Little Haiti is one of Miami's most culturally rich neighborhoods. While the vibrant area is home to the county's largest Haitian diaspora, due to Miami's heavily segregated nature, it's also an area often overlooked by much of Miami's non-Haitian population.
This has changed in recent years, however, with the addition of places like the British pub and music venue Churchill's, as well as the indie record store Sweat.
But there's one more place that's been bringing in crowds from all over to discover the beauty held within this area: the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Open since early 2009, this city-run center has become a hub for everything from dance and theater to visual arts and after-school programs for kids.
Musicians take center stage at Big Night in Little Haiti — Photo courtesy of Big Night in Little Haiti
And once a month, you'll find the Little Haiti Cultural Center inundated with fun-loving people dancing and singing, swarms of folks young and old alike taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Little Haiti's most treasured event: Big Night in Little Haiti.
This celebration of Haitian culture happens every third Friday of the month from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It's presented by the Rhythm Foundation and Little Haiti Cultural Center, with additional support from the John S. and James L. Knight Center; FIU's Latina American and Caribbean Center; and others.
The event is more like a small festival, bringing together musical acts, dance performances, Creole cuisine and children's activities, while opening the center's gallery doors to allow the community a chance to take in some of the best art coming out of the Caribbean.
What's more, it's unique in that this is the only festival where Haitian culture takes center stage within Miami's mostly Latin population.
Harmonik performs for a packed audience during Big Night in Little Haiti — Photo courtesy of Big Night in Little Haiti
Big Night in Little Haiti thus serves several purposes. It brings a free night of entertainment and culture to a community whose residents are largely low-income and therefore unable to afford many of Miami's more extravagant pursuits (such as those in South Beach or Brickell).
The event also attracts audiences from around the county, including many non-Haitian residents, who up to now may not have had much exposure to Haitian culture.
This, in turn, brings positive attention to a neighborhood that has frequently been pegged as simply impoverished and mistaken as culturally deficient, when in fact it is exceedingly rich with heritage.
Statues dot the courtyard of Little Haiti Cultural Center — Photo courtesy of Little Haiti Cultural Center / City of Miami
In the past, Big Night in Little Haiti has hosted Kompa star Misty Jean; Dja-Rara (the country's only sustained rara band, all the way from Brooklyn); Heat Street Band (the Miami Heat's own marching band); Haitian super group Nu Look; and one of Miami's most well-beloved groups, Jahfe.
Upcoming events will include performances by Haitian band Akoustic and Kompa group Klass, as well as the sounds of DJ Mack between sets, Haitian cooking from Leela's Kitchen and a hands-on art studio for kids, plus access to the Maison Gingerbread, Haiti's Living Architecture exhibit.
The primary funds that went toward putting on this great event are almost up, and Little Haiti Cultural Center is now crowdfunding for its 2016 season.
Big Night in Little Haiti has set up an online donation page to assist in raising $60,000 by September to keep their festival free of charge for the community.
Fans of Big Night in Little Haiti can support by donating any amount and, of course, by attending the monthly event and by spreading the word on social media.
Murals cover the walls of the center — Photo courtesy of Little Haiti Cultural Center / City of Miami