Stenneth Scarlett has a vision for his new Rasta Village (225 NW Second Ave.) in Little Haiti.
Known as Jah Hightowa, the member of the Rastafari belief wants to teach the people of Miami the cultures and customs of his native Jamaica through his outdoor space in Little Haiti. Rasta Village, slated to open by year's end, will be a spot where natural food, music, and community come together.
The village area features murals dedicated to Rastafarian icons such as Haile Selassie, lions, and the Jamaican flag. At the entrance, a cascading fountain with fish and turtles welcomes visitors. At the center of the yard, a giant tree shades people sitting beneath it in plastic chairs. The village also features two juice bars. The first one, located at the front, will offer fresh juice made with organic fruit. The second bar, located in the back, will serve other beverages and bottled juices.
“Food and spiritual awareness come with what you eat. A man has to eat right and drink right. The food that goes into our body goes to our soul, and the world right now is going back to its roots and culture, eating organic and healthy,” Hightowa says.
The end of the workweek is known as Fish Fry Fridays, a time when people of the neighborhood gather to eat. Hightowa says that although the village is not yet open for business, everyone is welcome to stop by and give a donation and join the fish fry if they choose to.
The future food menu will offer Jamaican staples such as rice and peas, ackee and salt fish, veggie stews, and jerk chicken. Items will range from $2 to $10. Herbs from the village's two gardens will be used in the food and juices. In addition, the garden will be used as a learning tool to teach adults and kids how to grow and harvest healthful food.
“In Jamaica, we eat from the earth. We don’t run to the store; we run to the farms — it’s a way of life. People hunt for their fruits. We don’t want to take from the people; we want to share with the people,” Hightowa says. “I don’t want just to submerge myself and stick to my culture. I’m trying to share the love while I’m living. You can’t segregate yourself. You have to show people what is good for them, but not force them.”
A stage toward the back of the venue will provide entertainment such as spoken word and musical performances. There will also be monthly youth events hosted by Miami artist Soulflower, as well as gatherings centered on physical activity and well-being.
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Robert Pittman, one of the handymen working at the village and a friend of Hightowa's, welcomes everyone to visit and looks forward to the day the compound opens. “We’re going to have a variety of cultures and a family-oriented atmosphere here. It’s a friendly place to be, as long as you come with a clean heart and good vibes. If you come with that, it’s all love.”
In the end, Hightowa wants people to visit to share knowledge and love. “I’m not trying to be selfish and make money. I don’t call it a business. I call Rasta Village a Miami community. This is for everybody. We have no knowledge of hatred. People don’t need to be scared or worried when they come here. We don’t allow disrespect here. This place is going to be about love and the people.”
Rasta Village will be open seven days a week, with tentative hours from 9 a.m. until late.