Meet Jessica Bakeman, founder of We Met in Miami

đź“· Photography by Serena Perez

Hi, Jessica! Who are you and what do you do here in town?

I am a local journalist, a salsa dancer, a choir singer, a weightlifter, a libra, and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Professionally, I oversee investigations and longform audio storytelling projects like podcasts and documentaries for WLRN, South Florida’s NPR member station. And in my personal capacity, I recently founded We Met in Miami, a nonprofit event series designed to help adults 21+ find love and friendship through community service, civic engagement, and arts activities.

What neighborhood(s) are you reppin’?

I live between MiMo and Little River, by a lovely little park where white ibis cover the lawn like a fluffy blanket, alongside a canal that doubles as a busy thoroughfare for manatees.

What brings you most alive about the 305?

The most consistent and pure source of joy in my life is salsa dancing, and I owe it all to Miami. A few years ago, in an effort to heal from the isolation of the pandemic and reconnect with my childhood love of the arts, I began taking salsa classes (On1, L.A. style) with Salsa Driven in MiMo, and now I am addicted.

Dance socials bring me alive in the 305. My favorites are Salsa Nights at the Intercontinental downtown on the first Friday of the month, and Noche Divina, usually at Club Tropical in Hallandale Beach on the second Friday.

What’s your favorite Miami memory?

I’ll never forget performing on stage at the Arsht Center last year with Miami Sound Choir, an adult community ensemble that anyone can join — no experience or audition necessary. As we waited for our turn to go on, dozens of us danced together backstage to another choir’s rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The octopus salad from NiDo Caffe, which I would argue is the best Italian restaurant in Miami (and, for the record, I’m Italian). Other favorites around town include the biscuit and guanciale gravy from Rosie’s, prosciutto-mushroom-brie empanadas from Bunbury, and Cafe La Trova’s Sazerac.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Miami day.

On Saturday mornings, I love walking to Legion Park for the farmer’s market and yoga. Sometimes I’ll stop for El Bagel (pro tip: add tomato jam to your BEC). And often I spend the rest of the day at The Citadel, chugging Vice City Bean coffee, with my face buried in my laptop. (Lame, I know, but these events aren’t going to organize themselves!)

What’s your favorite local social media account to follow and why?

@miamisalsascene on Instagram lets me check out the moves, the looks, and the best leads at local salsa parties — even on nights when I don’t get off the couch.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

It takes bravery and vulnerability to make a new friend, pursue a new love interest, or try a new hobby. Be brave and vulnerable. Do it.

On Valentine’s Day, 126 people were brave and vulnerable enough to show up for the launch of We Met in Miami. That turnout was a good reminder that none of us is alone in feeling lonely, craving friendship and love, and yearning for the support of a trusted and compassionate community. Connection is our only way forward.

How does Miami help you do what you do or influence your work?

My first reporting assignment for WLRN was Hurricane Irma. After that, I covered the Parkland shooting, policy battles over charter schools, protests over racial injustice, and the profound impact of COVID-19 on children. My work, for years, has been to inform the public about South Florida’s most pressing challenges, as well as tell the stories of our region’s joy, resilience, and innovation.

And now I am channeling that same passion into my new event series We Met in Miami. Just as I hope my work as a journalist makes Miami more informed, I hope my efforts to create authentic opportunities for connection will make our city healthier and happier.

If there was one thing you could change, address, etc. about Miami, what would it be?

When I tell people about We Met in Miami, their first reaction is often: “Wow, Miami really needs this.”

Unfortunately, our Magic City has a reputation for being a tough place to date, make friends, and build community. If you go deeper, though, there is a thriving scene of community organizations mounting a resistance. We Met in Miami is part of the movement against disconnectedness.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

I look forward to facilitating connection, making new friends, and maybe even falling in love!

Also: Attending the O, Miami poetry festival, singing karaoke with a live band at Dear Eleanor, communing with artists at Little Bohemia‘s open mic nights, experiencing Maggie Rogers live from the lawn seats at Bayfront Park, and dancing poolside at the Orlando Salsa Congress (it’s not in the 305, I know, but does it count if I take the Brightline?).

Oh, and, of course, voting!