'Moonlight' cast member aims to open doors with summer camp

Affordable summer arts program can open doors, founder says

Tanisha Cidel played a Miami school principal for the movie "Moonlight."

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – After the creation of Miami, Overtown was the neighborhood designated for blacks. Bahamians and African-American workers loved Miami's "Little Broadway." Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzegerald were among the regulars.  

The construction of a highway, Interstate 95 and later Interstate 395, decimated the neighborhood. Tanisha Cidel grew up in Miami Gardens, one of the communities that absorbed some of the residents who were forced out of their Overtown homes in the wake of the demolitions. 

When she was a little girl, she left Opa-locka Elementary School for the Rainbow Park Elementary School's expressive arts program. Her mom, a Scott Lake Elementary School teacher, helped her after school and she graduated from the prestigious New World School of the Arts. 

"I knew I wanted to do singing, dancing and acting. I had a mentor who taught me that it was better if you were a triple threat, because you could get three times the jobs," said Cidel, the musical theater director at Norland Middle School's performing arts magnet program. 

Cidel graduated from Florida International University and returned to her neighborhood to give back. Two of her students, Jaden Piner and Alex Hibbert, got starring roles in the movie "Moonlight," which won three Academy Awards and has grossed over $65 million. She wants more locals to shine. 

"Moonlight" chronicled the life of an African-American gay man and was filmed in Miami's Liberty City, another neighborhood that welcomed displaced residents from Overtown. Seventh-grader Alex played the child version of the main character, Cidel played a school principal and Jaden played his classmate. 

"Miami has embraced 'Moonlight' and because of that we started a conversation about how important the film industry is for our community," Cidel said. "We have to foster local talent."

She and her husband, Bringle Cidel, Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School's band director, co-founded Evolutionary Arts Life to help foster local talent. Although the specialized public school programs set up in the 1970s to remedy racial segregation are opening doors, Cidel believes there is more to be done.

"After school programs level the playing field, but not everyone can afford them," said Cidel, who is also the director of the Ailey Camp Miami held and sponsored by the Adrienne Arsht Center in conjunction with the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation. 

Cidel is offering five full scholarships for the Evolutionary Arts Life summer program, but her dream is to offer more in the future. The organizations summer camp, workshops and before and after care programs range from $75 to $5. This summer the children will get a free lunch and snack daily. 

"It's absolutely not about the money. It's about giving them access. It all begins with accessibility and training," Cidel said. "There are a lot of children in our community who don't even know that Miami has a new science museum. That's why I am doing what I am doing. We need to expose all of our children to things that they may not even know they could be interested in." 

The deadline to register for the summer camp is June 17. Evolutionary Arts Life will also be offering  partial scholarships. For more information about the program or about how to contribute to Evolutionary Arts Life's scholarship program, visit the website or e-mail evolutionaryarts05@gmail.com 

Local 10 News Kerry Weston contributed to this report. 

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About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.