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In the Spotlight,

  • Activist and Filmmaker Billy Corben Challenges City Officials
  • Coconut Grove’s Food Crisis Pantry
  • Culture Wars Keep Leaf Blowers Going Loud and Strong?

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The Billy Corben Show:
Miami Filmmaker tackles corruption in our Banana Republic

Miami documentary filmmaker and activist Billy Corben visits Miami City Hall while wearing his #Because MIAMI podcast T-shirt. (Patrick Farrell for the Spotlight)

Shortly after 12:00 noon on a Thursday in January, local activist and filmmaker Billy Corben, standing alone at the speaker’s podium at Miami City Hall, implored the five-member City Commission to remove its polarizing city attorney, Victoria Mendez, from her post. 

Dressed in black, Corben cited a lawsuit alleging that Mendez and her husband engaged in a house flipping scheme that victimized an elderly homeowner. The pending vote to end her 20-year tenure as the city’s chief legal officer, he continued – finger wagging – was a “litmus test for the Miami Mafia.” 

As Mendez watched from across the room, Corben’s voice picked up, in both volume and cadence as he recited the string of scandals and allegations of abuse plaguing City Hall.

“Please end the humiliating tenure of mob lawyer Vicky Mendez, the enabler and co-conspirator in much of this misconduct that has embarrassed the city all over the world for so many years,” he said. 

As Corben strode back to his seat, Mendez, silent until then, struck back. “The reason why people like you get to bully me every day and I don’t lose any sleep over you is because you are a vile little man,” she said. 

When Corben returned to City Hall later that month, he embraced Mendez’ epithet as a badge of honor. Standing at the podium, facing five commissioners and an online audience of many thousands more, Corben wore a custom black t-shirt imprinted with large red, white, and blue letters announcing his arrival: “Vile Little Man”.

Crisis Food Pantry Feeds Grove

Near the high-end restaurants and shops of Coconut Grove, a food pantry operates in the back of the Christ Episcopal Church, best known as the pink church.

The Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry is a non-profit organization that started in 1984 to help the neighborhood’s homeless community. Volunteers gather every Tuesday morning to pack bags with fresh groceries, warm meals and produce to be delivered to the families in need around Coconut Grove. 

Through the years and especially during the pandemic, the food pantry’s numbers have grown, both in terms of volunteers and the people it serves. But one thing has remained the same: The presence of Fredricka Brown, a 93-year-old woman who has worked in the pantry since it was founded.

“I’m doing the same thing I did before, pack bags for the needy community,” says Brown. “I’m still coming and trying to do the best that I can for the service of the Lord and the community.”

The food pantry currently delivers food to 225 households and welcomes donations at the Christ Episcopal Church on Sundays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. 

FIU student Amelia Orjuela Da Silva reported this story as part of a cooperative agreement between FIU’s Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media and the Spotlight.

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