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A leap forward for social justice in Miami

The Miami Times

By Johania Charles

This article originally appeared in The Miami Times.

Labor and Delivery
Esther McCant, Metro Mommy Agency CEO and doula, pictured in a labor and delivery room with a mom and her newborn. (Courtesy of Esther McCant)

Miami Foundation unveils groundbreaking fellowship with real money

Following the release of its 2024 State of Black Philanthropy report, The Miami Foundation has launched a new initiative to support Black-led organizations fighting against racial injustice. 

The Saltwater Fellowship, named after South Florida’s historic underground railroad, is a 12-month program offering community-based skills training, access to equity labs, coaching, wellness retreats, and $100,000 in unrestricted grant dollars over two years to an inaugural cohort of 10 advocacy organization founders and CEOs. 

The fellowship is part of the foundation’s longstanding commitment to addressing and eliminating racism in Miami. 

Esther McCant, Metro Mommy Agency CEO, leads a newborn care class. (Courtesy of Esther McCant)

“A lot of us were sitting around thinking about what was next,” said Nikisha Williams, Miami Foundation’s managing director of Collective Impact, explaining how the Foundation sought to continue its investments into Black-led organizations after disbursing more than $1.2 million through its Racial Equity Fund. 

“One of the things that we know is that racial equity continues to be an issue here in Miami whether you’re looking at education, incarceration or homeownership levels,” Williams continued. “With that [Black Philanthropy] data in hand, we decided we wanted to do something about these issues, and the way we decided to do that was to invest in these leaders who have shown an exceptional interest in the ability to address these issues.”

Saltwater Fellowship is supported by the Racial Equity Fund and Foundation donors. 

"This is about investing in folks on the ground level where we already see the tremendous amount of talent that they have,” said Kerry-Ann Royes, who chairs the Foundation’s Board. “It’s an investment in the future of Miami, not just a two-year fellowship.”


Foster youth at Genesis Hopeful Haven attend a hands-on baking class. (

Fellows include Metro Mommy Agency CEO Esther Rose McCant; Art Prevails Project CEO and artistic director Darius Daughtry;  The Light Preparatory Academy co-founder Derek Negron; Genesis Hopeful Haven CEO Fritzie Saintoiry CEO; Chainless Change founder Marq Mitchell; Be Strong International CEO Michelle Shirley; Miami Workers Center Executive Director Santra Denis; Overtown Youth Center CEO Tina Brown; South Miami Children’s Center Medical Dir. Tina Carroll-Scott; and Catalyst Miami CEO Zelalem Adefris.

A couple seeking resources for healthcare, nutrition and financial stability speak to a staff member at Catalyst Miami. (

“We’re a for-profit organization with a big nonprofit heart,” said McCant, a 9-year doula whose organization offers doula services, birth education, newborn care classes, and breastfeeding support. “I have a fiscal sponsor at the moment who is helping and assisting me with being able to apply for certain funding opportunities, but a ton of our work is community work. This grant will help support our doulas, my internal staff, and costs associated with our goal of becoming a nonprofit.”

Denis, who heads an organization with a mission to ensure that tenants and workers understand their rights, plans to use the funding to support Miami Workers Center’s infrastructure, specifically for the expansion of its current building and supporting campaigns and staffing needs. 

“There’s a way in which often Black people are made to be invisible and our organization doesn’t often get the resources that many other organizations get,” said Denis. “I feel overjoyed and seen in a real way so I tip my hat off to the Miami Foundation for really stepping in and filling the gap for a lot of our organizations … unrestricted dollars for our organization I consider to be an opportunity to do the dream work, the hard work to ensure that our infrastructure is in place but also projects that have been on the back burner that haven’t been funded yet.”

Marq Mitchell and members of Chainless Change lead a demonstration outside the Broward County Public Safety Building in Fort Lauderdale. (

"What appeals to me most about this fellowship is that it's not necessarily just for the organization, they’re more so investing in social entrepreneurs,” Mitchell told The Miami Times. "I've done four fellowship programs and this is the only one that truly invests in me and ensures that even the resources associated with the award come to me as opposed to the organization. My identity has somehow morphed into this organization where I'm no longer Marq but Marq of Chainless Change … this feels like an intentional effort to invest in individuals, their leadership capacity, and wellness.”

Upon witnessing first-hand the obstacles previously incarcerated individuals faced when reentering society, Mitchell founded Chainless Change in 2018 to aid those impacted by the criminal justice system through recovery and reentry support services. Through campaigns, the organization also advocates for inmate rights and de-carceration. 

Advocates for affordable housing protest during the pandemic against evictions. (Miami Workers Center/Meta)

"The investment in wellness resources and workshops is important because I find myself on this wheel where I'm constantly working to address other folks’ needs and pour into other people but there actually aren't a lot of spaces and efforts for social entrepreneurs to be poured back into,” said Mitchell, expressing gratitude to be among the chosen 10.

"We started this journey by opening up nominations. And let me tell you, we received more than 500 nominations for about 300 different leaders, which is amazing to see the amount of leaders doing amazing work,” said Williams. “There are things that we were looking for specifically. They had to have a very serious track record of leadership and work that was grounded in a history of addressing racial inequities and systemic change. We wanted to make sure whoever we were investing in they have experience leading organization and express their ability to build coalition and cross-sector partnerships."

A representative of the Art Prevails Project visits a local school to inform students of theatre, poetry and art opportunities that exist within the organization. (

A selection committee initially chose 25 fellows but later narrowed the list down to 10. While the grant funding is unrestricted, fellows will be required to submit a report at the end of the program. 

Children at the Overtown Youth Center Jewel Summit jump rope. (

“To finally see the list and to know these are the people who were selected, I’m just honored because I know of their work as well, like Santra and the folks at Be Strong and the Tina from the Overtown Youth Center. I just think it’s amazing to be listed in there and when I think about leadership, [these people] were a no-brainer,” said McCant.

"The grantees will be asked to submit a report, but it is not a report necessarily that is asking for metrics and numbers,” explained Williams. “These are reports helping us understand how they've grown with the investment in them. The Miami Foundation employs trust-based philanthropy. For us it's not [about] the report that you're submitting at the end of the year … when you make an investment like this in leaders sometimes it is not necessarily that they went from serving 500 people to 2,000 people, which we believe will happen, but then there's the intangibles where this person has these skills and connections that they didn't have before. Those are the things that we're interested in."

“South Florida doesn’t have a deep philanthropic network as many other thriving cities in this country,” said Denis. “We have smaller foundations who don’t necessarily give substantial amounts of dollars. So I think the size of this amount, coming from a local funder is extremely special.”


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