8 Women Who Are Changing Miami for the Better

By Becky Randel | May 2, 2016 | People Feature

Behind every influential Miami woman is a story of hard work, relentless perseverance, and unstoppable drive. Ocean Drive highlights eight trailblazers in the fields of journalism, arts, health, academia, and philanthropy making a difference in the Magic City and the world beyond.

Sarah Arison


Dress, Halston Heritage (price on request). Saks Fifth Avenue, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-1100. Loop choker, Jennifer Fisher ($785). The Miami Beach Edition, 2901 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, 786-257-4500

As the granddaughter of Carnival Cruise Line founder Ted Arison, Sarah Arison, now president of the Arison Arts Foundation and the YoungArts 35th-anniversary chair, is seamlessly overseeing her grandparents’ passion while producing films on the side. Her documentary, The First Monday in May, opened NYC’s Tribeca Film Festival last month.

What does your position at the Arison Arts Foundation mean to you?
This is something that my grandparents created that was so important to them. It is absolutely vital to continue their vision of helping emerging artists across the country.

Were you ever intimidated by the art world?
One of the things I really try to focus on is taking the intimidation factor out of the arts. That’s something we’ve done really well at the New World Symphony with our Pulse program, which is later at night and cocktail style. It’s fun, social, easy, accessible, and yet you’re still being exposed to classical music and learning.

Do you see a lot of gender inequality in the art world?
It was for a very long time an “old boys’ club,” but I do feel there is a transition and that most of the people I know who are the greatest emerging collectors, the most knowledgeable, and the most productive, are women.

What about for you personally running a large foundation?
I had to prove myself. I also happen to be tall and blonde and have a very bubbly personality but would much rather pay my dues than be immediately accepted. Everybody should pay their dues.

What do you think about the convergence of art and commerce?
Artists who do something commercial might often be seen as “selling out,” [but] if you get an opportunity to do something commercial, do it. Then you can afford to pay the rent and do the work you are really passionate about.

Your childhood is not what people might expect. Can you tell us about it?
I spent 16 hours a day in the yard running around barefoot… My mom is a yoga instructor; she is always telling me to meditate or I’m going to have a heart attack.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“I credit my grandparents and my family with teaching [me] philanthropy. It was always something that was shown by example; there was always some component of giving back, just making it a part of everyday life.”

Tracy Mourning


Top, Jonathan Simkhai ($385). Neiman Marcus, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-6161. Heels, Paul Andrew (price on request). Nordstrom, Dadeland Mall, 7239 N. Kendall Dr., Miami, 786-709-4100. Skirt and jewelry, Mourning’s own

Her tireless work with the Mourning Family Foundation—as well as being the founder of the Honey Shine Mentoring Program for girls—has made Tracy Mourning an inspirational dynamo.

Can you point to a memory that created your calling to give back?
As a teenager, a friend’s mom had taken me to see Alvin Ailey in Las Vegas, and it was her generosity of showing me something I’ve never seen before that opened my eyes.

When did you decide to dedicate your life to philanthropy?
I lived in South Florida when I was little; my mom cleaned houses and worked at the jail, and this amazing woman, Ms. Annie Lou Johnson, took care of me. When my husband’s [Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning] job brought us back here, I’d go visit her. I’d see groups of young girls walking around with no direction, babies on the hips, and I would think, Which one am I out of that group had it not been for my mom and the amazing women in my life?

Is there one lesson in particular that you focus on with the girls?
When our self-esteem is messed up, we make silly mistakes, silly decisions. I really focus on building self-esteem so they don’t have to rely on someone else telling them how special they are.

Is it difficult for them to believe that message?
It’s challenging because the images they see on TV and hear about in music don’t reflect what we talk about. It says something totally opposite—that they’re only worth what they look like. I don’t want them to think that that is OK.

How do you handle the work/life balance?
I include the kids because that’s what we are here for, to serve in some way, shape, or form. If they see that’s what life is about, hopefully they will grow into those individuals who want to make a difference, too.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“Honestly, I had no idea what philanthropy was until I received a scholarship to Howard University, and it was then that I fell in love with the word.”

The annual Honey Shine benefit Hats Off Luncheon takes place May 3 at the Hilton Downtown Miami, 1601 Biscayne Blvd.; visit honeyshine.org.

Isabella Acker

Isabella Acker

Ponte side slit vest, Vince ($375). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-351-0327. Sheridan dress, Rag & Bone ($425). Bal Harbour Shops, 305-728-4400. Hat, Free People ($58). 650 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-604-6012. Jewelry, Acker’s own

The creative director of Prism Music Group, Isabella Acker is creating a new template for Miami with innovative community events that fuse the worlds of music, real estate, food, health, and art.

How did you end up in this line of work?
I was in artist management— working with Suenalo, Jacob Jeffries, Chris Cab—but we weren’t really making an impact on how to elevate the local music scene. We had to get involved in how to tell the message on local culture in general.

