattah, mixed in with the wrong crowd and had multiple run-ins with the police. Santana, 26, became a teenage mother with her first child before she met Vincent. After they met, he encouraged her to get her GED, which she did with the plan of attending college. Meanwhile, he dropped the street life and began working in construction.
Their turnaround got a jump-start — actually, a Spiderman-type leap — when they won a video contest and were treated to an all-expense paid wedding atop the JW Marriott Marquis on Brickell, a honeymoon night at the hotel and to top it off, a chance to rappel 19 stories down the building. It was all part of a Miami Children’s Initiative partnership with Over the Edge, a rappelling event company that works with non-profits, to give those living in poverty in Liberty City a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Santana says it was her idea to submit the video. She thinks hers stood out because she turned the camera to her children. “I said, Let’s make the kids do a video – if we say why we want to get married that sounds selfish. So, I just went around the house asking, “Why do you think mommy and daddy should get married?”
Before she rappelled Santana swore she wasn’t nervous. “I’m calm. I’m ready,” she promised. After she was strapped and harnessed up, she made her descent, but her wedding gown got caught under her five-foot frame, and gravity pulled her torso behind her legs. She made it down safely, 10 minutes after her husband landed. “I was scared,” she told the TV crew, waiting on the sidewalk.
“There’s a first time for everything,” said Scott, who, until Saturday, had never jumped or rappelled. “I’m facing my fears.” Of his marriage he said, “It feels good. It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m closing old doors, opening new ones.”
President and CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative, Cecilia Gutierrez, dressed as Captain America, had rappelled just before the couple. Superheroes are the theme in MCI and Over the Edge’s partnership, to show kids that heroes are everyday people who work hard for them and their community.
“We’re working solely for the community of Liberty City,” says Gutierrez of MCI, “to get 100 percent of kids from the neighborhood to graduate from college.”
She says the non-profit organization, which was founded in 2008, invests in children from birth until they finish high school. After-school and youth programming, community gardens, bike-sharing programs, as well as college application assistance are some of the ways, she says, the organization invests in the entire family. Their block-by-block strategy, she says, has helped families like the Scotts, who live in the area’s public housing developments.
“This work is about targeting the toughest neighborhood and disrupting where the violence is,” she says.
This is the fourth year that MCI and Over the Edge have partnered to bring attention to the nonprofit’s work in Liberty City. The Facebook video contest that the couple won, dubbed “Wed Over the Edge,” was part of this joint effort.
This year, $125,000 was raised by local individuals and companies; the money will fund future projects in Liberty City.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was among the first to rappel on Saturday. This was his third time doing it for MCI. “I’m a thrill seeker. After all, I am the superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools,” he said with a chuckle. He said he supports MCI because its addresses Liberty City’s opportunity gaps “that often lead to academic gaps.”
“I think a lot of individuals don’t realize that when a child, by third grade, can’t read, that there are many compounding opportunity gaps that they’ve experienced and lived through — from poverty, to disabilities, disconnected home lives, lack of social support … MCI fills those gaps.”
Scott caught his new bride in his arms as she approached the ground. Their children, Jabari, 9, Kemani, 7, Kassandra, 5, Kailani, 1, and other family members and friends looked on and cheered as they kissed and then crisscrossed their arms together, sipping Champagne from flute glasses.
“We’re a happy family,” said Scott, “and this made us complete.”
For more information
To learn more about the Miami Children’s Initiative and Over the Edge, visit: http://www.miamichildrensinitiative.org/otem/home.shtml