Spotlight: Ron Book in Miami, Florida

Ron Book is a renowned attorney and advocate in Florida. Through his law firm, Ronald L. Book, P.A., he works with a variety of clients in business, local government, health care, and nonprofits. Book also actively provides pro bono services on issues related to children, particularly protecting them from childhood sexual abuse. “I have been heavily involved in the foster care space,” he says. He is also highly recognized for his work in the homeless arena for over 31 years.

His decades-long career has seen Book literally and figuratively flying high. “​​Flying on Air Force One in 1980 with my boss Governor Bob Graham was a pretty high moment,” he says. “Flying out to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean and spending three days and four nights on an aircraft carrier with my friend, former NBA All-Star James Jones, was a pretty big high as well.”

Book was born in Pleasanton, California. When he was six months old, his parents were discharged from the Air Force. They then drove across the country to settle in North Miami. His mother, in particular, was instrumental in pushing him to use his voice to organize others. She encouraged him to advocate for change in his community. 

The Start of a Lifetime of Advocacy

Today, Ron Book is known across the state as one of Florida’s most influential lobbyists. But Book got his start in advocacy at the early age of 13. “I decided kids needed lights in our neighborhood parks,” he explains. Following encouragement from his mother, Book drafted a petition to the city council in North Miami. “With the mayor of North Miami living around the corner from me, I organized my friends to picket his house,” he says. “When I got my night in front of the city council, I became victorious in my first effort at advocacy and bringing about change by getting approval to put lights up in all city parks.”

His success with North Miami’s city council encouraged Book. He continued organizing his friends as they became the first group of 18-year-olds to enjoy majority rights. “Nobody knew if 18-year-olds would even vote in that first election where majority rights were recognized,” he says. “But that didn’t stop elected officials and candidates from seeking the endorsement from a bunch of 18-year-old kids, including me, which provided me with access to the political process.” 

An Award Winning Career

Book initially hoped to have a career in elected politics. But he eventually realized he’d be more effective as a lobbyist. He got a B.A. in Political Science from Florida International University. Then, he went on to earn his J.D. from Tulane University. “Law school helped build my advocacy skills and taught me how to put cases of advocacy together in a coordinated and focused form,” he says. 

“I knew from the beginning that it was important to leave this place better than the way I found it,” he adds. “And the only way to do that is through true, pure, pro bono services, and giving back and making a difference.” Ron Book was one of 21 lawyers to receive the Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards in 2023. The award recognized his work in fighting child abuse and homelessness. He was also inducted into the 2023 Tulane Law School Hall of Fame. 

Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust

His work in advocating for the end of homelessness originated about 30 years ago. As Book explains, a number of prominent Miami-Dade players—including Alvah Chapman (former chairman of the Knight Ridder Corporation and the editor and publisher of the Miami Herald), Archbishop McCarthy, Monsignor Walsh, Sister Jean O’Laughlin, former Governor Jeb Bush, former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, and Rabbi Solomon Shiff—came to Tallahassee to meet with local lawmakers on passing a food and beverage tax to help fund the end of homelessness. “I got asked if I would take the issue on as a pro bono lobbying effort, and I agreed,” says Book. “Never thinking that it would lead to 30-plus years of involvement.” 

With the successful passage of the tax, Book thought he would spend a year or two helping to implement the campaign. “The old cliché, ‘I got bit by the bug,’ certainly is the case here,” he says. “My parents taught me at an early age that to those much is given, much is expected. They also taught me, never quit before a job is done. Thirty years later, we have reduced unsheltered homelessness in Miami-Dade County by over 90 percent. The effort started with a little over 8,000 unsheltered individuals to the current number of just under 980. We will end unsheltered homelessness in my community in the near future.”   

Ron Book’s Wishes for the Future

“What I hope in the next decade is that my community will not only reach the end of homelessness,” he says, “but be able to sustain it.” 

As he continues in his lifetime of advocacy, Ron Book also gives advice to the next generation: “Nothing is impossible.” Believe in yourself, take risks, look in the mirror, and say anything is possible.  

Dreams Abroad’s Spotlight series shines a light on heroes who are using their passions and fields of expertise to make a difference in their communities. Be on the lookout for additional Spotlights throughout the yearwe can’t wait to introduce you to even more individuals creating positive change in the lives around them.

