Back in the 1890s when Miami was considered swampland, Julia Tuttle saw its potential and convinced industrialist Henry Flagler to extend his railway from Palm Beach down to Miami. And that’s a major part of how Miami got its start. In fact, Miami is widely considered the only major American city founded by a woman.
Given this history, it feels particularly fitting that women continue to play such important leadership roles here. For Women’s History Month, we’ve been highlighting Miami women who are doing incredible things–whether it’s launching a fashion line for women, helping other female entrepreneurs or tackling the affordable housing problem through historic preservation.
We also reached out to you to see which women you thought deserved a spotlight and got dozens of submissions — more than we could include in this piece! From leaders in the arts, education, tech, the environment and the social justice arena, we are lucky to have so many inspiring women in Miami leaving their mark and working hard to make our city a better place. They’d make Julia Tuttle proud.
Here’s some information about a few of them and their work in the community.
Octavia Yearwood is an educator of over 17 years and has taught in New York City, Miami, Nepal, and India. Her work, which spans from the arts to philosophy, continues to inspire youth and adults alike to express and heal themselves. She does this through various interactive engagements, creating transformational programming, and artistic pop-ups. Yearwood has received the American Express Emerging Arts leader award from Americans for the Arts, was named Miami’s top 40 leaders under 40 in Miami and was recently named Best Author of 2018 by the Miami New Times. Yearwood’s passion to collaborate and use literature and the arts to facilitate a space for healing within education continues with her new curriculum based on her award-winning book, “How The Hell Did You Do That?!” Read about how Octavia thinks art is at the center of Miami’s heartbeat. IG: @Octavia_Yearwood, Twitter: @OctaviaYearwood
Dejha Carrington is the VP of External Relations & Communications at YoungArts, but she is also the founder of Commissioner, a non-profit that supports emerging artists at the earliest stages through art collection, breaking down socioeconomic barriers and diversifying arts patronage. You can learn more about Commissioner here and read an article from her on how art helps build our city. IG: @carringtoner, @cmxnr, @youngarts
Aja Monet is a Caribbean American poet, performer, and educator. She was awarded the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title and has been internationally recognized for combining her spellbound voice and vivid poetic imagery on stage. In 2018, Aja Monet’s first full collection of poetry, “My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter,” was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. She currently lives in Little Haiti,and she is co-founder of Smoke Signals Studio, a community collective dedicated to music, art, culture, and community organizing. Inspired by poet June Jordan’s revolutionary blueprint, Aja facilitates “Voices: Poetry for the People,” a poetry workshop for grassroots community organizers and leaders. The workshop led to the first annual Maroon Poetry Festival in Liberty City in 2018.She was a featured speaker at TEDWomen 2018 for her meaningful work in South Florida with Smoke Signals Studio. Read about the community space she has created for art to thrive. IG: @ajamonet, Twitter: @aja_monet
Barbara Delgado Acosta is the executive director of the Miami Dance Project. Barbara was an innovator in providing a special dance program specifically for children on the autism spectrum. The program started with just one class a week, and has now grown to offer daily programs in five schools, plus weekend programs out of her studio for children from 3 to 18 years old. Twitter: @miamidanceproject
Ruth Wiesen directs the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, using dance as a pathway to new opportunities for 1,000 children across five sites in Miami-Dade. The dance scholarship she founded 30 years ago to provide dance classes for a handful of children now includes after school care, reading and math tutoring, performance opportunities, and college mentoring.
Sandra Gonzalez-Levy is Florida International University’s senior vice president for external relations, strategic communications and marketing. She manages all internal and external communications, marketing, media, public relations, protocol and special events, community relations, and much more.
Over the last several years she has impacted the Miami community in countless ways through her work at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Miami Dade College Foundation, Barnett Bank, Terremark and now FIU. She’s been a visionary volunteer leader for several civic organizations and has directly impacted the lives of hundreds of Miamians. Twitter: @sandygl218
Della Heiman is the founder of Wynwood Yard. Her desire to make healthy food affordable and accessible to all was the catalyst for Della Bowls, her popular plant-based, fast-casual concept. After testing the concept in Boston, she moved to Miami in 2014 to open the first location.
