Opa-locka, FL

Hit the Switch: Opa-locka Light District shines poetry through street lights.

Clayton Gutzmore

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Courtesy of The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation

Back in the day, when street lights came on in neighborhoods, that's usually children’s sign to go home. Street lights usually just illuminate roads but it can mean different things for so many people. Now, in 2021, The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC) in partnership with O, Miami wants to bring hope and inspiration through street lights in their latest project, The Opa-locka Light District. Nine specialty lamps that project poetry from residents have been placed throughout the city. This creative idea not only helps public safety, but it also shares a message that can spark more light within everybody, “Seeing my work projected in the streets of Opa-locka was very humbling. I was more excited for the elementary school students because it shows that their words mean something” said Jerod Simon, a poet whose work featured in the light district.

The Opa-locka Light District launched in June. The nine lamps throughout Opa-locka Blvd project the poems on streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Locals will have the chance to see the displays until the fall. The light district was in the making for over two years. The pandemic delayed the project until 2021.

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Courtesy of The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation

OLCDC employee Ashley Cover created the idea. The Opa-locka Light District was so innovative it won a grant from the Miami Foundation for the Public Space Challenge, “I wanted to illuminate Opa-locka with poetry. O, Miami saw my vision in this idea and they were excited,” said Ashley Cover. The execution of the idea required special projectors to display the art and withstand Florida weather. Maker Faire Miami and Moonlighter Maker Lab created the lamps.

Justice is a force you use to knock on the door." - Zephaniah, a 4th grader from Opa-locka

All the poems that are a part of the light district are from writers in Opa-locka. Six students and three adults make up the team responsible for the insightful messages on the lights. The nine writers were a part of workshops organized by O, Miami through the Opa-locka community centers and schools. Scott Cunningham says the organization has done nothing like this. Cunningham is the executive director of O, Miami. He and his team at O, Miami love going into communities and hosting these writer workshops.

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Courtesy of The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation

It's an opportunity to meet the people and hear their concerns as locals express themselves artistically. “This project intersected a lot of things we cared about. The light district broadcast the voice of those residents back to the same community that they came from,” said Cunningham. The executive director also mentioned how the poems opened more dialogue between the residents and OLCDC. The top concern the residents shared was lighting. “Pedestrian lighting is a challenge that the locals face. If the light district can't solve that problem at least it can bring attention to it so it can lead to the solution down the line,” said Cunningham.

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Courtesy of The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation

The poems in the light district are short but they make you feel when you read them. Femi Folami Browne has been a resident of Opa-locka since the 1970s. Her poem made it into the light district. She wrote Poems have flavor and smell like salt air and mangos. Zephaniah, a 4th grader from Opa-locka wrote Justice is a force you use to knock on the door.

Jerod Simon wrote Light is the thought of something to come. He describes this poem as when a good idea clicks in the mind, “The insight behind the poem is that spark of a thought you get before it transforms into an idea,” said Simon. OLCDC will continue to host more creative workshops for residents to take part in. The Opa-locka Light District is just one example of how one idea can bring joy to so many people, “Light brings warmth. That's the thing I wanted to bring to the city so they don't see it as such a horrible place because it is not,” said Cover.

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Courtesy of The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation

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Clayton Gutzmore is a freelance journalist in South Florida. His work has been published in several print outlets including The Miami Times, The Miami Herald, The Atlanta Voice, and Variety Magazine. Gutzmore is a 2016 graduate of Florida International University. He is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, The Online News Association and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

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