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Merrick’s contested history, a potential HIV cure and Wildlife Thursday: Python hunting and baking

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Kate Stein
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WLRN
Donna Kalil shows off the skin of a python she found in the Florida Keys.

The segregationist past behind the founder of 'The City Beautiful.' A New York cancer survivor becomes the third person to achieve remission from HIV. And it’s Wildlife Thursday, we’re talking about removing pythons … and using their eggs for a tasty cookie recipe.

On this Thursday, May 19, edition of Sundial:

George Merrick's segregationist history in Coral Gables

The founder of "The City Beautiful' didn't want Black people living in Coral Gables.

In the later 1930s, George Merrick advocated in favor of a proposed Dade County Commission “Negro resettlement plan." He also argued for the removal of Black residents.

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Some students and faculty don't want that legacy to live on in the names of buildings on the University of Miami's campus, which Merrick helped found in 1925.

City commissioners in Coral Gables, however, feel differently. The commission recently voted unanimously on a resolution to honor Merrick with a Founder's Day celebration on June 3rd — without debate.

To talk about the controversy and complicated history behind the city founder, UM graduate Naomi Feinstein, joined Sundial. She chronicled documentation of Merrick's racist actions for the university's student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane, in July of 2020, following the death of George Floyd.

Professor Anthony V. Alfieri, or Tony, is the Director of the Center for Ethics & Public Service at the UM School of Law. He also joined the conversation. He spoke about how this debate isn't just a history debate — it also spotlights related issues that need addressing in Miami.

"While this is an important debate, and a debate that should continue, at the same time, the debate needs to be reframed to focus on current land use and zoning policies at the City of Miami level, and across the 34 municipalities, including Coral Gables, that comprise Miami Dade County," Alfieri said. "Policies that are having a disparate impact on predominantly Black and Afro-Caribbean neighborhoods."

"That is to say … there is a segregated effect that is recreating, reinforcing, increasing and perpetuating intergenerational consequences for African-American and Afro-Caribbean families in Miami."
Anthony V. Alfieri, Director, Center for Ethics & Public Service at the UM School of Law

Merrick's supporters argue that UM has overlooked some contributions to the Black community. He donated lands to the Bahamian immigrant community. Also, money for a Black school, according to a letter. This does not negate his racist actions at all, but it speaks to what Feinstein argued on Sundial about how this part of Merrick’s history fits into what students want: adding plaques for context to what is on campus now.

"I think it's complicated because he did do great things for the university, for the city. But at the same time, he has this history. And I read the editorial for The Miami Herald and, yeah, they brought up a great point, it's so nuanced," she said.

"If you want to have a statue, if you want to memorialize him, or you want to have his name on the campus, put something there that maybe can highlight his controversial past."
Naomi Feinstein, UM alumna

You can listen to the full conversation below.

As a note, Sundial did reach out directly to affected members in the community, including the Rev. Nathaniel Robinson of the Greater St. Paul AME Church in Coconut Grove Village West. He was unable to make it at the time of this show – however Sundial is planning conversations with members of the community in the near future.

Merrick’s contested history
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Nearing an HIV cure

A cancer patient appears to be the third person to be cured of HIV.

The woman achieved remission through a new strategy that could lead to a potential widespread cure for the virus.

“This is a very important milestone. There are only been three people who have been cured by interventions like this. And what this patient provided us is a roadmap,” said Dr. Savita Pahwa, who is the director of the University of Miami’s Center for AIDS Research. Her lab was involved with the national research team that worked on this new treatment.

“This points a path to at least anybody with HIV and cancer to try and get a cord blood cell match.”

Dr. Pahwa has been called a veteran HIV/AIDS researcher. She joined Sundial to discuss this new development and talk about how she started her career in the 80s, near the start of the HIV crisis, treating some of the first children born with the virus.

Nearing an HIV cure
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Wildlife Thursday: python hunting and baking

Donna Kalil is one of the superheroes on the ‘Everglades Avenger Team.

She is helping save South Florida’s ecosystem by eliminating a huge threat — the Burmese Python. This invasive species can reach a length of 26 feet and one snake can weigh more than 200 pounds.

The Jurassic-like creatures are, in part, responsible for the decline of crucial native animal populations. They are known to eat alligators, white-tailed deer and bobcats. Plus, they compete with native species for habitat and food.

Kalil caught her first python on Christmas night in 2015 with her family. Since then, she has eliminated hundreds.

She joined Sundial to discuss her work with pythons and how she even uses their eggs in the kitchen — baking delicious cookies.

Wildlife Thursday: python hunting and baking
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Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, currently leads the WLRN Newsroom as Interim Managing Editor. Prior to transitioning to leadership from production, Caitie reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.