What did you notice was missing in Miami?
Miami has always been a nightlife gatekeeper. That doesn’t allow anyone who isn’t a part of those circles to experience those moments of culture or art the way it should be.

How did you turn that corner?
There wasn’t anybody cultivating or creating these curated experiences for the community locally. It was always only for “tastemakers” or “influencers.” Within the past year or two, “community” became cool—it’s all about the people who are engaged and authentically into the arts.

Was there one turning point that helped you realize you were on the right track?
The Miami Flea was definitely one of those—we had 4,000 people at the first one! Also, Wynwood Yard—we decided to do two special events a month that have now become an event series because of the feedback.

How have the artists responded?
The bands come to us and say, “We wait for your calls; it’s the only time we feel like people in Miami care about our music.”

What is a cool, local band people should know about?
Nu Deco Ensemble—they are doing Daft Punk, Radiohead. They are Miami’s 21st-century orchestra.

Ana Navarro


Top, Vionnet ($569). theoutnet.com. Necklace, Eddie Borgo ($225). The Webster, 1220 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-674-7899. Jewelry, Navarro’s own

As a successful female, Hispanic, Republican strategist and political commentator, Ana Navarro is an anomaly. The funny, outspoken CNN contributor made the 2016 election year her year.

You started your career as a lawyer. How did you end up in media?
It just happened. It’s very important to be aware and cognizant of the doors and opportunities that open to you.

Was there one particular event that led you in this direction?
I was in my third year of law school and Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). It made tens of thousands of Nicaraguans and South Americans immediately deportable with no legal recourse. We ended up suing the immigration service and getting legislation passed called the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA).

What do you love most about your job?
You are getting paid to talk and give your opinions, something I would do for free. I love being able to exchange opinions with some of the sharpest political minds in the country.

Do you feel your career climb was more difficult as a woman?
I’m a woman, I’m Hispanic, I’m an immigrant, so I’m sure I’ve been discriminated against somehow, somewhere along the way. But I’ve really never stopped to let it bother me.

A lot of political talk has been focused on the “Hispanic vote.” What are your views on this?
The part that most people misunderstand about the Hispanic community and vote is that we [are not] one, homogeneous group that engages in groupthink. There are important differences within the Hispanic community.

What gives you the most hope in regards to the younger generation?
I love speaking with college students because it’s so easy to become cynical in the political world, and young people are full of enthusiasm and want to make a difference.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“I’m very supportive of [my alma mater], the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, because I think educating young women is very important. Those nuns can get me to do anything!”

Dr. Felicia Marie Knaul, PHD

Dr. Felicia Marie Knaul PHD

Dress and jewelry, Knaul’s own

As the director of the Miami Institute for the Americas, a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, founder of an NGO in Mexico, and a full-time advocate for cancer, the devoted activist (and new Magic City resident) Felicia Marie Knaul is already making our city a healthier place.

You wear many hats. How do you manage your time?
I live my work. A lot of the advocacy and research I do is around cancer, a disease that I also live with, and that actually makes time management easier. I’m pretty good at doing the elliptical, [checking] email, and reading papers at the same time.

What was one defining moment of your career?
Working for the Colombian government on the health reform with President [César] Gaviria.

You study breast cancer in low-income societies. What do people need to know about this topic?
One of my main projects is about access to pain control and palliative care, one of the world’s greatest unknown, hidden injustices. The war against illicit use of drugs has meant that we’ve kept particularly poor countries and poor people from accessing what they need.

You recently came to UM from Harvard. What do you like most about Miami?
There are wonderful, interesting things to do all the time—outdoors, art, theater... The whole Latin and Caribbean environment makes it incredibly interesting.

You and your husband (University of Miami President Dr. Julio Frenk) both secured prominent positions at UM. Was that difficult?
These moves are complicated, but the typical way that we have done it—and professional couples do it—is you consider whether or not there are two independent jobs available.

Was it even more difficult as the woman in the equation?
The real challenge here is that there is a glass ceiling that is hard to break through for women. Until there is equal paternity leave—and men are penalized if they don’t take their paternity leave—everybody is going to be taking maternity leave… What that means in the labor market is that it’s always costlier to hire a woman than a man.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“My father was a Holocaust survivor who died at 60 from a concentration camp-related cancer. The thought that the only way to bring some kind of peace or justice to what our family had lived is what inspired me to think about the injustices that others around the world are facing.”

