Community Voices

Award-winning playwright, 17, shines spotlight on marginalized people

Homestead teen Phanesia Pharel was honored in a national student essay writing contest hosted by the Educational Theatre Association. The young playwright has a long list of awards for her stories.
Homestead teen Phanesia Pharel was honored in a national student essay writing contest hosted by the Educational Theatre Association. The young playwright has a long list of awards for her stories. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Phanesia Pharel is just 17 and already has won some of the biggest awards for playwriting.

She was a first-place playwright at the Florida State Festival; a first-place playwright at the Miami District Festival — twice; and the youngest playwright to be placed in the Best of the Best showcase at Micro Theater for her play “Shovel Me Away.”

She said her mother is a writer, too, and that literature has always been in her life.

“As I grew older, the more I encountered and realized the weight of black womanhood, I felt that my story was not being told and that someone needed to talk about what we are facing, so I wrote ‘Penelope,’ ” she said. “From there, I continued to write about marginalized people. I write for the people who cried when ‘Moonlight’ won Best Picture. I write for the little black girl who feels bored in her English classes because I have often been in that place.”

A senior at South Dade Senior High School in Homestead, Phanesia recently was recognized with the second-runner-up award for her essay on why a STEAM education is important. The acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. STEAM-based curriculum has rapidly been adopted at schools around the country.

The latest honor is from Democracyworks, the national student essay writing contest hosted each year by Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) to “shine a light on issues that impact theater and other arts education.”

Phanesia focused on the importance of persistence, risk and failure in the sciences.

“Each skill in STEAM requires mass memorization and the ability to form connections through analysis. Offering young people the opportunity to form connections in multiple ways; from biology and engineering to theatre, music, and writing will make analysis and problem solving more fulfilling for more students,” she wrote in her essay.

In the fall, she will attend Barnard College of Columbia University.

“So now it’s time to hunt down scholarships! My most recent play, ‘A Zoo Story,’ talks about human captivation and the ugliness of people zoos and social Darwinism. This play received first place at the district festival and we will see how it goes next week at the state festival,” she said.

An advocate for community service as well, Phanesia said she is starting a media site for young women that encompasses various artistic mediums. She won the Carlos Curbelo award in community service, and is a Silver Knight nominee in Drama for her Adopt-A-Grandparent program at Homestead Manor.

“The arts have always been my cushion,” she said. “There is no better feeling than watching one of my plays performed. I feel that I can build a better world in my writing and that I can challenge the one we live in.”

Book sale March 19

Book lovers and collectors can find “great books at great prices” 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, March 19, at the Publix on Southwest 146th Street and U.S. 1.

More than 2,000 books will be up for sale at this popular annual event that is sponsored by the South Miami-Dade Chapter of the Brandeis National Committee.

This sale is known for its excellent selection of cookbooks, children’s books, art books, biographies, world history, and books about Florida and the United States. You will also find current and classic fiction.

The enthusiastic Brandeis bibliophiles, who have as their motto “old books for new,” have spent the year collecting and sorting books for the sale and they look forward to showing you this year’s terrific selection.

Spring community concert

Support local musicians and experience the thrilling compositions of Verdi, Sousa, George and Ira Gershwin and other greats at “Spring Spectacular Concert” performed by the Greater Miami Symphonic Band. The concert is 8 p.m. Tuesday at Maurice Gusman Concert Hall on the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami, 1314 Miller Dr.

Greater Miami Symphonic Band is now in its 38th season. The performance will be led by music director Robert Longfield, with guest conductor Col. Arnald D. Gabriel (USAF, Ret.) and will feature guest soloist Dale Underwood on alto saxophone. Gabriel retired as commander and conductor from the United States Air Force Band, United States Air Force Symphony Orchestra, and Singing Sergeants from 1964 to 1985.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students and children over 5. You can purchase them at the box office on the day of the concert, or in advance at Call 305-273-7687 for more.

A book in concert

Discover the emotion of words and music when author Linda Kass blends readings from her book “Tasa’s Song,” inspired by true events during the Holocaust, with music composed during that time performed by the Carpe Diem String Quartet.

The powerful program additionally will feature an exhibit in the Futernick Art Gallery about French children of the Holocaust. The event is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at the Alper JCC, 11155 SW 112th Ave.

The Carpe Diem String Quartet performed in January at Carnegie Hall. Kass’ novel is set in 1943 and follows a Jewish girl, the author’s mother, who dreams of becoming a great violinist. She and her family escape their once peaceful village in eastern Poland and elude certain death by hiding in a bunker beneath a barn built by the family’s longtime employee.

The program is co-sponsored by Israel, Rose, Henry and Robert Wiener Charitable Foundation in memory of Hermine Wiener, a long-time Miami resident. Tickets are $18 for adults, student tickets are $5, and are available at For more, call 305-271-9000 ext. 268.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at