Miami Herald

A new way Miami can forge real connection­s, combat loneliness


The U.S. Surgeon General has a warning for Americans about a pervasive condition that worsens the risk of cardiovasc­ular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.

This societal ill is about as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In a letter last May, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy described our urgent obligation as a nation to combat it as aggressive­ly as we have fought addiction and obesity.

In the advisory, he declared an “epidemic” of loneliness and isolation.

“We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation,” Murthy wrote. “It will take all of us … working together to destigmati­ze loneliness and change our cultural and policy response to it.

“If we fail to do so, we will pay an ever-increasing price in the form of our individual and collective health and well-being,” he wrote. “And we will continue to splinter and divide until we can no longer stand as a community or a country.”

On Valentine’s Day this year, I am answering the surgeon general’s call by launching a nonprofit organizati­on to foster connection. We Met in Miami is an event series that will help adults 21+ find love and friendship through community service, civic engagement and the arts.

Wristbands will be a signature feature at the events: Green for people looking for love, blue for those seeking friendship and rainbow for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. (Yes, you can wear more than one.)

My hope is that the wristbands will act as a subtle but powerful public pronouncem­ent that says: My heart is open to making new connection­s.

When I tell people about this project, their first reaction is often: “Wow, Miami really needs this.” Unfortunat­ely, our Magic City has a reputation for being a tough place to date, make friends and build community. But, in recent years, I have been heartened to see the movement Murthy is talking about taking shape here.

Especially since the

COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an explosion of grassroots initiative­s to connect people through shared interests: Miami Sound Space, a community choir collective, and Miamibloco, a samba drumming group, draw hundreds to make music together. The figure-drawing pop up Raw Figs, Miami Poetry Club and Miami Hiking Club challenge folks to express themselves and engage with their environmen­t in new ways.

We Met in Miami will spotlight these existing opportunit­ies — enhanced with an intentiona­l focus on love and friendship.

If I’m catching the premiere of a homegrown film in downtown Miami, practicing yoga at a farmer’s market in Little Haiti, dancing salsa on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, volunteeri­ng at a beach cleanup on Virginia Key or learning about local Black history on a walking tour of Overtown, I can expect to encounter others who share my interests and values. It makes for a good story, too.

And people want a meet cute! I’ve come across the following phrases on dating app profiles here: Willing

to lie about how we met. I’m looking for someone who’ll say we met rescuing a puppy. We’ll tell people we met at the grocery store, both reaching for the last avocado.

There’s nothing shameful about online dating, but clearly, I am not the only single Miamian who is craving face-to-face connection and authentic experience­s.

I created We Met in Miami because I was tired of wishing something like it existed, for myself and for my community.

At our Valentine’s Day launch event, attendees will form a pop-up choir, harmonizin­g to create an epic and oh-so-Miami cover of “We Found Love” by Rihanna and Calvin Harris.

When we sing the lyrics, “we found love in a hopeless place,” I will smile, enjoying the tongue-incheek humor that pokes fun at Miami’s notoriousl­y difficult social scene. But make no mistake: Miami is not a hopeless place, and if we are brave enough to be vulnerable, we will find love here.

Jessica Bakeman is the founder of We Met in Miami. She is also director of enterprise journalism for WLRN. We Met in Miami will hold its free launch event at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St Miami, on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.

 ?? COURTNEYK Getty Images ?? A new organizati­on, We Met in Miami, will help forge connection­s in the community.
COURTNEYK Getty Images A new organizati­on, We Met in Miami, will help forge connection­s in the community.

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