This Jamaican-American Teacher Uses Art & Storytelling To Restore Hope To Former Blighted Redline Communities

A Jamaican-American Teacher uses art and storytelling to restore hope to former blighted Redline Communities - Nerissa Street

Historic Black communities were subject to “redlining”, an FHA policy that devalued property and prevented mortgages in those communities from being insured. The lack of investment produced “food deserts” and prevented homeowners from benefiting from the equity in their homes, and that becomes blight. “That blight that you see in your neighborhood becomes a story about your own possibilities,” Street says. “It becomes mental.”

What if the answer to improving our community’s mental health and wellbeing was right in our backyards?

Nerissa Street, a multiple award-winning educator, thinks so. She and a team of creative professionals are gathering what she calls new, wiser stories about formerly redlined neighborhoods in Broward to amplify the beauty and value she sees there.

WHO: Nerissa Street – Award Winning Arts Educator

WHAT: 3rd Annual Juneteenth For Joy Festival

WHEN: Saturday, June 19TH – 10AM TO NOON

WHERE: Von D Mizell – Eula Johnson State Park Beach

WHY: Restoring joy to Black communities…

To change the way Black communities are perceived but more importantly, how these communities perceive themselves.

To restore hope and create more Black Utopias

Street wants to uncover what she calls the “hidden utopia” by gathering true stories about joy, play and well-being currently being experienced in these communities. Those stories will be shared at the 3rd Annual Juneteenth for Joy Festival, at the Von D. Mizell – Eula Johnson State Park Beach.

“A utopia is a term meaning ‘an imagined or intentional perfect community possessing the qualities most desirable to its residents.’ It is a green, healing space. The goal of our project is to collect and broadcast the positive memories, present achievements and future hopes of the residents of 8 of Broward’s Black communities to uncover the utopia that already exists here.” Street wants to create a digital archive of those stories to change the online footprint of the communities, which would help change the stories that are told about the neighborhoods by people who do not live there.

The stories about the utopias will be presented during an interactive performance on the beach at the Mizell – Johnson state park in Dania Beach and will be enhanced by a creative experience for the in-person audience. “Joy is spontaneous, so the event is planned to delight and surprise. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom – and in this case, I hope all people who do not know about it feel welcome to join us and experience their own utopia,” said Nerissa Street. She adds, “This year, we are doing something that has never been done before. For our 3rd annual Juneteenth for Joy festival, we will build a “House of Joy” during our final performance. In each of the 8 focus communities, we have built a “totem” that represents the spirit of that community. We will bring a wooden representation of each community to our Juneteenth celebration and allow the audience to interact with it and each other. Our goal? The experience that our audience takes home is a reminder that our communities can only build lasting joy when we come together. That our utopia is in our hands.”

The storytelling project is supported by the new Artist Innovation grant launched by the Broward County Cultural Division, and support has been provided by the following Funds at the Community Foundation of Broward: Helen and Frank Stoykov Charitable Endowment Fund, Louise and Rudi Dill Charitable Fund, and Mary and Alex Mackenzie Community Impact Fund.

Guests will be entertained by spoken word poet, Epiphany, performing work inspired by the resident interviews. The first 75 people will be treated to free brunch bites, there will be guided water activities and trauma-informed healing practices.

Confirmed invited guests available for interviews include County Commissioner Beam Furr, Commissioner Robert McKinzie, Miguel Pilgram – CEO Pilgram Group, Bobbie Grace – Former Dania Beach Commissioner, and Singer-songwriter Cynthia Strachan-Saunders. Program will be hosted by Ms. Tamara G.

The event is free to the public, and the park charges $6 for admission. For more information and to register, visit


The Juneteenth for Joy Festival was founded by Nerissa Street, an award-winning arts educator who wanted to give her students a new narrative of freedom and power through the lens of joy. The Building Black Utopias project collects, remixes, broadcasts and performs true histories of the joy lived and experienced in Broward’s Black communities to create an immersive experience of a Black “Utopia.”

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Staff Writer