Overtown Set to Party Down Tonight

OMP kickoff event "This Is Miami" is Saturday night at AE District from 8 to 11 p.m.

Music, dance, laughter, and joy were what filled the streets of Overtown in earlier years. But today, most people tend to stay away from the Miami neighborhood due to its high crime rates and infamous rap sheet.

“Overtown is like a diamond in the rough," says Jillian Yanes, Political Science senior at Florida International University. "It's full of people who are in that midway step where they are trying to get themselves out of a bad phase but they’re not there yet.”

Amy Rosenberg, organizer of the Overtown Music Project, decided that it was time to change this common view.

“Overtown is a city filled with magic, spirit, and history a lot of people don’t know about... You can feel ghosts in the streets of all the empty buildings that used to have businesses.”

OMP is a series of fundraising events launching this fall designed to help bring the public together. The City of Miami has long been interested in helping restore the community from an underserved, low-income neighborhood to the lively middle class society it once was, and OMP may be just the thing to nudge that effort in the right direction.

Rosenberg explains that Overtown was known as the “Harlem of the South” thanks to the numerous night clubs, hotels, theatres, and restaurants that once sat on what was known as “Little Broadway."

“When you tell people what Overtown was, they become so willing to come on board," she said. "Musicians and people in the community are overwhelmed with joy and completely get it.”

Though the OMP series doesn't begin until fall, its kickoff event, "This is Miami," gets underway tonight at 8. Carmel Ophir, who owns Overtown's Vagabond nightclub, will spin Motown at OMP. Internationally known saxophonist Charles Austin will headline among other musicians and luminaries, and soul food guru Vivian Dunn will be on hand (and on plates) along with well-known community leader Ruth Shack.

Rosenberg was inspired to begin this project by the memory of her grandparents, both Holocaust survivors. Her grandfather had an African-American business partner, a very uncommon practice in those days, and as a child her family dinners consisted of an interracial Jewish supper with gospel music in the background.

Rosenberg hopes that the efforts of the community in aiding the organization of OMP will be heard and turn around the “common thought” that comes to most Miamians when speaking of Overtown.

Her ultimate goal, she says, is “to bring the community together as a whole, people from Overtown and people from outside of Overtown. I hope [to reach] people in the community who have the resources to help rebuild some of the jazz clubs and provide love and support to the community.”

"This Is Miami" is expected to be filled with laughter, music, food, and funk – reviving what Overtown once was. Look for the party at AE District starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door for $25. Proceeds will be used to provide scholarship funds for a student who wants to pursue a music program in a local university and for future event programming.

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