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Florida Fashion Weekend Wows, Delivers on its Promise of an Immersive Cultural Experience



by Mellissa Thomas

Florida Fashion Weekend lived up to its name last weekend. The two-night event, hosted by Dennis Liddy’s Jai Gallery in the heart of downtown Orlando, was an eclectic mix of avant-garde art and high fashion, drawing designers, models, makeup artists, and guests from all over Florida; some from as far as South America. Orlando’s own DJ Magz and Fabo Piano with Buddy Blues provided the sounds for both nights.


Jai Gallery's owner Dennis Liddy (2nd from right) and Director Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon (center) opened its doors to fashion this past weekend. Photo by Kevin Coates.

Jai Gallery’s owner Dennis Liddy (2nd from right) and Director Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon (center) opened its doors to the Florida Fashion Weekend team, which includes Joseph Bishop III (left), Fierce Entertainment Management CEO Rob Henlon (2nd from left) and Rocco di Cardielli (right). Photo by Kevin Coates.



Friday’s Kickoff Press Party and Mixer

Friday’s kickoff soiree brought media and photographers from some of Orlando’s hottest outlets, including Orlando Weekly, Lapalme Magazine, and Fashion columnist, entrepreneur, author, and speaker Dr. Denise Y. Mose was the mistress of ceremonies, and the night began with her warm welcome at 7 p.m.


Onli Beverages booth at Florida Fashion Weekend


Attendees took photos at the press wall and checked out the night’s vendors, including local model Starr Dalton, who sold hair accessories from her Starr Flowers line. Onli Beverages (above) was on hand to provide free samples of its naturally flavored sparkling water, even introducing two new flavors that night; Brandy “Bahiyah” Wajd, one of the designers in Saturday’s show, offered a trunk show; Lisa Stern exhibited herbal body wraps and supplements, and I sold copies of my latest novel Faded Diamonds.


Jai Gallery Director Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon speaks with Brandi "Bahiyah" Wajd during her trunk show during Florida Fashion Weekend's Kickoff Press Party & Mixer. Photo by Alma Hill/Orlando Weekly.

Jai Gallery Director Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon (left) speaks with Brandi “Bahiyah” Wajd during her trunk show at Friday’s Kickoff Press Party & Mixer. Photo by Alma Hill/Orlando Weekly.


Java Lava, the restaurant located next door to Jai Gallery, provided hors’ d’oeuvres (quiche, breaded creamy veggie wedges, and bruschetta) and a cash bar, which were the night’s hits. DJ Magz and Fabo Piano alternated turns in entertaining the guests with great music: DJ Magz with radio hits, Fabo Piano and Buddy Blues with original songs and jazz covers, and even a little German rap.

To provide attendees with a taste of what to expect on Saturday, designer Misly Beltinor displayed her clothing line, her models walking the very path Saturday’s models would walk, which covered each corridor in the gallery, so everyone in every room could see them. Her clothing featured monochromatic ensembles and solids. The women’s apparel was playfully sexy, including a black lace top matched with pink skirt and a black tube top made of flower-shaped cloth. Once the models walked the full “catwalk,” they posed on small black platforms scattered throughout the gallery as living “mannequins,” an audience favorite. Flash bulbs got them from all angles.


Misly Beltinor's models pose as living mannequins after they walk the gallery. Photo by Kevin Coates.

Misly Beltinor’s models pose as living mannequins after they walk the gallery. Photo by Kevin Coates.


Filmmaker and videographer Hallaye Sow and his team were part of the photographic multitude and further recorded video footage of the evening’s activities.

Some of the night’s attendees included Jai Gallery’s featured artists and supporters, including James Cornetet, who recently exhibited his “Unconventional” portrait series there. Even community leaders attended, including emergency medical training nonprofit Unity in Uniform, Inc. President Hezedean Smith, who was promoted to Orlando Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief on May 2, 2014. Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce Secretary Donna Morton was there as well, representing for Caribbean American Passport News Magazine. Angela Odum, one of the designers in Saturday’s show, came out with one of her models, Myesha Ford.

