6 Locals Leaving Their Marks on South Florida

People who captivate our attention as they glide into our vision are those who have inner strength, magnetism and a passion for life and personal causes. For this and more, they are the ones to watch.


A self-styled entrepreneur, it’s clear that Tracy Wilson-Mourning would have made a mark on this world in whichever city she landed; Miami is simply fortunate she planted roots here. Deeply spiritual, Wilson-Mourning starts her mornings meditating and credits God above all others for her success, compassion, empathy and chosen path in life. One of her favorite quotes is, “Life is about serving and serving others.” In 2002, “after a lot of soul searching,” she says, “I gathered a group of girlfriends and said, ‘We have to do something to help young girls from at-risk areas.’ That “something” became the Honey Shine Mentoring program to guide, educate, support and empower young girls—Honey Bugs—in after-school programs and at an annual summer camp at Miami’s Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart. “I see God at work every day and I’m so grateful for that,” says Wilson-Mourning, about the program to which she donates much of her time. “We have as many participants as funding will allow,” she explains, citing Carnival Foundation, community businesses and the annual Hats Off Luncheon May 2 as the most important fundraising mechanisms to keep the program afloat. In addition to raising three children and supporting Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School, Wilson-Mourning recently launched her own lifestyle brand, L.O.V.E, which stands for Living on Vacation Every Day, comprising easy cotton and linen dresses. So, what’s next? “I’m working on putting together a women’s retreat, a day or two in the community where we can reconnect to who we are and build ourselves up to keep going.”


Growing up with New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a playground, Chana Sheldon was destined to be in the arts. “From the very beginning, I believed art could make a difference,” says the director of North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). “I think of it as a tool and a platform to have conversations and engage with the community in different ways.” With Sheldon’s commitment to marry community with artists and create groundbreaking programs at ProjectArt and Locust Projects, she became the natural choice to lead Museum of Contemporary Art in January 2018. “That gift gave me so much insight into working in different communities across Miami, the diversities of these communities and the ways to engage different children in different neighborhoods,” says Sheldon. Her cool, creative mind is putting MOCA back in the spotlight with innovative exhibitions, expanded educational programming, cultural engagement and community dialogue with artists and their works. Sheldon is resurrecting programs including “Women on the Rise” for women in shelters and distress, and “Heart-to-Heart” with JCS (Jewish Community Services). The next show in May is one of the largest contemporary Haitian exhibitions in the country, featuring more than 25 Haitian artists bringing works that have never been seen in the United States. “MOCA has 15 years of excellence in education programs,” says Sheldon, “I believe it makes a difference in people’s lives around us, and that’s exciting for me to be part of.”


Homegrown, global DJ Irie has a megawatt smile that could power a city. It’s a natural part of his innate charm and a calling card that helped launch him into the stratosphere of worldwide dance parties wherever his flights touch down. “All that energy boomerangs back and forth,” says Irie, whose résumé includes residencies at Carnival Cruise Lines and top clubs in Miami, L.A., New York, Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Chicago. At age 20, a scout recruited him to tour Europe, where he spun Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” weeks before its official release. At 22, he became the Miami HEAT’s resident DJ. “I give everything of myself into every performance and always believed that opportunities and doors would open beyond my wildest dreams,” he says. That includes dates with Good Morning America and the Super Bowl. Though he’s often running on little sleep, he finds time to volunteer with multiple local charities and host the wildly popular IRIE Weekend every June. Now in its 15th year, the weekend of golf and fundraising—$10 million to date—gathers celebrities, athletes and philanthropists to support of South Florida’s at-risk youth. “We’re all in this thing together,” says Irie. “My legacy is to show a multidimensional approach to what a DJ can be.”


You may have seen her at art installations, Fountainhead Residency open houses, or as a Vizcaya cultural ambassador. Danie Gomez-Ortigoza seemed to appear out of nowhere on Miami’s social and fashion scene four years ago, her Frida Kahlo-like braided crown being the most distinctive feature of her lithe, beautifully outfitted frame. It was in South Florida that Gomez-Ortigoza expanded her mission to empower women while wearing her regal headpiece as a coiffured invention of unity and “feminine manifesto.” The braid the Mexico native creates every morning has daily intentions written on tiny pieces of paper “to help another woman every day,” she says, tucked into the back of colorful scarves. “When you braid someone’s hair, there’s a line of vulnerability that you cross,” she says about the elaborate style inspired by the Mexico’s only group of indigenous feminists in Oaxaca. Just five years ago, Gomez-Ortigoza helped build a delegation of top 50 Mexican women, led by Salma Hayek, for an international women’s forum in France. It ended with hair braiding, “like we were 15-year-olds, except with the CEO of Google Latin America,” she says. On a mission to combat “The Telenovela effect” of jealousy she says is pervasive among women worldwide, Gomez-Ortigoza is on a mission to connect women, empower young girls, build community and heal old wounds. Scarf crowns are her “talisman and shield,” she says, around which she has launched United for Good global philanthropic projects, Journey of a Braid and Braided Conversations, pop-ups she describes as “healing” sessions for women. “How can you affect someone’s life with your story?” she asks. One braid at a time.


Third-generation designer Jared Lang knew his future was in clothing, continuing the legacy his father and grandfather began to create women’s outerwear in their native Canada. Fueled by familial know-how and formal fashion training, Lang answered the siren song to design men’s fashion. With his own spin catering to a 25-45 club-going demographic, Lang is determined to elevate men’s looks from iffy to Insta-worthy. The Jared Lang brand, which he launched nearly a decade ago, is identified as much by its craftsmanship pairing silk cotton and jacquard with small collars and contrasting ribbon inside as by its whimsical patterns, which Lang sketches everywhere he finds inspiration. From a Steve McQueen photo montage to bicycling aardvarks, candy-colored vintage cars, cityscapes and florals in bloom, the brand is as distinctive as its eponymous designer. He scours the globe for the best manufacturing locales, choosing Turkey “mainly because the needles are so fine, it produces beautiful clothes you don’t see elsewhere,” explains Lang. Now in 300 stores, with an Aventura Mall flagship boutique and a section in Nordstrom, Lang shares a well-kept secret: the Atelier Jared Lang Made in Italy fall capsule collection will debut streetwear and leather jackets at Neiman Marcus in July 2019. “You heard it here first,” he says.


Time, like karma, has a way of working for or against you. Developer Nitin Motwani knew his timing was right when, in 2006, he purchased the initial seven acres for Miami WorldCenter, a 27-acre city-within-a-city now underway in downtown Miami. When the financial and real estate markets crumbled in 2008, it gave Motwani and his partners the opportunity to purchase 27 additional acres for what would become the largest private real estate development in the country. Investors weren’t so sure. “Pre-recession, people would say we were crazy; during the recession, people would say we were stupid; today people say we are lucky,” says Motwani, who was certain his vision would match Miami’s core expansion. He recalls how people took meetings with no intention of investing, simply out of curiosity to hear a wild pitch they said would never work. “We believed in Miami with everything we had,” says Motwani. “We saw investments like the Frost Museum and Adrienne Arsht Center, and we appreciated how much the world looked at Miami as an international city.” Motwani visited top urban destinations for inspiration, then hired 10 different architects for Miami WorldCenter, so it would feel that, like all great cities, the design and architecture emerged over time, not all at once. Phase One is complete; Phase Two is under construction. “This is the second-largest project in the country behind Hudson Yards New York,” notes Motwani. “It’s the largest project of my career, and I live and breathe it every day.”

Facebook Comments