Talk of the Town: Knight Center, Banned Books, and More

The New Knight Center Opens

The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami has now officially opened its new Knight Center for Music Innovation, a $36.5 million, 25,000-square-foot cutting-edge performance and technology innovation hub.

Designed by H3, an Arquitectonica Company, the new building features two dynamic performance spaces: the Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Recital Hall, a world-class, 200-seat performance theater with superior acoustics; and the Thomas D. Hormel Music Innovation Stage, a versatile innovation space equipped with advanced recording, lighting, and broadcast technology. Both spaces will serve as training grounds and innovation centers for students enrolled at the Frost School.

“The future of music is the future that musicians will be able to create for themselves,” says Frost Dean Shelly Berg. “We’ve always enabled our students to imagine the possibilities that will shape and guide their futures and get hands-on, real-world experience… that is what sets an elite music school apart from others.”

The Frost School is ranked as the top music school in the State of Florida, educating “the next generation of groundbreaking musicians, music industry professionals, music educators, and others,” according to Berg. The opening was celebrated by a week of musical events and a star-studded gala emceed by Gloria Estefan, with guests and performers that included Grammy Award-winners Jon Secada, Dawn Lewis, Bruce Hornsby, and Carmen Lundy.

Performances at the Knight Center will be open to all Gables residents; in addition to seating inside, performances can be seen via a state-of-the-art technology Windowcast system that broadcasts live events in the surrounding plaza. For information on events, including dates, times, and ticket prices, go to

Coming Together for Israel

Lately, city commission meetings have seen more than their fair share of contentiousness, but at the last meeting in October, all five commissioners united whole-heartedly in their support of Israel in its conflict with Hamas. In an unanimous decision, the Commission voted in favor of a resolution “supporting Israel and condemning the unprovoked and unjustified war launched by Hamas terrorists against Israel.”

Mayor Lago (pictured below, on the left), who originally brought the item, was joined by the entire commission in sponsoring the resolution. “In these trying times, our city remains resolute in its support for Israel,” said Lago. Three rabbis from local synagogues spoke on the issue as well as several Jewish residents of Coral Gables.

“Your friendship is real,” said Rabbi Jonathan Fisch of Temple Judea to the Commission (pictured below, on the right). “We feel it…. Over the last two and a half weeks, the Jewish community has really seen who our friends are. And I’m looking at friends, just five feet away from me.”

Commissioner Ariel Fernandez called the attack Israel’s 9/11. “I think there’s no more important legislation that has come before this body since I was elected,” he said. “This attack on October 7 wasn’t an attack, as the Rabbi said, on the state of Israel… it was an attack on the people of the world.”

An emotional Commissioner Kirk Menendez added, “Those who failed to condemn, condone. And as long as we allow evil to prevail, unfortunately, history repeats itself.” Menendez called the Hamas’ actions an “an attack on the essence of life and what life is all about.”

Mayor Lago suggested several Jewish organizations residents can donate to and committed a $1,000 personal donation to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. City staff also presented options for a new menorah to be placed somewhere downtown, paid for personally by Mayor Lago.

An Ethical Dilemma

You have to commend Commissioner Melissa Castro for requesting an opinion from the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust regarding her company’s business with the city, which she did after her April election. Her firm, M.E.D. Expeditors, helps developers get permits from the city’s building department.

An initial draft opinion in June recommended that she should limit her interactions with city staff as the owner of M.E.D., but did not say the company should avoid doing any business with the city. A more recent draft opinion, issued on Sept. 28, determined that Commissioner Castro would probably be in violation of the county’s ethics code if she benefits financially from representing clients who are securing permits from the city.

The Ethics Commission will meet Nov. 8 to consider “a formal opinion regarding prohibitions on elected officials’ outside employment when the employment involves contacts with the official’s city.”

The Ethics Commission’s formal opinion will also address how other officials in Miami-Dade can interact with their cities, in response most notably to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who worked as a consultant to Coral Gables-based developer Rishi Kapoor when he was seeking permits for a Coconut Grove real estate project. A company partially owned by Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago also rented retail space to Kapoor, who was planning to build a luxury condo mid-rise on Ponce before the FBI stepped in to investigate. Mayor Lago recused himself from votes on Kapoor’s project, however, and his firm is not seeking permits for the project.

Commissioner Castro, who has several dozen permits in process with the city, must now decide whether to sell her company, or terminate all its business in Coral Gables, or resign from her position as commissioner. Her recent vote to double her commissioner compensation from the city may make it easier to lose the income from permitting clients in Coral Gables. She did not return several requests from Coral Gables Magazine to comment on her plans.

