I remember the summer night that challenged me to find peace within myself and serenity in my neighborhood.

It was the summer of 2015, 2:00 a.m., Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” was playing, and I was just getting off from working the night shift at the Worldwide Marriott call center in Doral. After sitting in traffic for almost two hours on the southbound turnpike due to the endless construction road closures every night, I finally arrived in Goulds with a sigh of relief, only to find that the streets were hot and the air was filled with smoke. I came to the intersection that leads me home, but not before I was approached at the stop sign by a prostitute who in his very deep voice and yellow mini dress said, “Hello there.” I drove off to continue home, pulled into my driveway, and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door to assure them that I made it home safely. 

I sat on the couch with the echoing sounds of gun shots from a couple blocks over, and I told myself there has to be more to Goulds than poverty, violence, drugs, and prostitution.

The next day I recall talking to my younger sister, Quiana, and telling her that I wanted to begin a photo series that will acknowledge the positives of our community. So the journey began and we drove around the entire neighborhood, stumbling across dilapidated buildings that once housed community entrepreneurs. We sat by peaceful parks that had crystal blue waters, and for once I remember feeling calm as if we were on a secret oasis. I thought this was the end of my journey, but I remember feeling that I had to do more – I had to speak with my community members and help them understand the beautiful culture that our neighborhood holds. But how?

Driving home from working the night shift again, I traveled past an empty lot that had a cloud of smoke surrounding it. It’s a BBQ vendor. I turned the corner and recognize another empty lot that has one bright light peeking through a similar cloud of smoke. It is a BBQ vendor. I made it home to repeat my nightly ritual of knocking on the door to tell my parents I’m home and then sitting on the couch, but this time was different. This time I had an epiphany. Every night as I drive home from work I see these BBQ vendors, religiously set up to work the night shift on their undeclared vacant lots.

I’d found the answer to my question.

We will showcase the beautiful culture in Goulds by documenting a photo series of these inspiring BBQ entrepreneurs and displaying their impact on our neighborhood at a community BBQ extravaganza and photo gallery.

Quiana and I set out to talk to the BBQ vendors in hopes that they would want to participate in this photo series. To our surprise we were greeted with open arms, warm conversation, sweet iced tea, and mouth-watering rib sandwiches. 

Being able to capture images on the first night of meeting these BBQ vendors allowed for raw and authentic artistry and conversation.

The first conversation was with Mama Dukes over sweet iced tea. It was very humbling as she explained to us that she began barbecuing as a way to raise funds to help pay for her daughter’s wedding and eventually fell in love with serving the community by selling her food. Our relationship with the BBQ vendors grew rapidly and the camera soon became invisible as if it were only an extension of my eye. 

Engaging with complete strangers who share the same culture and community as I do has sparked a light in my heart that I want the rest of Miami to be able to feel. Look at Mr. Sam, who has been grilling for over 20 years. One night while we were taking photos and interviewing him, he was completely unbothered by the active crime scene nearby, and felt compelled to tell me about his first experience of barbecuing at a family event.  That is when he knew that this is what he was supposed to be doing because he is so confidently good at it.

The audacious personalities of these vendors are what have inspired me to work even harder to find peace within myself and showcase the cultivating community that we have here in Goulds. My next challenge has been figuring out how to come up with the funds to actually make this event possible, because my weekly paycheck wouldn’t remotely cover the cost. One day at my goodbye luncheon for my internship at MDC Live Arts, my sister encouraged a conversation about what we had been working on. I was in awe that someone whom I consider to be a mentor convinced me that the story was good enough to apply for a grant. And so I did just that with only six hours before the Knights Art Challenge deadline. I poured my heart out about this photo series, not knowing that my project, entitled “The Unvoiced Community: BBQ Men & Women of Goulds,” would become a finalist and later a recipient of the grant. Because it is a matching grant I am now working tirelessly to raise the rest of the funds to make this initiative a success, not only for my community but for those who may also be searching for serenity in their neighborhoods.

Not only did I find peace through BBQ, I also found my voice in the community, and I encourage you to eat BBQ and unlock your peace.