How a rapping Romeo and Juliet can target gun violence

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It’s true that Shakespeare speaks to all generations. With the belief that “young ears might heed young voices,” members of What if Works, Inc. theater group are hoping their latest production might provide a solution to gun violence.

“The R+J Effect” is a 90-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and it has two objectives—to use theater as a medium to examine the culture of youth violence in our community and to bring about change through a domino effect,” said Artistic Director Phillip Church in an email.

Upcoming free performances will be 7 p.m. May 2 at Coral Park High School, 8865 SW 16th St., and 7 p.m., May 5 at Miami Senior High School, 2450 SW First St. If you miss those you can see a third performance 7:30 p.m., May 18 at Seminole Theatre, 18 N. Krome Ave. in Homestead, for $5-$10.

WiW is a community member of Together for Children, a coalition created by the Miami Dade County Public School District, the Miami Dade Police Department, and business and community leaders.

For the past nine months, Church and Marilyn R. Skow have been developing “The R+J Effect” by bringing together 10 young performers from five Miami Dade secondary schools with five professional graduates from FIU Theatre.

“Yes, we need to listen closely to our own contemporary playwrights but we also need to heed the messages embedded in the great works of literature,” Church said. “Due to the critical respect many of these plays have commanded for so many years their timeless messages can deliver an even more indelible impression, especially on the young.”

The show will use Elizabethan and paraphrased English to create “parabethan” dialog for the tale of the star-crossed lovers using rap and hip-hop “while stylistic movement suggests the physical impact of gun violence.”

“In a break with the traditional talk back session at the end of a play the action is momentarily suspended as Coach Lawrence steps out to moderate brief discussions connected to precise moments in the play and focused on issues that can contribute to youth violence,” Church said. Two participating officers will join the conversations bringing about a unique synergy between law enforcement and community, he said.

WiW also is collaborating with school districts and police in Denver, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and New York. After performances WiW will donate all production resources enabling the partnering school to create its own production with another neighborhood school. Church said the group is hoping this will help share the play’s message about gun violence with broader audiences across the country. More at 305-271-1073 or

Giving back

At the recent National Honor Society induction ceremony of 113 Gulliver Prep seniors guest speaker Richard Barbara talked about the importance of public service. A Miami attorney, he said he made a decision to give back after his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

Cindy Barbara was just 30 years old in 2010 when she was told she had acute leukemia. She and her husband found their lives changed forever. And while his wife eventually beat the disease by 2013, Richard Barbara said he decided to devote time to community service and encourage others to do the same.

“At first, we were terrified,” he told the students. “For goodness sakes, she was only 30. Then, through the extraordinary medical support from Baptist Hospital, we beat the disease. From that point on, I made a commitment to give back.”

Richard Barbara is on the board of Baptist Health South Florida Foundation and is a Member of the Miami Cancer Institute Council. He also served as a Guardian ad Litem in Miami-Dade County, and coordinated two holiday toy drives benefiting sick children at Baptist and the Kiwanis Club of Coral Gables. His law firm holds a Star Wars event that benefits Miami Cancer Institute.

“This year we will hold our third screening with the premier of ‘Star Wars Episode 8 – The Last Jedi’ and we are hoping to make the event bigger and better than ever. I also take every opportunity to take speaking engagements and focus on the importance of giving back to the community,” Richard Barbara said in email.

“One individual can truly make a difference in the lives of many,” he said. “And what nobler example of teaching and enabling students in dedicating their time and resources to help the less fortunate than Gulliver.”

New name for old organization

After 70 years of service, United Cerebral Palsy of South Florida has become one of the largest, most recognized charitable organizations in our community. The group helps more than 1,600 infants, children and adults, and leaders of the organization can be found at over 60 locations in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

They believe even more people can be helped and so the name is changing. The organization will now be known as United Community Options of South Florida. A major capital campaign also recently began to renovate the main campus and school.

The campaign also will fund the reconstruction of the main parking lot that floods during South Florida rainstorms. The flooding makes it difficult for individuals who are being helped by UCO to get to their programs.

Learn more about who can be assisted by UCO, and how you can help at

Woman’s Club honored

The Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove, founded in 1891 by schoolteacher Flora McFarlane, was created to provide social interaction among the women of the community and to raise funds to build a Sunday school. The club is the oldest federated Woman’s Club in South Florida.

The group was recognized at the annual meeting and preservation awards ceremony of Dade Heritage Trust at the historic Koubek Center in Little Havana.

“On behalf of the Woman’s Club, I am pleased and honored to accept this Award for Community Service in recognition of our efforts in the preservation and ongoing care of our clubhouse and its foundation as a community service center,” said Marlene Erven, club president in a release. Long-time member Joyce Nelson was also honored with an award for the Historic Markers project.

Dolly McIntyre, board member of WCCG and DHT, gave a presentation on the 11 most endangered historic properties in Miami-Dade County. The present clubhouse was designed by architect Walter DeGarmo and built in 1921. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

If you have news for this column, send it to Christina Mayo at

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