A Gables Prodigy

Christopher Rocha is a middle school student at Coral Gables Preparatory Academy. He is also, at age 12, a talented pianist. He has won numerous accolades, but most recently captured first prize in the prestigious 2023 New York Golden Classic Music Awards International Competition. Christopher won top honors in the “Junior Piano Soloist” category after delivering an extraordinary audition among hundreds of candidates. As a result, he will perform in the Winners’ Concert at legendary Carnegie Hall in New York City on Dec. 7.

He has been playing piano since age six, tutored by local professional pianist Sahily Cánovas, herself educated in Russia. If you want to see (and hear) Christopher play, you won’t have to travel to NYC.

Christopher will be a headliner at the City of Coral Gables Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony, where he will play Christmas favorites. That ceremony marks the beginning of the holiday season in the City Beautiful, scheduled for 6 pm on Dec. 1 in front of City Hall.

The young pianist firmly believes God granted him his talent to play and his gift for perfect pitch. He performs at his school, his church, and at local festivals to give back. Among other achievements, he was a semifinalist in the 2021 Miami-Dade Young Talents Big Dreams Competition; won second place in the 2021 Miami Music Teacher Association; and is a scholarship recipient of the Coral Gables Music Club. In April 2022, he was selected by the U.S. Chopin Foundation as one of the best 16 young South Florida pianists.

Book Ban Protest

In the face of recent book bannings in Florida public schools, thanks to legislation passed in Tallahassee at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the owner and patrons of Books & Books recently joined the national “Banned Books Tour 2023” as part of its Banned Books Week.

According to the “Parental Rights in Education” law passed in May, if a single parent in any county objects to a library book, it must be removed within five days and remain off the shelves until the issue is resolved. According to PEN America, 1,400 books have been banned in Florida during the past school year — 40 percent of the national total (Texas registered the second-highest with 625 books banned, followed by Missouri with 333, and Utah with 281).

banned books

Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of Books & Books, recently joined with parents and teachers opposed to the bans, helping lead a protest march from the Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ to the Books & Books store on Aragon Avenue.

“Reading is all about empathy,” Kaplan says. “It’s all about learning one’s history and the history of others. If you attempt to restrict that, what you’re doing is… whitewashing history in a way that doesn’t allow young people to really understand the beauty of this democracy or how to make it better.”

Those who favor the bans note that the books are being pulled only from the shelves of elementary school libraries (grades one through six), and not from middle schools or high schools. They argue that these children are too young to be exposed to books that discuss subjects such as racism, the Holocaust, slavery, and sex. Those opposed to the bans say that children 10 to 12 years old are mature enough to understand controversy, and that this has never been an issue at schools where librarians, teachers, and parents have traditionally curated the reading curriculum for children.

“It’s about parents choosing what their kids read, not somebody’s else’s parent choosing what they can read,” says Kaplan. “The regulations and the interpretations of the laws coming out of Tallahassee are vague, and they are having a chilling effect on the school system.”

banned books

Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan (center) leading the protest through Coral Gables.

Books currently banned in Florida counties include “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, removed because of “themes of race,” “anti-police messages,” and “divisive language.” Other banned titles are “Anne Frank’s Diary” (The Graphic Adaptation), “Michelangelo” by Mike Venzia, “The Fixer” by Bernard Malamud, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Underwood.

Snorkeling for a Cause

The Coral Gables-based nonprofit organization Miami Waterkeeper advocates for swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water for all. From high school ambassador programs to habitat restorations, the organization educates the community on how to protect our South Florida waterways.

Throughout the year, they host various cleanup efforts, such as kayak and beach cleanups. Their newest event invites volunteers to collect marine debris while snorkeling. The first snorkeling event in October focused on protecting our local coral reefs and marine animals; a key component of the cleanups is marine debris education, where volunteers learn about ecosystem health and resilience efforts.

“Contaminated waters affect fishing, swimming, boating, and more activities that our community relies on,” Executive Director Rachel Silverstein says. “We ensure volunteers leave with the knowledge and inspiration to make small changes in their daily lives that add up to large positive impacts on our environment and waterways.”

So far this year, in 48 events with 1,600 participants, Miami Waterkeeper volunteers have removed over 6,000 pounds of marine debris. “I’m always impressed by the passion and commitment our volunteers demonstrate,” Silverstein says. “They often become regulars once they experience these events firsthand and see the tangible difference their efforts make.”

Join Miami Waterkeeper in Key Biscayne for the next snorkeling cleanup at Bear Cut Preserve on November 18 at 9 am, or during upcoming kayak cleanups at Crandon Marina on November 11 and December 9 at 9:30 am. For the latest waterway news and more ways to become involved, visit

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