Downtown Miami

Overtown Youth Center students to participate in career-motivation event

Margarita Beckford, the post-high school coordinator at the Overtown Youth Center, informs students about activities planned for the month.
Margarita Beckford, the post-high school coordinator at the Overtown Youth Center, informs students about activities planned for the month. South Florida News Service

Malyka Joseph, a high school student from the Overtown Youth Center, realized she wanted to major in engineering by accident. In middle school, she fulfilled her credit requirements ahead of time and was one of the only girls placed in engineering electives.

“I kept getting talked at and discriminated at because I was a girl interested in engineering, but I was one of the few people to get everything done quick and accurate,” said Joseph,18. “That motivated me, and now I want to be involved in as much as I can with the help of the OYC [Overtown Youth Center].”

Juliana Velez, 27, a Miami-Dade School Board employee, and Jorge Cortes, 28, a social innovator from Momentum International Miami, will collaborate on an event Saturday at The Lab Miami to inspire and engage high-school students such as Joseph, one of 50 juniors and seniors who will participate.

Velez said many high-school students are not aware of the many opportunities Miami provides as a diverse city.

“Miami is like a mosaic of different parts that through this event, we want to put as many parts together in order to develop the mentality of future generations of the community and motivate students who are about to graduate,” Velez said. “The idea of this program is to be a series of pilot programs to understand how to disseminate the many resources and opportunities that Miami Dade County has for internships and job programs for young teens graduating high school.”

From covering electronics to 3D printing, students from the Overtown Youth Center will have hands-on activities.

Scheduled to be at the event are Nelson Milian, co-founder of Wynwood Maker Camp; Justin Pinn, board member of the United Nations Association of Miami; Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Miami-Dade School Board member from District 2; and D.J. Irie, a Miami native, philanthropist and entrepreneur.

“I hope students will resonate and relate with my personal story,” Pinn said.

Wynwood Maker Camp will expose students to new technology that will allow them to apply it to their areas of interest, during and after high school.

Cortes said it is important to have events like these, sponsored by community centers and school boards that will engage students with professionals.

“We are hoping this continues to grow,” said Cortes, who has organized this event in the past with Florida International University students. “It is immeasurable to have mentors and motivational speakers that can provide insights into a career path with a creative manner for students.”

Twin sisters Dominika and Dominiqua Bernardin also attend the after-school program at the Overtown Youth Center and hope to learn more about start-ups and creating brands at the event.

“Meeting people that are already in the field is a huge step,” said Dominika, 18. “Mentorship is something that has pushed me and the more networking we do, the better.”

The background of the event is to provide innovative solutions for social problems.

For Margarita Beckford, the post-high school coordinator at the Overtown Youth Center, the idea of social innovation is new.

“I didn’t know this whole idea of social innovation existed,” said Beckford, 47, referring to Momentum of Social Innovation, an organization that encourages start-ups and freelancers to solve urban, social and environmental problems, who is co-hosting the event.

“Now we just need to focus on the parents,” Beckford said. “They need to be more involved.

Velez said many social factors come into the equation.

“The more you provide students with opportunities to engage in their community, the less misconduct you are going to have,” Velez said. “It becomes a domino effect, and many issues at home or school get solved.

Jamar Myers, the high school coordinator at Overtown Youth Center, agrees and said the event at The Lab Miami will help students realize the importance of networking and having the drive to pursue things.

“I’m hoping the students get a sense of responsibility out of this event. For some reason some kids believe everything is given to them instead of working for it,” said Myers, 27.

The Overtown Youth Center’s in-school, after-school and summer program offers students guidance throughout their education for personal, recreational and academic achievement.

“There are a lot of different things they get exposed to by coming to the Overtown Youth Center. Instead of the students just going home and having a routine, they come here for extracurricular activities,” Myers said. “This event will for sure be a positive thing.”

For more information

Students interested in joining the Overtown Youth Center in-school, after school, weekend or summer program must be residents of the Community of Overtown and enrolled in one of the service schools: Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School, Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, Frederick R. Douglass Elementary School, Theodore R. and Thelma A. Gibson Charter School, Downtown Miami Charter School, Jose de Diego Middle School and Booker T. Washington Senior High School. Applications are available online at

Overtown Youth Center is located at 450 NW 14th St., Miami.

For more information, contact Clinique Smith, program manager, at 305-349-1204 ext. 235, or by e-mail