Natalie Castellanos is in the current class of Miami Fellows, the Foundation’s 14-month signature leadership program. The program focuses on helping Fellows develop a deeper understanding of effective leadership while learning about civic issues and ways to solve them in Greater Miami. Natalie shared a bit about her experience thus far with us.

The night before my Miami Fellows interview, I went for a run in my neighborhood. It was a perfect April evening with the sun setting over buildings across Biscayne Bay. As I approached the far edge of South Pointe Park, I heard the sounds of Santana’s “Oye Como Va” accompanied by brass. Then, I saw a man with a trumpet leaning against the seawall with a large portable speaker at his side. He looked immersed in a peaceful place of his own, making music among the bustle of South Beach.

Early the next morning, I sat at the far end of a conference table in downtown Miami facing a formidable cast of community leaders. They quizzed me about my contributions, my aspirations and my commitment to our city. They questioned: what’s your story?

A few weeks later, Miami Fellows Class IX became a part of my story. I joined 16 inspiring individuals whose impact spans industries – arts, transit, law, health, environment, education, media, athletics and more. We are parents and partners, Miami natives and Miami transplants, with roots spanning the Americas and world. Since then, we have visited the corners of Miami-Dade County – from Miami Beach to Liberty City, Homestead and Miami Gardens. We have met with and heard directly from community leaders, government officials and grassroots organizers. We have met with law firm partners whose office suites overlook Biscayne Bay and nonprofit directors whose presence with residents builds community trust in Overtown.

We have learned more about Miami’s history from folks who have lived it and, in some cases, from those who have created it. The stories we heard from Eugene E. Stearns greatly impacted me. An attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson and generational Miamian, he is one of the principal architects of Miami-Dade’s movement for municipal incorporation. In the span of an hour over breakfast, he covered the evolution and history of Miami-Dade County from 1868 to present, making the compelling case for municipal governance, while entertaining us with stories of his efforts over the years. He presented ideas about the structure of local government and its impact on outcomes and the most effective ways of using government to problem-solve based on scale. We have also heard from many other Miamians whose daily efforts make our community work.

Throughout our shared journey, the Fellows have spent time getting to know one another and refining what we know about ourselves as leaders. We have reflected on our values, uncovered personal barriers to effective leadership and shaped our visions of contribution and impact.

Meanwhile, 2016 swirled around us. We are halfway through our Miami Fellows journey as we enter 2017. Staying focused on developing my leadership story in the midst of so much social and political disagreement, change and uncertainty has been a challenge, but these global circumstances only reinforce my belief in The Miami Foundation’s mission of investing in local leadership.

As the pace of 2016 swirls into a new year, I haven’t had a chance to return to my running route through South Beach. I sometimes wonder about that man with the trumpet and what brought him to that corner of our city to share a piece of his story through music. I remember him with his gaze fixed intently on the bay, immersed in his creation and unbothered by the flutter of activity around him. His memory serves as my reminder to stay true to the tune of my story despite the noise of the world, just like the example of so many Greater Miami leaders before me.

Natalie Castellanos, Miami Fellows Class IX member, is an assistant professor at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in the Department of Health, Humanities and Society and is the lead attorney for the Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP Legal Team.

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