When New Times covered the Miami chapter of the Bearded Villains almost two years ago, they were a group of 16 men who had raised money to help homeless men with beards, as well as to send Matthew Mirabel, a boy with leukemia, on a Disney cruise through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. At the time, they had reached their $5,000 goal by connecting to a network of similarly hairy-faced men.
"We raised it pretty fast because we had a lot of help from our brothers around the world," says Danny Pérez, captain of Miami's Bearded Villains. "[Crowdfunding campaigns] weren't as crazy as they are now, so people actually trusted it. We did a lot of raffles."
While most Make-A-Wish stories end there, a stroke of serendipity brought the Villains and Mirabel together again. A member who worked at Miami Children's Hospital happened to do blood work on the boy, which led to several of the men eventually meeting the family.
"Obviously in the beginning it was really weird because [his mother] saw just a bunch of guys with beards," Pérez recalls. "But we're actually charismatic guys."
Charming enough that the group formed a relationship with the family. When Matthew became too sick to board the Disney Cruise, Pérez still felt responsible for the boy's well-being. He reached out to the Beards again, this time to help the Mirabels get a crucial bone marrow transplant for Matthew. The chapter launched a social media campaign calling for swabs. Much of the story was covered by WSVN 7 News.
"Every time I tell the story I get goosebumps," Pérez says. "We ended up going to Duffy's to get some drinks that night. We get a lot of attention because it's 16 guys wearing the same T-shirt, so we met some girls. It turned out that one of the girls worked at a bone marrow transplant clinic. Of course, I started freaking out. She told me how to get swabs for free and how to get sponsors for the kids. We ended up showing people how to do it worldwide, and after a couple of months of raising awareness we found a match. He's cancer free. He's five years old now. We still talk to the parents."
Aside from the fact that their facial hair helped save a child's life, the Bearded Villains have grown since New Times' last brush with them. They've accrued 30 new members, have traveled to Europe, and have done work with Rebuilding Together and homeless veterans. Charity is "the glue that keeps us together," according to Pérez, although it's clear that the network goes much further than good deeds.
"Anywhere I go, I can call a brother and they'll pick me up at the airport," says Pérez. "I've been to Chicago, Morocco, Virginia, Amsterdam... It's a pretty cool experience." Cool enough that plenty of dudes DM the Bearded Villains Instagram page asking to join, whether or not they have beards.
"It's not hard to recruit people," Pérez says. "I kind of have to push some away, because I kind of protect it."
What's worth protecting is more than a social club, more than a fraternity, and more than a volunteer group — although Pérez may use any of those terms to describe the Villains. What separates them from a Facebook group page or even other Bearded Villains chapters is that they don't use the term "brotherhood" lightly.
"I have a lot of guys who are ex-gang, I have a lot of guys who are ex-bikers, I have a lot of guys who are ex-military, and I think they really miss that brotherhood," Pérez says. "We kind of helped them get to a better place, put more positive things in their lives. Our kids hang out with their kids, our wives hang out with their wives. It's a family."
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In the same way a family does, these whiskered do-gooders source from their network, often supporting each other whether by patronizing each other's businesses or listening to each other's ideas and suggestions for projects. In the same way that a Villain from Miami Children's Hospital happened to connect the group to the Mirabel family, another brother's work at a veteran's shelter was the impetus for the event they're coordinating on August 11 to provide homeless veterans with food, clothing, and haircuts. Behavior Links, the nonprofit that will benefit from the fundraiser portion of their World Meet, happening in Miami on August 12, is where one of Pérez's best friends works helping children with disabilities in orphanages all over the world.
It sounds almost too good to be true: a group of men who genuinely want to make the world a better place? But as Pérez says, the work speaks for itself.
"There's always one word that I throw at my guys and that's legacy," Pérez says. "What are you gonna leave as an imprint?"
The Bearded Villains World Meet. 3 p.m. Saturday, August 12, at Wynwood Café, 450 NW 27th St., Miami; bv305.com. Admission costs $10.