In what part of town do you live?
Right on the edge of the Redlands.
How long have you lived in the area?
I grew up in horse country, which were the Bird Road farm sites. So we used to come out this way all the time with my dad, when I was a little kid for seeds and things for our horses. I’ve been living out here five years now.
Have you always lived in Miami?
I was born in Chicago, and when I was six months, my parents moved to Miami. My parents came here in 1959 from Cuba through Jamaica. They couldn’t find work here, so they went to Tarrytown, New Jersey and from there to Chicago, Illinois. That’s where I was born. My mom was Lebanese. Her parents had traveled to Cuba, interestingly enough. And, my father was Cuban.
Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I always had a sports background. I went to high school at Belen Jesuit preparatory, and played basketball there. Then to Biscayne college my first year, then traveled to the University of San Francisco to play basketball my second and third year. After I graduated from university, I started my own businesses, as a third party vendor for Bell South and then reinvented myself in the online travel industry. And now, I’m an admissions director for an online K-12 private school.
What was your path from online travel to education?
I decided that I didn’t want to run my own businesses any longer. It was too much responsibility, too much time away from my family. I couldn’t get away from the work. I had this vision, early on, that everything had to do with computers and online marketing and advertising. I believed that it was the future. I fell in love with it, learning about the industry, about Google Ad Words, online searches, and how people navigate the internet. Then, I was recruited by, Dana Williams, the first black woman owner of an online private school. She recruited me to help with their online presence. I couldn’t believe how dynamic the business was and 10 years later, I’m still there.
Would you tell us a little bit about the school?
It started 20 years ago. It’s entirely online. We enroll students from all over the world. As long as kids have a computer, they can access their schoolwork 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And they can also work at their own pace. If they want to accelerate and graduate early, they can do that as well. We’re approved by the NCAA, so student athletes can enroll with us, which is a program that I developed. I’m really proud of that coming from my sports background. Athletes can enroll with us to fulfill their scholarship requirements.
What part of creating the NCAA accreditation makes you proud?
I’ve been able to work with people that I know, and coaches that run programs in the basketball community and help their kids out. The basketball community here in South Florida is very small even though it looks like it’s large, and it’s my community. So now, not only can I connect with them personally, but professionally I’ve been able to connect them to our school. In addition to athletics, we get a lot of kids that have health issues, or young ladies that are pregnant, and a lot of lower income kids that we have financial assistance programs set up for. I love that aspect of what I do, because it gives me a feeling that I’m giving back to the community in some way.
As an online school, has Covid been a massive growth opportunity?
It blew up the online education industry. The last week of August is the busiest week in a year for us, and as far as revenue is concerned, we tripled last year’s numbers. We have seen an increase on a daily basis of families enrolling with us. We’ve developed some programs where students can enroll for a semester instead of a full year because the uncertainty is the hardest part right now. And since we don’t just enroll in the United States, and it’s a pandemic, it’s been exponential growth. While I love the fact that we’re doing great, on a personal level, sometimes I struggle because so many of my family and friends are having a really hard time.
Your family’s intersection of Lebanese and Cuban culture is interesting. How do these different cultures stand out in your life?
The Lebanese culture is very loving, very nurturing. When I think of the Lebanese side, I always reflect on the food. My parents both passed away. My mom could make the most incredible meals. I once mentioned to you that your fruits and everything that you make is so good because you guys put love into it. I used to swear that about my mom, because everyone loved the way she cooked. When I think of the Cuban side, I think about the struggle. I think of everything that they did to make sure we had a great education.
I remember talking with you about putting love into everything, and remember it was only your second or third trip by our drive through. How did you discover our drive through?
Patty, my wife, discovered you guys on social media. She said, ‘let’s go there and visit.’ I’ve been an energy guy my whole life. I feel good energy right away and I feel bad energy. As soon as I met you guys, it was very positive. I felt welcomed, I felt like you loved and had a passion for what you were doing. I have a passion for what I do now, for the school, for the families we help. I love that about you guys.
What do you order when you come?
The fruits are great. The cookies are wonderful. The Turmeric Concentrate changed my dynamic as far as digestion. I’m very grateful for it. I take a shot in the afternoon, right after lunch with a little bit of milk. Now, I use less milk because I like the taste. I have grown into it.
What other stores or places have you been going to during the closures?
We travel up and down Krome Avenue a lot. So, we like to frequent the nurseries and the natural fruit stands around that area. I like the Last Carrot in Coconut Grove. I’ve been going there since I was a teenager. It’s funny that question brought me to realize how long I’ve been here at home and not going anywhere.
What’s Miami’s best kept secret?
Virginia Beach. Alice Wainwright park in South Miami.
What for you is a worthy splurge?
We love to travel. One of our favorite places to go is to Napa Valley. It’s peaceful and we can just hang out for a week and drink some wine and eat some healthy, good foods.
What do you do on a rainy day?
I’ll watch some sports on TV.
Are there any community groups or philanthropic groups that are important to you that you might like to share?
Yes. I am currently working with Bianca’s Kids. Philanthropy has been something that has always been very important to me. I yearn to do more. Bianca’s kids works with underprivileged families that have psychological, emotional, or physical traumas. A month ago I presented this to Dana Williams, the owner of our school, to go into partnership with them as their educational model. Now, these children can get an education through our scholarship fund. I’m really excited about it.
Is your school still an opportunity for parents who are looking for an alternative to their current school curriculum that’s already started?
Absolutely. We enroll students from all over the world and we have open enrollment all year round. We don’t abide by the regular school calendar. So if a student enrolls for a semester, they have five months to complete it. If they completed sooner, they have the option of enrolling in the following semester, or they can transfer to another school or they can take time off.
And how do parents find out more about the school?
They can visit our website www.americanhighschool.org or 866 306 0247.
Is there a question you would like to ask us?
(PP) Where is your farm located and how did this all begin?
(A+W) The farms are in the Redland and Florida City. It began when Adena’s grandmother suggested to Adena’s parents that they become farmers. Marc and Kiki moved to Miami and it all began. Marc started planting LNB Groves in 1979. That original farm is where Adena grew up, and her brother Levi, now lives.
Is there a question, a challenge, or words of advice you might like to pose to the community, to our readers?
Go vote. As a community, we just all need to respect each other’s views and come together for the common good.
Anything I have not asked that I should have?
I have five rescue dogs and what I’m usually doing is gardening. I love the outdoors, I have an avocado tree, a lychee tree, a lemon tree, an anon tree, and then I have an orchid garden. And then I have some herbs and plants galore. I grew up with a dad that was all about the outdoors, animals, and vegetation. So, I have it in my bloodline and it brings a lot of peace for me.
What do you like about rescuing dogs?
If you want to experience unconditional love, have a dog. It does not matter what you do, that dog will love you. It is always happy when you get home. That is my experience. And, I think that is what we’re looking for at the end of the day.