Lucy Morillo


Dress, Jonathan Simkhai ($795). Neiman Marcus, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-6161. Earrings, Giorgio Armani ($1,195). Miami Design District, 174 NE 39th St., 786-501-7215. Jewelry, Morillo’s own

As president and CEO of Miami Children’s Health Foundation, Lucy Morillo is tasked with supporting one of Miami’s largest employers, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, and since her arrival has helped the foundation increase its annual fundraising from $4 million per year to $71.5 million.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
The $60 million commitment from Barbara and Jack Nicklaus and the Nicklaus Foundation to support the mission of the hospital and the Together: For the Children campaign. As a token of our appreciation, we honored them by changing the name of the hospital [from Miami Children’s Hospital] to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

What are some of the outcomes of this campaign?
There is an Advanced Pediatric Care Pavilion that we are erecting—a six-story building to take care of the critically ill children. One thing we don’t have is private family rooms for every child, and in order to remain competitive, we needed to reconfigure the hospital.

What is unique about your management approach?
Coming from my experience as an attorney, I run the organization as a business, not a not-for-profit. Also, being involved in the community has helped create awareness. It’s part of our big marketing strategy—as we give, we receive.

Have you ever found leadership to be more difficult as a woman?
People misjudge you as a woman in a position of power. I’m extremely intuitive and passionate. Don’t confuse my passion with emotion; as a businesswoman, I go for the gold.

As a CEO and single mother, how do you handle the work/life balance?
I have a very good support system. You need to be honest with yourself, and if you want to do this, you need the support. That doesn’t mean you are less of a parent; I have been with my son every step of the way.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“My mom was a couture seamstress, and we would make clothes for people who couldn’t afford it, especially young ladies who were out in the working world.” nicklauschildrens.org

Kinga Lampert


Dress, Tory Burch ($495). Aventura Mall, 19575 Biscayne Blvd., 305-932-9337. Earrings, Lampert’s own

Kinga Lampert is an inspirational activist who serves as co-chair of the board of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, one of the largest private funders of breast-cancer research in the world.

How did you get into philanthropy?
I was practicing law in New York City when I met my husband. I put my career on hold to start a family, but I was always looking for a way to remain engaged and involved, and for my children to see me working and see me passionate about the work I do.

What sets BCRF apart from other organizations?
BCRF is the only A+-rated organization by Charity Watch in the field of breast cancer, which is sometimes viewed as a “sea of pink” and hard to differentiate one organization from another. If people do their homework and want to invest in an organization that’s fiscally responsible, this is it—91 cents out of every dollar that we raise goes directly to breast-cancer research.

Can you discuss some of the research the organization has funded?
BCRF has been involved in every single breakthrough in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in the field of breast cancer since it was founded in 1993. Last year, BCRF-funded research helped identify which patients can forgo chemotherapy altogether when diagnosed with breast cancer.

Tell us about a recent BCRF accomplishment you’re proud of.
In recent years we’ve focused our efforts on our website and social media, and fundraising that way. I wanted our website to be a source of information and to really focus on research.

How will you bring the work of BCRF to Miami?
Miami’s reputation as a leader in cancer research continues to grow, and the fact that I live in Miami now gives us a foothold in a market of strategic importance.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“My mom especially has always had a big heart and tried to help people around her, but we’ve actually had many conversations about making a difference by helping someone directly versus investing in a big organization.” bcrfcure.org

Rudabeh Shahbazi

Rudabeh Shahbazi

Dress, Michael Kors Collection ($3,295). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-864-4144. Jewelry, Shahbazi’s own.

Co-anchor of the CBS4 evening news, Rudabeh Shahbazi was a large part of initiating the Mentoring Matters Big Brother/Big Sister program at CBS. Here, she talks about her career climb as well as life and news in the Magic City.

Did you always want to work in TV journalism?
I fell into the TV program during grad school at Berkeley, and for my internship, they sent me to Channel 2 in San Francisco. That was my first experience in a TV newsroom, and I fell in love with it.

What’s one defining moment of your career?
My first on-air job was in Washington State, which was a small market. Even though it’s not always easy, smaller markets teach you how to be scrappy, how to work your way up, to appreciate the things you have, and really get your feet wet.

Did you ever feel your career climb was more difficult as a woman?
I don’t think it was more difficult, but you see the huge paychecks going to the men more than the women.

Is the work/life balance a challenge for you?
Definitely. We have strange hours. We have to be ready to cancel plans to respond to whatever comes up.

How has social media affected the way you work?
We tap into that and use it as a resource from the community. It’s a good gauge to see what people are interested in by looking at what they respond to, what they’re talking about.

You’ve been a reporter in many places. What do you find most unique about the Miami market?
Anything to do with an alligator is new to me. [Laughs]

How about the lifestyle here?
I love it. It’s so densely packed with things to do, people to meet, and beautiful places to explore. And the news is always interesting.

Philanthropy philosophy:
“I feel that I have an obligation to give back to a community when I’m receiving so much from that community.” miami.cbslocal.com/mentoring-matters

Categories: People Feature

photography by LARA JADE. shot on location at CARiLLoNMiAMi BEACh. Styling by Dann Ryan Weir. Hair by Alexander Sampson for abtp.com. Makeup by Gaëlle March for abtp.com

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