St. Augustine, Florida: an Excursion to Remember

What is a memory? A series of intertwined images revolving around in an electricity typhoon? The main pillar of (cognitive) knowledge? Echoes of a distant time resonating through your thoughts? Without it we could not remember how to get to work or how to dress; without it, we could not be who we are, because we could not remember our past. We would not be able to know that karma is almost scientific: every action has a reaction. Or maybe it is all of this and more, all at once.

Today I find myself remembering a lot of things. The thing is, when you vividly remember something, it is almost as if you could taste it. Do you know that feeling? Have you ever missed something you barely knew? I miss how I felt when I was in St. Augustine, Florida.

Let us be clear, before every memory lies a thin veil of uncertainty. This doesn’t necessarily make memories unreliable but this is a subtle warning that everything might be or might be not as you thought it was. Remembering is a cognitive process related to imagination. It’s impossible to have any control over the human imagination. Nonetheless, this process only embellishes our memories. I had nothing but a good time in St. Augustine. As I look back on my time there, I sense the sweet taste endemic of those great, indelible, fierce memories that stand tall in the fight against oblivion. Those memories are the thing known as the time of your life.

bridge of lions xcursion

My First Impression of St. Augustine

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. I felt like I was home. This part of the US was “inhabited” by the Spaniards initially, and it’s noticeable in the architecture. The characteristic Spanish architecture is exactly the kind of architecture I would see in my own country. Regardless of its origins, it’s a themed town I would say.

It looks like it stepped out of the 16th century or so, you know? It recalls a time back to when the Atlantic was swarmed with all kinds of greedy Jack Sparrow types and the American continent was still a dream and a new opportunity — a ripe, juicy fruit for everyone and anyone to take. I even saw some pirates while I was there, actually. We were near the fort, Castillo de San Marcos, so that’s what probably sparked my imagination. Water was everywhere you looked, with the Matanzas River spilling into the ocean. A cool breeze swept through the harbor, swirling around the peaceful boats bobbing beneath the bridge. I was fascinated, honestly. This was the kind of place I love to visit.

castillo de san marcos st augustine

Seeing the City on Foot

By foot is the only way to truly see this city. We parked and got going without direction, just putting one foot in front of the other, as they will. There were lots of stores. Each shop and restaurant has a unique décor that’s coherent with the idea of the town. We saw all kinds of stuff: amazing souvenirs, clothes, toys, board games, and jewelry. You name it, it was there. A single tour of just one street took us more than half an hour. It was impossible not to stop at every single store display to stare at something. We got lost from the group once or twice because everyone was interested in something different, of course.

All in all, we had a great time just walking around. The main attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos. Castillo de San Marcos, known simply as “the Fort” by locals, is the crowned jewel of St. Augustine. It’s a great construction whose rich history is embedded into the fabric of St. Augustine itself. Speaking of great buildings: we all agreed that the city’s university almost looked like it was straight out of Hogwarts. And it really was! Flagler College sits across from the Lightner Museum, which I found out sometime later.

Florida historic

After a while, it was time to get a room. We still had some time to find a fairly priced accommodation before nighttime. After only a little bit of looking, we rented a room in a tiny, cozy hotel just beyond the bridge. The price was fair and the location was pretty decent, seeing how close we were to downtown.

St. Augustine at Night

We couldn’t leave without visiting the St. Augustine beach. Even though we went at night, there were still lots of people. There was a pier off the beach with lots of stores and food. Even though it was so dark you couldn’t see the people on the beach, the pier was alive with light. Nonetheless, we went down to the beach to swim for a little bit. Even though it might have been unwise, we stayed close to the beach.

 

I even made friends with a couple while we were at the beach. They were in their 50s and were foreigners in America, just like me. We talked a lot before he invited me for a beer. I introduced my friends when they got out of the ocean. It had been a really nice day, but after a while, it got pretty late. The beach started to run empty and we decided it was time to call it a night and went back to the car. By that time, we were experts in cleaning sand off of our shoes and feet without getting the rental car dirty. We rinsed off with the showers on the beach before returning to the hotel to get ready for the rest of the evening.

