Miami Stories

By sharing our 'Miami Stories,' our community bond grows stronger

From left to right are Ashli Munnings, her mother Gala Brown Munnings and her grandmother Marie Faulkner Brown. Marie and her husband, Dr. John O. Brown, moved to Miami in 1955 so he could start a medical practice.
From left to right are Ashli Munnings, her mother Gala Brown Munnings and her grandmother Marie Faulkner Brown. Marie and her husband, Dr. John O. Brown, moved to Miami in 1955 so he could start a medical practice. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Every person who has moved to this community -- in search of freedom, sunshine, economic opportunity -- has a story to tell.

We call these ''Miami Stories,'' though they encompass every town, city and county from Fort Lauderdale to Key West and beyond. Today, we'll begin telling them, in a special collaboration with the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.

And we invite you to participate by sharing your own narrative.

Miami Stories reflect the diversity -- of ethnicity, race, religion and place of origin -- that makes South Florida unique.

There is the personal journey of Mireille Gonzalez, 60, a native of Haiti who migrated to Miami 40 years ago from Brazil, a young bride seeking new opportunities with her new husband.

After that marriage ended, Gonzalez taught herself the photography business, met her current husband, Tomas Gonzalez, a native of Cuba, and founded World Wide Foto on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami.

''I love this city because of what it gave me,'' Gonzalez said in an interview. ``It gave me my Tomas! But it gave me a career, too, one that I love.

``And I have always had the sense in Miami -- the way people speak of New York and Las Vegas -- that here your dreams can come true if you work hard for them.''

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER

And there's Gala Brown Munnings, 58, an African-American college administrator born in Nashville, whose family moved to Miami in 1955 so that her father, the late Dr. John O. Brown Sr., could start a medical practice.

Brown didn't know it at the time, but in sixth grade, when she moved from her all-black elementary school to ethnically diverse Gladeview Elementary, it was because her father and other African-American parents had successfully sued Dade County Public Schools to compel desegregation.

Then there's Rene Ruiz, a native of Havana and an executive with Macy's Department Stores in Miami, who came to Miami in the 1960s as part of the Pedro Pan program, responsible for bringing over 14,000 Catholic and Jewish Cuban children to the United States.

DIVERSITY BINDS US

Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship and a co-founder of the ''Make Miami History Now'' initiative, conceived the idea for Miami Stories.

''In a place where 75 percent of the people come from someplace else, the one thing we have in common is the stories we have to tell about how and why we got here,'' Weiser said. ``And that turns diversity into an asset. That gives us an opportunity to draw strength from the many backgrounds.

``The fact that we chose to be here is the great unifier.

``And in a community that sometimes has a problem being a community, to be able to rejoice in the beautiful stories of exodus and coming to America and settling in Miami and finding a way is very reaffirming of who we are as individuals, and what we can be as a community.''

AN ONGOING FEATURE

Miami Stories will be featured each week in the Sunday Neighbors section, on MiamiHerald.com/miamihistory, and on special broadcasts of Comcast Newsmakers.

All readers are invited to participate. We especially encourage students to write the narration for their families' tales, and we will partner with Miami-Dade Schools' social studies faculty to solicit contributions.

Thank you in advance for sharing your Miami Stories.

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