If you live on South Beach (or South Florida) or have in the 20 years you have undoubtedly known or have been friends with Herb Sosa. He is a community leader and supporter, an activist, and n ally for all in need. He is one of the founders of Unity Coalition and Celebrate Orgullo and now runs both of those organizations.
As the final weekend approaches of this year’s Celebrate Orgullo festival, we thought it would be a good idea to sit down with Herb, and find out more about him, and his valuable organizations.
What made you and the other founding members decide there was a need to create Unity Coalition?
Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida was created in 2002 out of a need to uphold the Miami-Dade Human Rights ordinance – that was being challenged after years of being in the books. Many well intended local and national organizations zeroed in on South Florida voters, but were focused on Upper Eastside, Miami Beach and other areas that were already LGBT friendly. They felt that going into other neighborhoods – primarily those of Hispanic or black folk, were a waste of time, since they were not traditionally supporters of all things LGBT. Several of us in the community felt this was a big mistake, and after getting nowhere with those groups, decided to take thing into our own hands and start a group to translate information to Spanish & Creole, and hit the streets of Miami-Dade county. Our message was simple: “Have you ever been discriminated against? How did it feel? Well, we are being discriminated, simply for who we love… “Almost everyone we spoke to, got it, and understood that a vote in favor of discrimination against one group was really discrimination against all human rights and their freedoms. Once the numbers were in on election night, 13 polls that were ignored by the other organizations, voted in favor of keeping the ordinance in place- Polls in neighborhoods we had walked, got to know the people in, and shared our stories with.
Once the election was over, the phones kept ringing with people asking for help with immigration issues, marriage equality, legalizing adoption in Florida for LGBT people, etc. We quickly realized that there was a void for a new kind of voice and representation in South Florida – one that listened to and fought for the Latinx|Hispanic|LGBTQ community specifically, but all who felt disenfranchised by their government and even their own LGBT community. We came up with a name that reflected a unified collaborative, and Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida was born!
In your opinion what are some of the best accomplishments of Unity coalition?
Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida (UC|CU) speaks with and for those that feel that their voice isn’t being heard. We bring awareness, education and tools for equality to our community. From our advertising to our programming…Leadership to long term vision…Equality, Fairness and Education are always at the forefront of all we do. More specifically, Unity Coalition|Coalicion offering tools and programming, like the 5th annual Transart Conference and Artists Showcase – featuring transgender and non-conforming artists and their works; Elevate- a day of workshops and tools for being nicer; LGBT scholarships for the arts, design and education; microgiving fund for start-ups and reboots in life; Pride U 2020 – activism, leadership & social resources for a new rainbow; the annual Celebrate Orgullo Hispanic Pride festival, which this year started October 1 and goes through the 15.
UC|CU also produces workshops & services to empower our community, like our State of Hate Summit – bringing local, state & federal law enforcement together with our community to reduce crimes; Caoba – an initiative and social gathering for same gender loving men of color; Llegando 305 – social events, health & working tools to navigate a new life; immigration & legal rights seminars; online community resource center, and community partnerships. These are our accomplishments so far, but our work is far from over.
Who would you say is your role model in our community?
There are many people doing great work in our community, and also nationally and internationally, that I admire, look up to and try and borrow qualities I feel are positive, helpful and worthy of replication. A role model not just gets a paycheck from an organization, they lead by example in their whole life – in and out of the office. A role model gives of themselves because they want to make the world a better place than they found it. A role model builds others up, and is never threatened by others success. A role model knows that the only way any group can gain equality and respect, is by working with those that can help and have the ability, access and knowledge to help them to achieve their goals. Those are the qualities I look for in a role model, and if you are reading this and know me, you know if you are a true role model of mine, or simply a colleague.
You have a big love for Miami Beach. When did that begin and tell us what Miami Beach means to you?
I am a proud first-generation Miamian of Cuban-American parents. My love for my country – as well as my heritage, are equally important to me. As the son of political exiles, I believe that the concept of home, sprouting roots, and of making your mark in your community, are more urgent and present for me than maybe for others. This has always been the case, but when I first moved to Miami Beach in the 80’s, I found a vibrancy of community, quality of life, arts, diversity, energy, personalities, architecture… and the beginnings of the preservation movement – all things I found exciting and instantly wanted to be a part of. Miami Beach is HOME. I invested here, I have had several businesses here, I have fallen in and out of love here, and I have always given of my time and talents to it. I hope I leave it a bit better place for others than maybe I found it.
In 2009 you received a city proclamation form Miami Beach declaring it Herb Sosa Day. Do you remember how that felt and what it means to you?