The night is where the real magic happens. The town has an eerie, mystical vibe to it. It’s only accentuated by the dark. One of the more popular things to do there is to take a haunted tour of the lighthouse. It’s said that it’s really actually haunted, but that can’t be on the tour, surely.

St. Augustine is Incredibly Charming

I really loved the journey to and from the hotel. Everything was shiny and beautiful. Even though we had a really good time, we had to go the next day. I remember how beautiful it was that night in the hotel because the moon was huge. I felt it right above me and the hotel. I’ve always had a tendency to go to sleep late, so I snuck outside to see the stars. I had a wonderful night chilling outside while my friends slept.

There are no possible words that could give St. Augustine justice. It is an incredibly charming little city. I would love to live there. I can’t wait to return someday.

Check out Carlos’s last post about his experience while studying abroad.

Castillo de San Marcos Fort st augustine

 

What I Know Now About Being a Ph.D. Student

My departure date had finally arrived and it was time to leave Kuwait. I was about to embark on my new adventure as a Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida. The last few hours I had spent back home were pretty emotional, bidding farewell to family members. It was especially hard to say goodbye to my parents. Yet, I knew that with great things, sometimes, come great sacrifices. In this case, that meant living a great distance from my family.

When I arrived in Tampa, I instantly fell in love with the city. The urbanized area had so many places to explore. It offers great opportunities for self-development, both personally and professionally. One of the things that I liked most about Tampa is its big Arab population, unlike Tallahassee, where I studied for my Masters. And I knew that would help ease my homesickness. On top of what I recommended in Pre-Departure From Kuwait to the United States, here are some tips to help every Ph.D. student to pursue their degree.

1) Attending the Graduate Student Orientation Is Crucial

Mark your calendar and write down the date you have to attend the graduate student orientation your school holds. By attending orientation, you will gain a lot of valuable information about your visa status, deadlines for tuition payments, and other important things. It is also crucial for you to in order for your registration hold to be removed. Once that is removed, you can go ahead and enroll in classes.

usf library classroom

2) Checking for Other Holds Is Key

There could be other holds on your student account that could disable you from registering for classes. Some examples are things like not submitting your historical immunizations record or not providing a valid health insurance plan.

early class registration student

3) Don’t Miss the Dates for Early Class Registration 

Well in advance of starting your new school, check their academic calendar. Write a note for yourself to remind you of the day you are able to register for classes. In case you miss that date, you could still do so in the add/drop week. However, keep in mind that most of the classes by then will be filled; so the earlier you register, the better (don’t forget the early registration dates!). In order to know which classes you can take, look up your program’s course plan, as it will have a list of the classes you have to complete in order to obtain your degree (such a plan is available on your college’s website).

manage your time

4) Manage your Time to Get Things Done

When school starts and you begin your journey as a Ph.D. student, you will feel overwhelmed with the amount of reading and assignments that you have to do. However, time management does wonders! Don’t postpone your work and try to get things done as soon as they are assigned to you. By doing so, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or stressed.

5) Be Patient!

It is very important that you keep reminding yourself WHY you began this journey in the first place. Recall the goals that you want to reach whenever you feel like giving up. Remember that it is OK to feel stressed at times (most of the time to be honest, especially as an international student away from home). Even so, it is important for you to KEEP GOING. Focus your energy on the good feelings of what it would be like to hold the doctoral degree in your hand and how everyone will be so proud of you when show friends and family on your return. Simply, live for that day and DON’T GIVE UP. 

dont forget to breath relax What Every PhD Student Needs to Know

Wrap Up

You are not in this alone. If other people have done it, so can you! Stay positive. You can do this. Don’t ever forget that. A little bit of self confidence will do you the world of good. I hope these tips about what every Ph.D. student needs to know help you to follow in my footsteps. 

by Dalal Boland

Travel Tales: Black Dog Cafe

Black Dog Cafe

I loved Tallahassee, even with that inescapable, awful, and sticky heat. It’s been a year and a half since I left. When I close my eyes and think about my stay, I smile. I learned a lot about myself back there. As I’ve said before, I like to make friends. But what I haven’t said is that when you’re in a different country, you’re constantly imagining living there for good.

