Early last week I was devastated to learn of the passing of the indomitable Roberta Shevin (AB ’64, MA ’66), a true pillar of our community who recently retired as Executive Director of MCCJ (formerly known as the Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews) – a longtime South Florida organization dedicated to advancing “understanding and respect among all cultures, religions and races” (https://miamiccj.org/). Roberta was a significant friend of the School of Education and Human Development, a co-facilitator of our faculty-led ‘Day of Dialogue’ programs, an early champion of our Community & Social Change Master’s program and an ardent supporter of our nascent Intergroup Dialogues program at the University of Miami. In addition to all of that, Roberta was a dear friend and co-conspirator in envisioning a community where every person of every race, ethnicity, gender expression, sexual orientation and certainly faith – is not just embraced but seen as someone who contributes to the strength and vibrancy of the South Florida and world community.
I first met Roberta when I arrived in Miami in 2009 to start a new program in the School of Education at UM that utilizes principles of the field of Community Psychology to teach graduate students to be effective community-based change-makers. The program was part of a vision for the School of Education and Human Development – articulated by our previous Dean – Isaac Prilleltensky – for the school to promote “educational, psychological and physical well-being in multicultural communities.” After a seminal introduction from Ms. Debi Hoffman, Roberta readily embraced this vision for her alma mater, and she was the first community-based partner to help us advance our new program. Ms. Hoffman’s suggestion for a “MCCJ Community & Social Change Student Silver Medallion Award” was immediately adopted by Roberta – and it was her perspective and persuasiveness that has since led to the award being given annually to the graduate of our program who exemplifies excellence in both academic accomplishments and community service. The award was modeled after the prominent MCCJ “Silver Medallion Award” that has been presented in Miami since 1946 to honor Miami Dade citizens “for service to humanity" – and has recognized Greater Miami's most outstanding community activists. Roberta felt that a student award could provide an opportunity to honor a new young humanitarian who will be a future inclusive leader. Each year at our School-based graduation ceremony Roberta, as Executive Director of MCCJ along with a member of the Board, would help present the student award. This past May, in recognition of Roberta’s retirement from MCCJ we surprised her with an award of her own (photo). I am glad we were able to honor her.
I am shocked and saddened that Miami and the world has lost a great, shining light. At her memorial service last week Roberta Shevin was described as a ‘prophetess” and indeed she not only prophesized but led Miami toward a vision of a promised land where every person is valued. I can only hope that she is now in the land of promise, living her vision. Roberta Shevin’s legacy, however, lives on at her alma mater in the form of the annual student award that reflects the energy, promise and purpose of her incredible spirit and her tireless work for inclusiveness. Even so, I will deeply miss my friend.
Dean, School of Education and Human Development