This year, the Aqua Foundation for Women has awarded $53,000 to fifteen wonderful applicants for our AFW Family of Scholarships Program. Thanks to them and to the careful selection process of our Scholarship Committee, we are proud to present our 2012-2013 AFW Scholars!
|Charrise Alexander is first generation American and is the first in her family to achieve a college degree. As the eldest of two children, she has worked hard to set an example for her brother and open a new path for all those who will come after her in her family.
After graduating from high school, Charrise attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County. There she was one of the founding members of Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL), a feminist organization, and VOICES, a Black Literary Magazine. Upon graduation, Charrise took a full-time position in commercial real estate with a multinational real estate investment trust (REIT). She worked her way up from an office clerk to the Assistant Director of Marketing and Ancillary Income. Charrise left this position after four years to follow her lifelong dream of becoming an attorney.
Now in Miami, Charrise is focused on becoming a lawyer and working in commercial litigation. She is also eager to continue breaking barriers, as commercial litigation is a male dominated field. She feels there is a disconnect between commercial litigators and the communities they represent. As a Black gay woman, who does not come from an entitled place, Charrise feels her perspective is very much needed in the commercial law field.
|Catherine Armuelles is a fighter, overcoming adverse circumstances from a young age. Her early memories are of an abusive home life, which caused her to struggle with low self-esteem. She turned to acting in plays at her Magnet Arts high school because then she could be another person. Over time her passion for the Arts changed from a desire to escape her life into an invested discipline.
After high school Catherine entered a ministry program. Although her attraction to women meant she could not serve as a pastor, she still remained active there and prayed desperately for God to “take this burden away.” When that did not work she knew she needed to be honest with herself, so she came out. When her church community alienated her, Catherine moved on with her life.
Catherine decided to go back to college at 27 and has become a critically-thinking honors student completely invested in gender and sexuality studies. Some people might look at her past life experiences as a waste of time, or as an excuse not to succeed; however, Catherine has gained much insight, strength and perseverance from them. All the skills that she’s accumulated over her lifespan are transferable and she feels she has many lives to touch and people to serve. She’s managed to grow from a young girl with very limited resources and emotional wounds into a determined woman with high goals and a strong work ethic. She will continue to find avenues in academia to express herself and change this world for the better. She will pave the way for other young women who are told they won’t make it, but do!
Susan Caraballo – Alison Burgos Scholarship Recipient
|An independent arts consultant, producer, and curator, Susan Caraballo has worked with over 100 arts organizations and individual artists since 1996. Susan began her career working as staff for some of South Florida’s most important cultural organizations including the Intercultural Dance and Music Institute (INDAMI) at FIU, Miami-Dade College’s Cultural Affairs Department, and the Florida Dance Association.
In 1999, she founded Artemis, a service and presenting non-profit arts organization, whose mission was to support, develop, and tour South Florida based artists. Under the auspices of Artemis, Susan directed PS 742, an alternative performance space in the historic Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, which was recognized as “Best Black Box” by the Miami New Times. Susan resigned as Executive Director of Artemis in 2006 to accept the position of Arts Administrator for the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, where she led administrative and operational aspects of the foundation.
Susan is currently pursuing a Masters in Arts Management at American University while continuing to consult with a small number of organizations in DC and South Florida. During her professional “hiatus” in academia, she worked with the NEA’s International Arts Journalism Institute in the Visual Arts, hosted by American University. In addition, she resumed her interest in Cuban culture by serving as a Director-in-Residence for AU Abroad’s Havana Enclave program while researching contemporary Cuban art in Havana for part of 2010. Back in Miami while completing her Masters, Susan has been most recently working as a consultant for Vizcaya Museum and Gardens’ Contemporary Arts Project, Bas Fisher Invitational and FUNDarte.
|Kimberly Carias is a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop senior high school, soon to be attending FIU. She lives with her mother and younger sister, taking on responsibility both as an older sister and financially. She speaks three languages (English, Spanish, and American Sign Language) fluently. She describes herself as spiritual, reserved, mature, opinionated, and well-rounded. She is academically successful, having taken many rigorous AP and honors courses throughout high school. She has won various honor roll recognitions and tutors other students after school. Speech has always been very significant to her, so Kimberly spends her weekends at debate tournaments, speaking on social issues she feels passionate about.
Within her first year of debating, Kimberly became a member of the National Forensic League (a national non-profit educational honor society for speech and debate students). Additionally, she has also been a dedicated member of her school’s active gay-straight alliance. She participates in Living Rainbow – an extension to GSA that brings LGBT suicides and bullying problems out into the light through Socio Drama – by performing at workshops. Weekends, she speaks for Safe Schools South Florida as a youth speaker to teachers and administrators to promote equality in schools and she is a heritage panelist within her own school. She plans to continue to be an LGBTQ activist in her community through her natural passion for speech and her willingness to commit to the beliefs dearest to her.
|Yaniré Chow of Managua, Nicaragua is the only daughter of a single mother who worked night and day trying to give her child the best life she possibly could. In grade school, Yaniré got picked on by other kids because of the special shoes and belts around her legs that she wore to help her walk. At the age of five, along with her mother, they were kicked out of their home and had to sleep in her godmother’s living room. Fortunately, her mother won the Visa Lottery and they were able to travel to the United States of America as permanent residents.
As a child, Yaniré knew that she was different. In fact, she felt that she was doing something wrong when she would have crushes on girls instead of boys and she was afraid someone would find out. This fear made it difficult to have many friends, but her mother was always there as a support. In time, with her mother’s help, Yaniré came to accept her sexual orientation and has since gone on to support various causes that help the LGBT community, including volunteering with Miami Gay Pride, Aqua Girl®, and SAVE Dade.