Being here, I wanted to behave just like a Tallahassian. They have a beautiful city with ups and downs, just like any other city. There are beautiful landscapes, parks, lakes, and equally some scary neighborhoods where the stores close by 8pm. It is like anywhere else on Earth that’s not home. So, you’re a complete stranger. And when you’re strange, no one remembers your name (said a certain lizard king). I wanted some people to know my name.   

An Offbeat Discovery

It was a Thursday or maybe Friday. I remember because I was in the mood for some noise and a beer. That made me want to explore a little bit – just enough to find a cool place to hang. I am not a fan of crowds. A club is not a place I would be by myself, ever. I’m a bohemian kind of guy. This means I like to walk around while singing to myself. Well, correction, I love singing to myself. And that’s exactly what I was doing that day.

My steps took me down towards Gaines Street. A family played in a fountain; they looked happy. I’m a shy person, so I look a lot at the floor which does have its perks – sometimes I find interesting things just lying there. As I peered down on this occasion, I saw a little green snake in the grass. Naturally, I’m scared of the dangerous ones, but equally I think they’re beautiful too. So, I went after the little snake, conscious of his lack of venom due to his species. I followed him through grass that was large enough to hide it but short enough to walk in without any trouble. But soon, I lost him when the grass receded, and the asphalt reappeared. I looked up, and there it was: a little wooden house, painted in blue with purple details.

The Best Things Are Hardest to Find

It was just lying there so fresh, so unaware of the heat; so joyful with that insolent blue and purple in a sea of neutral colors. With a beautiful porch and a little garden with some tables, a big sign gave this small treasure a name: “Black Dog.”  

“That’s a Led Zeppelin reference,” I thought to myself, while my feet forced their way into the house. It was magical, exactly the kind of place where I would like to hang out with my friends or girlfriend. It was a café that offered a bite to eat, a beer, an iced tea or a glass of wine. It had live music, which was great for a bohemian night out. It had amazing soda-pop (avocado pop is heavenly), board games, nice and tasteful decoration, and that great music. They put so much effort into bringing culture to people through their literary nights, concert nights, and open mic nights. It was amazing! 

New Friends and New Experiences

I made some new friends there. My close pal César and I hung out there on my birthday, where we met Justin, a great guy who we talked to about philosophy, poetry, people, and music, and shared a few stories about girlfriends. I hope he’s doing great now, wherever he is!   

At the Black Dog Cafe, I met a group of Tally writers too – a warm collective that supported each other on their journey to being published. I met El Habib Louai, a fantastic poet who reminded me a lot of the Beat Generation. There were awesome strangers, companions in wine who gave me useful advice on life and writing. It’s where I met Jack Levine, another great guy whom I remember with joy. He was so nice to me, and I hope he’s doing well too.  

You’ll find your own Black Dog Cafe on your travels: a place that creates a bond with the city or town you’re visiting.  A locale that creates possibilities, anecdotes, friendships, laughs, and teachings. In Tally, that’s the Black Dog Cafe, in the Industrial District of Railroad Square, between FAMU Way and Gaines Street. And if Justin, Emile or Brittany are in there, taking care of business… tell them Carlos said hi.

by Carlos Balbuena

What I Know Now After Studying Abroad at FSU

We asked fellow Dream Abroad members what they would do differently if they were just starting out on their adventures now. Dalal recently finished studying abroad at FSU (Florida State University). She earned her Master’s of Science from their College of Education.

After studying in Tallahassee, Florida, here are five things that I know now:

1. Technology Can Make Adjusting Easier

During my journey as a graduate studying abroad at FSU, I downloaded several phone apps that helped in getting around. I downloaded Uber, a really useful app which will help you access your location directly from your smartphone.

Booking Flights

I found Kayak another extremely helpful app. Kayak is an app and website which functions as a search engine, comparing the prices across several travel companies for flights, hotels, and even renting cars.

kayak find hotels

Finding Halal Food Around Town

As a Muslim, I only eat poultry and meat/lamb that are halal which means that it is slaughtered according to the Islamic Sharia. Back in Tallahassee, it was really difficult to locate places that sold halal food and I was limited to only four restaurants, tops. So, whenever I wanted to cook something at home, I would order my meat from Midamar Halal. It sells all kinds of halal food including pizza, frankfurters, steaks, ribs, chicken, beef, and turkey. Their high-quality food comes frozen, in great quality, and shipped to my apartment complex. 

