amy rosenberg_web.jpgAmy Rosenberg gives new meaning to the term “soul sister.” The white, Jewish woman who was formerly a practicing attorney is the face behind the Overtown Music Project, an ambitious effort to return the once celebrated, predominantly black community to its former “Harlem of the South” glory when Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie jammed at the area’s clubs, Thurgood Marshall vacationed and Langston Hughes wrote poetry.

Rosenberg was on a walking tour when the idea for the project hit her two years ago.

“I was standing in front of the Lyric Theater, this majestic and beautiful theater. As I was looking around I saw to the right and left of the Lyric, a lot of vacant lots. I ended up quitting my job, selling my small business and starting this non-profit,” shocking her family and friends.

Since then, the OMP has had three well-attended community events that combined what Rosenberg says are the common denominators in bringing people together: music and food.

“The last event was in January and it was 40 degrees. I was fearful that no one would show up but we ended up having 600 people and we raised $5000 for a scholarship.”

And with each event, Rosenberg’s connection to the impoverished area deepens.

Next on the agenda, a May 7 gospel brunch, an idea that emerged when Rosenberg attended the funeral of the mother of music legend Betty Wright.

“It was such an incredibly moving experience. I walked into the church and was probably one of two or three whites and I was totally embraced in like 30 seconds. People were holding my hands and showing me to a pew.”

She said during her visits to church with some of the Overtown musicians that she now calls friends, she is always incredibly moved by the message, the hospitality and of course, the music. She sees the gospel brunch as a chance for others to share the experience.

The event will begin with an hour long “non-traditional” church service, Rosenberg said.

“It will include community leaders from Overtown, a reading of the history of Overtown,” she explained. Ray Fauntroy, Martin Luther King Jr.’s driver and the former president of the Miami branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will also be a part of the program that will have “music interspersed throughout.”

“Following that, Jackson’s Soul Food will be catering the brunch,” said Rosenberg, who hopes that people who have never visited Overtown will attend.

The proceeds from the brunch are earmarked for a jazz  and blues residency at the Lyric Theater, that will also include music curriculum for area schools.

“We’re limited in terms of what we can do to transform Overtown,” but small changes do make a difference.

Rosenberg said events like the gospel brunch introduce newcomers to important aspects of the community while helping its local economy.

“I hope that people who attend this event will come back and go to Jackson’s Soul Food, People’s Barbecue and spend dollars. Miami is a very young city and people seem to have a very short memory. Overtown is one of the most important parts of our history.”