During high school, she was eligible to attend a full-time dual enrollment high school program, but she suffered more health problems and had to drop out of high school after recuperating to help her mom make ends meet. She was able to graduate in her appropriate year through night school while working, and continued with higher education courses. Now she is a junior at Florida International University, while holding a full-time job. Even though she wishes she could attend school full-time, she knows that when you work hard, it pays off in the end and the achievements are more meaningful. Every day she is thankful to her mother for being so understanding with her sexual orientation and always being supportive.
|Sabrina Diz came out as bisexual at fourteen years of age and quickly became involved in the LGBT community during high school and was a volunteer for Miami’s first LGBT Prom held at Florida International University. This was her first step toward a life of social justice.
After completing her AA, Sabrina moved to Maryland to be closer to family and threw herself into organizations dedicated to creating change and bringing awareness to LGBT issues. She was also introduced to the Metropolitan Community Church and was deeply affected and moved by their message, as they are the first LGBT affirming denomination. Sabrina became involved in MCC’s ministry work with the Young Adults, interpreting the message for Spanish-speaking audiences, and she was also involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and Trans* alliance. This work brought about life-changing experiences where she learned that her passions were rooted in social justice work, especially in spaces where faith and sexuality intersected.
Once she completed her BS in Psychology she hoped to go back to school; instead she was selected as one of twenty-six applicants to hit the road on the 2009 SoulForce Equality Ride. The two month bus tour took her and 25 fellow activists around the country to 16 faith-based colleges and universities that hold discriminatory policies against LGBT students, staff, and faculty in an attempt to open dialogue and create change. In 2010 she applied to FIU where she is now working towards her Master’s in Religious Studies with a focus on Queer Theory and continues to volunteer her time in the community.
|Melissa Miller Muñoz is a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution concentrating specifically on LGBTQ sociopolitical conflict. Her current research is on the topic of lesbian motherhood and same-sex parenting, a topic of relevance for Melissa and her partner. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies and a Master of Arts in cross-disciplinary studies, with a concentration in gender. Melissa possesses a strong passion for equal rights advocacy and the prominent issues affecting the LGBTQ community. She is an active volunteer for local and national organizations that support equality and aim to ignite social change. Melissa often participates as a panel member in LGBTQ panel discussions at both Florida International University and St. Thomas University to share her experiences and to educate future mental health counselors about her life as a lesbian.
She has been with her partner since high school, an achievement she takes particular pride in. Melissa and her partner were among the first group of students to start the gay-straight alliance at her high school. Possessing an optimistic nature and a willingness to help others, she has volunteered her time and effort to good causes for several years. Melissa intends to continue to push boundaries and put forth her best effort to advocate for LGBT rights and the issues that are most important to the LGBT community.
|An accomplished performer, instructor, facilitator, conductor, and composer, Katy Peterson has performed and taught extensively in over 40 countries and more than half of the United States. Katy is gifted at helping each student find his or her authentic voice in a chosen instrument. Creating a safe environment to play, discover, and experiment in voice, piano, and guitar, lessons are infused with energy and a holistic approach to music where technique, intention, and energy all weave together so that Katy’s students can learn to create magical art.
Community involvement is intrinsic to what Katy creates artistically. From an early age she volunteered with local non-profits wherever she lived and over the years has donated countless hours of free lessons, benefit performances, producer skills, compositions for special events, construction skills, office volunteer hours, and more. Now at the Sunshine Cathedral MCC, Katy is diligently working to raise awareness in the LGBT community and beyond that there is a vibrant place in South Florida where all are welcome to celebrate their spiritual path. She conducts, performs, and brings performers to community events such as Christmas on Las Olas, Pride, Stonewall, community art festivals, and more.
An actively engaged professional, Katy is a member of the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), as well as many others. In 2011 she was awarded the highly competitive NATS Intern scholarship. She holds undergraduate degrees in music and theater from the Wesley Institute; Sydney, Australia, and she is currently working on her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts with a Music concentration at Goddard College; Port Townsend, WA.
|Maria Valero was born and raised in Panama but chose to leave a comfortable and prearranged life to move to Miami in 2005 to pursue her MBA. She is particularly proud of obtaining her MBA as she had to work two, sometimes three, jobs while pursuing it. Her hard work paid off and she went to work in the accounting and finance industry for seven years, then Charo (as she is more warmly known) decided to change her life’s direction and follow her true passions. This led her to pursue a second master’s in Religious Studies and a certificate in Queer Studies at FIU along with a certification as a Life Coach.
It is Charo’s positive attitude and strong spirit that continues to drive and motivate her and influence others in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Her dream is to pursue her Ph.D. in Religious Studies and educate, mobilize, and continue to be very active and involved in the LGBTQ community.
Her most recent work has been within the LBT community in Miami where she has volunteered and currently serves on the steering committee for Aqua Girl®. She is also involved in FIU groups that encourage tolerance and celebrate diversity. In every aspect of her life, Charo tries to raise awareness, facilitate dialogue and advocate for social justice for the LGBTQ community at large. She looks forward to getting even more involved, particularly, with LGBTQ youth.
|Jessica Wilson always knew she was different, but her internalized homophobia made coming to terms with her sexual orientation a very long and painful process.
For years, Jessi struggled in silence. But then, in her sophomore year, something wonderful happened. One October day she walked to the quad only to find a giant display of rainbow balloons. A girl approached her, handed her a rainbow bracelet, and asked her to help support her university’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Realizing the potential, she began to attend GSA meetings. Even though she didn’t have the courage to speak the entire first year she attended, her stereotypes about gays were shattered as she listened to the stories of everyone around her.
Wanting to be of service, she began to volunteer at the campus GSA. While there, she regularly spoke with a trans-woman who had just begun transitioning. Moved by her story, Jessi began to study more about the psychological needs of the transgendered and what could be done to help.