Zabinah app also assisted me in locating restaurants that sold halal food. This offered a list of suitable restaurants nearby. What makes this app so great is that it offers reasons why a restaurant is on the halal list. For example, one restaurant is halal because its owners are Muslims. Other places may be on the halal list just because of verbal assurance from staff or the halal sign in the diner. The app also offers several cuisines from which the user can choose.

2. You Need a Car

For about 15 months, I saw the streets of Tallahassee from a back-seat window. I didn’t own a car. The College of Education was only a three-minute walk from where I lived. I didn’t think I needed a car. Whenever I wanted to go grocery shopping or to the mall, I called a cab. For the year I lived in Tally, I spent a lot on taxis to get around.

After relying on cabs, Uber, or friends to get around during most of my time as a graduate student, I went to the airport to rent a car for only a few days. I wanted to explore how it felt driving around in the States. The experience was exciting and joyful! I finally got to see Tallahassee from the front-seat window. Because I lived in Tally for a year, I was familiar with its streets. I recommend having a car because after two years using a cab or Uber to go everywhere it got expensive.

3. There Is so Much to See

Coming from such a small country, Kuwait, the number of places you can actually visit is limited. In comparison, the United States has an almost endless number of areas to explore, have fun, and even hang out. Whenever I had a break from the university, like during Thanksgiving or other events, I made sure to explore a new state. I had the opportunity to visit New York on New Year’s Eve. I also went to Virginia, Washington D.C, and flew to Chicago and California. Plus I also travelled around Florida and took in Tampa and Orlando.

Everywhere I visited offered its own wonderful experience. I wish I had had much more time to explore even more of the United States. My advice to you is to take advantage of your time while you’re studying abroad. Embrace your wanderlust and broaden your horizons by seeing as much as you can. After all, according to CNN’s Lisa Ling; “The best education I have ever received was through travel.”. Studying abroad at FSU gave me an opportunity to see new attractions and embrace new cultures.

travel bags

4. Don’t Pack Your Whole Closet to Avoid the Overweight Fees

I still remember the humongous suitcase that I took with me on my journey to study abroad. It actually took two bags to get here: a carry-on and a backpack for my essentials. I felt so overwhelmed with the idea of living abroad for the first time in my life that I practically packed my whole closet. So I took winter clothes, from parkas to scarves, to summer clothes like flip flops, practically everything that you can imagine.

When I arrived at my apartment in Tally that first day and unpacked, I noticed that my closet was almost full before I had even unpacked everything that I had brought along with me! Even when my journey neared its end, half of the clothes I bought had never been used, so I ended up shipping them back to Kuwait.

I advise you to pack light and avoid the overweight fees. It’s true that at some point when you’re packing you’ll feel that you will need to take your whole closet but just try to limit yourself. Anything that you might need is available in the States. If you’re studying in a small town where many brands are unavailable, you can enjoy the luxury of shopping online. Whenever I felt bored, and I needed a new item, I instantly went online and ordered something . So, my advice to you is to focus on the journey itself and to try to avoid packing all of your clothes from your home country.

5. Stereotypes of Studying Abroad at FSU

Based on the number of American movies and TV shows that we see every day on TV, many non-Americans would assume that Americans’ favorite foods are pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. For something even as simple as a favorite food, many people tend to have stereotypes based on what they see on TV or what they hear in the news.

My experience living abroad in Tally taught me that television or the news presents only a fraction of reality. Just as people come in all different shapes and colors, they also have different perspectives and interests – and they are all beautiful. Living abroad in Tallahassee made me realize that you will only truly understand a certain culture and its people when you are actually living among them. Always have a welcoming heart and welcome people’s differences as they are all dazzling. It is also important to note that being a Muslim and wearing a Hijab didn’t make me feel like an outcast or different from my non-Muslim friends, despite how that is presented on the news.

stereotypes

 

Wrap Up

On the contrary, I felt accepted and welcomed by my classmates and professors as if I was one of their own. I am forever grateful for the welcoming hearts of FSU’s faculty members and classmates for making me feel safe. I found those positive and welcoming vibes in every city and state I visited. Although some people are bad and have their own false stereotypes, there is also some good in this world. Therefore, never generalize and assume that all people are the same — block out the prejudice and interact with everyone.