February 5, 1992
By Olympia Duhart
La Reina shoe store, one of the most visible casualties of the 1990 Wynwood disturbances when it was destroyed by looters, has emerged as a symbol for hope and change in the community.
Today, the shoe store is a chapel where a neighborhood youth group meets. Its 20 members made their own rules: no late
arrivals, no leaving without permission, and, because they are in a chapel, no cursing. They talk about life on the streets, the power of God and the destruction of stereotypes.
“There are a lot of stereotypes about Wynwood that really aren’t true,” said Eduardo Salgado, 15. “There are people out there who just want to close the door in our faces because of where we’re from.”
Eduardo said it’s been especially hard to shake the negative stereotypes created by the Wynwood disturbances, prompted by the partial acquittal of Miami police officers in the beating death of Wynwood resident Leonardo Mercado.
One of the buildings looted during the violence on Dec. 3, 1990, was La Reina at 3100 NW Second Ave. The shoe store, which had doubled as a satellite chapel for Corpus Christi Catholic Church, reopened for a while, but it was later converted to a full-time chapel, La Mission San Juan Bautista.
The shoes are gone. In their place are wooden crosses, pews and pictures of Jesus Christ.
Each afternoon, the kids file into the meetings, form a circle and start talking. They cover everything from AIDS to St. Augustine to dealing with anger. Then they pray.
“You learn more things here than you do hanging out on the streets,” said Angel Magdaleno, 16, a sophomore at Jackson High.
The youth group is sponsored by the city of Miami Youth Task Force. Chairman Xavier Cortada has been meeting with the teenagers in Wynwood since October for weekly rap sessions and weekend football games. Last week, the group started daily rap sessions at the chapel.
“We are trying to teach them to express their feelings in a controlled way,” said Dr. Jesus Arina, a clinical psychologist at Regis House who is leading the sessions the first few weeks. “Another goal is to increase their self-esteem.”
David Rivera, 15, a sophomore at North Miami High, said he’s relieved that someone is able to see past all the bad publicity.
“We’re not delinquents,” David said, “but that’s how people perceive us.”