October Activist of the Month
Each month we bring you a profile of an Emerger or local activist doing great work in the community. If you want to meet one of these inspiring agents of change, or are interested in getting involved in Emerge Miami, join us at our weekly meeting every Tuesday evening from 7:00-8:00 PM at Sweat Records!
This October, we introduce you to Ariel Sepulveda. Ariel is an activist and lead organizer with Engage Miami, working to create a more just, democratic and sustainable Miami by encouraging civic engagement and participation. Read our conversation with her below.
Interview with Ariel Sepulveda
Q: What is your Day Job?
Ariel: I have the absolute best job in all of Miami. I get to talk to hundreds of young people about the role civic engagement plays in shaping our communities as Organizing Director with Engage Miami. Engage Miami is a group of young leaders no longer satisfied with sitting on the political sidelines. We are home-grown and led by awesome young people from across Miami-Dade activists, teachers, college students, young professionals, comedians, and organizers. My role specifically in Engage is to run Voter Engagement campaigns around local elections, develop and train members from volunteers to leaders, and help breakdown Miami-Dade politics so that we may learn systems that operate around us, and how to affect change. I say it’s the best job, because along the way, I get to spend time in communities from Opa-Locka to Hialeah, from Brickell to Homestead, and work with dozens of amazing change-makers throughout Miami.
Q: How did you come to Miami?
Ariel: I first came to Miami (Homestead more specifically) when I was 5 years old, when my family needed more space than the two bedroom apartment we had in the Bronx, New York. My uncle, who had already moved here from New York some years before, was moving to Tampa and sold his house to us – a 4 bedroom house with 2 living rooms, a pool, and every kind of fruit tree. Compared to housing options in New York, it was a dream. I lived in that house for 10 years until I was 16. I went to Air Force Base Elementary, Mays Middle for acting, then Homestead High #shoutout. Then my father started a new business in Texas that moved us to San Antonio. After finishing high school, and graduating from college there, I began community organizing. It wasn’t until 2 years later that I was offered an opportunity to come back home to organize young people in Miami.
Q: What do you love about Miami?
Ariel: I love that there are no expectations of what should or should not be. I love that people can, and are actually encouraged, to be their most expressive selves – rather than fit a mold.
Q: What is the hardest thing about living here?
Ariel: Hmm… Transportation, walkability, finding affordable housing, and supporting locally owned small businesses. The one that’s the hardest to come to terms with has to do with my gender. Whether it’s stuck at the light in my car, while I’m working, or walking down the street, harassment is rampant and actually embraced. In fact, I don’t even walk anywhere anymore. I’m robbed of feeling comfortable most places, and instead forced to diligently protect my surroundings, afraid of letting my guard down at the wrong time.
Q: Was there a moment when you knew you had to become involved?
Ariel: Sophomore year of college. My friends would come over and force me to put the news on, then start arguments with me about things I could care less about. At that time, the Affordable Care Act just passed but many governors (ehem, Texas) refused to expand it in their states. Even though I was working two part-time jobs, and attending school full time, I had no access to health care. It wasn’t provided through my employers, and I couldn’t afford it through my university. It was during one of those late night arguments that I finally decided I wasn’t going to sit around and debate anymore. I began volunteering my free time to political campaigns, and fell in love with community organizing and political empowerment.
Q: What are you working to change about Miami?
Ariel: I want to see a Miami where our communities are in charge of their own destinies.
Q: What’s your best “only in Miami” story?
Ariel: I pulled into a gas station first thing in the morning (about 7am), and as I stepped out and heard a woman yelling at the top of her lungs in Spanish, in the middle of the street. Concerned since she WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET, I looked around, and when I looked back she decided to take her shirt completely off and helicopter it above her head. Looking around again as if to say, “are we just letting this happen?,” I realized, no one cared.
Q: Have you ever been to Bayside without a visitor from out of state?
Ariel: Yes – mostly for marches to bring that #wokeness.