Humbling and something I had a tough time believing I was worthy of. Really any accolade or recognition I have received, I have sort of felt I got by accident. But I do know my worth, and am proud of my accomplishments and accolades, but they don’t define me – they simply are others recognizing something in me and my work, they want to celebrate and reward me with. As much as I have tried to make Herb Sosa Day an actual holiday, with presents, an official title and maybe a parade, so far I haven’t been able to take it past a pretty certificate on my office wall that my friends often tease me about- lol!
How did celebrate Orgullo come about?
Former Mayor Matti Bower – definitely one of my role models – came to me and others in the community, and asked up to develop a Hispanic LGBT Pride event in Miami Beach, during Hispanic Heritage month, October. A small group of us organized an outdoor festival on the sands overlooking Ocean Drive in 2011, and had over 3,500 in attendance. When it came time to plan the next year, the others looked to UC|CU to continue with this project, since it fit our mission and programming so well. 9 years later, Celebrate Orgullo is an international recognized and respected event – South Florida’s first Hispanic LGBT Pride Festival, running every October 1-15th. We showcase Hispanic arts, culture and heritage. We promote and present local, national and international talent. We have showcased hundreds of artists; celebrated the lives of Sarita Montiel, Celia Cruz, and this year are exploring the Art of FASHION|ARTE de la MODA – partnering with the Frost Art Museum at FIU, Wolfsonian and Jewish Museums, the Gaythering and Betsy Hotels, Outshine Film Festival, the Villain theater, and so many other incredible partners – all while being fabulously Proud, Gay and Hispanic!
The fashion gala this year sounds exciting. Tell me about this event and how you picked the legend honors award recipients?
The FASHION Gala is on Saturday, Oct. 12th and is the centerpiece event – an annual fundraiser where 100% of Gala profits go to fund Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida’s year round programming and services for the Trans, POC, Youth and underrepresented communities across South Florida. As part of our Fashion Gala at the Frost Art Museum at FIU, we will present the Khasa Artini Collaborative Artist Chloe Martini & Bo KhasaMarina collection, as well as works by designer Chaplin Tyler, Coco De Salazar and others.
We are proud to present this years’ Legends Honors Award recipients:
ANGELICA ROSS – Unity Coalition|Coalicion Unida’s Legends Honors Award in Equality, Business and Fashion
Miss Ross is an American businesswoman, actress, and transgender rights advocate. After becoming a self-taught coder in the early years of her career she went on to become the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a firm that helps employ transgender people in the tech industry.
As Candy Abundance in FX’s POSE, she is a trailblazer, take no prisoners kind of independent woman. In her latest role on American Horror Story1984 as “Nurse Rita,” she becomes the first ever, trans woman of color to star on two network shows, inspiring generations to come to be strong, confident, determined and focused on your dreams.
MELBA DE LEON – Unity Coalition|Coalicion Unida’s Legends Honors Volunteer Hero Award
If you ask “who is the ONE volunteer that has consistently shown up to every single LGBT community event in South Florida over the years,” I’m sure everyone in the room would know exactly who I was speaking about. Her love for the community and her passion to help others is the reason we all love her. There isn’t a person in this community who doesn’t have something nice to say about Melba DeLeon.
Melba has been a Miami resident for over 15 years, either serving as a superstar volunteer, or on the planning committee for multiple pride festivals, community social events, agency galas, and fundraising events. Melba has been closely associated with organizations such as Unity Coalition, Pridelines, Aqua Foundation, SAVE Dade, the LGBT Task Force, Equality FL, and more. Donating her time and helping others is what drives Melba to consistently be involved in such a major way – always humble, always smiling!
When your time comes to be called to heaven, how do you want Herb Sosa to be remembered?
I hope to be remembered as someone who tried to leave this world better than I found it. As a good son, father, brother, uncle, friend, man of faith and integrity. As a community unifier and leader. As someone who listened, learned and truly strived to be a better person every day. As someone full of passion, compassion, love and drive. As someone who cared and gave his all.
What does the future hold for Herb Sosa and Celebrate Orgullo?
When I helped to create UC|CU, I honestly could not have imagined being at the helm of it, nearly 20 years later. I usually enjoy the creating and developing part of projects – then I go on to the next one. This project, this community, and this commitment to make things better has gotten under my skin. It’s personal, and excites me, challenges me, and sometime enrages me, all in one day. But at least for now, it keeps my interest, passion and drive to continue to do the work that needs to be done.
My privilege, and I feel everyone has some level of privilege to work with, is something I own and have learned how to use to the advantage of my community and its needs. With this I have learned I can make a real difference. I do not wait for a seat or invitation to the table- I bring my own chair, and have those that try and tear us down, as an appetizer. I will continue to advocate and represent those who feel they are invisible or ignored, as long as I am needed, effective and can bring positivity, love, light and change to others lives.