After the success of the Wynwood Yard concept and its work to serve as a culinary incubator and community space, Della and her team are expanding to open the Doral Yard. IG: @dellabowls
Sharon Van Smith, is a retired Miami-Dade County Schools teacher from who volunteers with a number of environmental groups including Rise Up Florida, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Sierra Club, the Tropical Audubon Society, and Miami-Dade Democratic Environmental Caucus. Sharon says we are at a critical juncture on dealing with climate change, and that Florida needs to act on policies that will put the brakes on carbon emissions and make alternative energy sources possible. Additionally, she works to get cities and the county to step up and commit to clean, renewable energy. “South Florida is ground zero on sea level rise and we have an obligation to our community and grandchildren to advocate for immediate action,” says Sharon.
Amy Padolf is the director of education at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden where she oversees national and international multidisciplinary environmental science education programs for pre-kindergarten through post graduate studies as well as teacher professional development, adult education and crowd sourcing for conservation research.
For nearly 20 years, she has been developing and implementing STEM education programming with local, national and international audiences.Her most recent accomplishments include working to establish the nation’s first botany magnet high school in collaboration with Miami-Dade County Public School District, receiving the 2017 Marsh Christian Award for excellence in internationally botanic garden education, and presenting at TEDxCoconutGrove on Fairchild’s innovative work in partnership and funded by NASA; Watch her Tedx Talk. Twitter: @APadolf
Sandra Martin, a retired US Postal Service worker, is the director of the Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry and does the hard work of sustaining a fixture in the Grove. She selflessly gives back to her neighbors, many of whom she has known her whole life.
The pantry was established in 1984 and works in partnership with Christ Episcopal Church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, St. Philips Episcopal Church and Plymouth Congregational Church. In addition to Sandra’s work with the pantry, she assists in serving a Monday night hot meal for the Grove community between April and October. She also serves as an elections clerk at her local precinct.With this busy schedule she still finds time to bowl in the Cosmopolitan League up in Davie.
Laura Maydon is the founding managing director of Endeavor Miami. She’s passionate about driving Endeavor’s mission to drive economic growth by selecting, mentoring and accelerating the growth of high-impact entrepreneurs in South Florida. Under Laura’s leadership, Endeavor Miami supports 23 active companies across industries that generated close to $200 million in revenues and created more than 2,000 jobs in 2018. @IiMaydon
Danet Linares is vice chair of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. She was the first woman to ever chair the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s New World Committee, which was started by Alvah Chapman. She also served as president of Commercial Real Estate Women Miami, which supports the advancement of women professionals. She founded the annual Habitat for Humanity event, “Hard Hats and High Heels,” which raises money to build homes for single mothers. She sits on the Miami Downtown Development Authority board and on the Miami board of International Women’s Forum, which includes leading women professionals from around the world.
Jasmen Rogers-Shaw is the staff and policy director at the Miami Workers Center, leading the organization’s local and statewide political work, amplifying the needs of black and brown women. As a black woman, Jasmen works to bring awareness to the intersections of race and gender in her life, and in her work, and is unapologetic in fighting for progressive black women in politics. Over the past two years, Jasmen has co-coordinated coalitions that have brought together almost 2,000 black women and their allies to demand safety, stability, and sanctity in the lives of black women and girls. Hear her Tedx Talk and read about why she thinks Florida needs a march for Black women. Twitter: @JasRogersShaw
Pamela Granoff of LAB Ventures has created a transformation new conference series that connects startups to large corporates, providing world class content around tech innovation in specific verticals. She has brought companies like JetBlue Tech Ventures, Amadeus Ventures, and many many others to Miami, helping to put the 305 on the map. She also founded Latin Founders, a meetup group of LatAm founders.
Rachael Bickford specializes in facilitating the growth of the startup, tech, and innovation ecosystem in Miami through the LAB Miami. She serves as the LAB’s managing director, overseeing operations and curating community engagement.
Valeria Alvarez is the founder of ModernWomen, an organization that works in finding personal growth through local initiatives and comprehensive developing services for women everywhere. She currently hosts women panels helping women breakthrough their potential as well as yearly TEDx events. IG: @valerialvaarez