Alma Hill of Orlando Weekly compiled a photo slideshow for the Kickoff Press Party, and Dr. Mose’s column in this week’s Florida Sun summarizes the weekend.



Saturday’s “Love & War: Age of Enlightenment” Fashion Show

Liddy’s typically open-spaced gallery was heavily populated with white chairs by 7 p.m. Saturday evening, broken up into three-tier seating sections: the whole eastern side of the building was general admission, where the models would emerge and begin their walk through the gallery. The southwestern quadrant of the gallery (the front left side of the building) was VIP, which included an open hors’ d’oeuvres buffet; and the northwestern quadrant, near the gallery’s audio booth, restrooms, and rear exit, was preferred seating.


Jai Gallery's seating before the show: VIP (foreground) and preferred (background). Photo by Jessica Henlon.

Jai Gallery’s seating before the show: VIP (foreground) and preferred (background). Photo by Jessica Henlon.


Java Lava provided the hors’ d’oeuvres and cash bar again, and further opened their restaurant space for the hair and makeup artists, including an incredible army from Aveda Institute, and models to prepare for the show.


The Night’s VIPs

Saturday’s show brought out even more VIPs than Friday, including celebrity chef Alfred Mann and his Elite Catering & Events, LLC team, who catered quality Jamaican cuisine for the models and makeup artists as they prepped. Florida Civil Rights Association President J. Willie David III and Miss International World Jenny Rosario also attended, earning a special acknowledgement from Dr. Mose. Rosario’s aqua single-shoulder show-strap dress, designed by Mike and Susan Drobnis Ratcliff, made her fit right in with the show’s edgy beauty – she could have been one of the night’s models herself.


10339536_856663111020097_3817057668303800943_o Screen shot 2014-05-17 at 8.02.49 PM


Ms. International World pictured with Karina Kercado, Miss Hispana International Pre-Teen 2014

Artistic director and photographer team Andrea Puglia and Numa Delgado (respectively), coming from Venezuela, also came. Frank Boscarello, who painstakingly enhances digital images through traditional art, enjoyed the show. Kevin Lapalme, founder and publisher of Lapalme Magazine, distributed free copies of his newly released Spring 2014 issue to all attendees.

In the gallery’s central room, international model, brand ambassador, and actor Rocco di Cardielli interviewed guests by the press wall with the help of Hallaye Sow’s video team, including Dr. Mose and consultant and community leader E. Chenice Thompson.


Rocco di Cardielli interviews educator and consultant E. Chenice Thompson during Saturday's show. Photo by Kevin Coates.

Rocco di Cardielli interviews educator and consultant E. Chenice Thompson during Saturday’s show. Photo by Kevin Coates.


Katerina Fedotova’s Russian Ballet of Orlando principal ballerina Marissa opened the night with a brief dance through the gallery, greeting the audiences in each room, setting the artful tone for the rest of the night.


Russian Ballet Orlando's principal ballerina Marissa makes her graceful exit after dancing throughout Saturday's audience. Photo by John Collins.

Russian Ballet Orlando’s principal ballerina Marissa makes her graceful exit after dancing throughout Saturday’s audience. Photo by John Collins.



The Show

The fashion fanfare began with Yong Lin, who displayed his trademark bridal looks, including Eastern wedding garb, followed by sexy swimsuits for both men and women. Body artist Brit Lytle augmented the men’s swimwear with intricate tribal body paint from head to foot (below); and Lin closed out his showcase with vibrant floral haute couture, which included the models carrying floral boxes to contrast their solid colors. 2014 Miss Hispana International pageant winner Karina Kercado, hailing from Tampa, walked in Lin’s showcase as well, donning a black dress with floral tiara and floral flounce.


Angela Odum’s collection, Angel Ice, was next. She first displayed monochromatic ensembles of black-and-white, and gray, followed by vintage-style print ensembles and dresses.


Keisha Edwards’s Me Plaire Boutique (below) was one of the longest showcases. The audience loved the pieces she showed, including bodycon band dresses with fluorescent colors, provocative swimsuits, and playful dresses with foam flounces. According to the Fierce Entertainment Management team in a post-show conversation, Keisha secured several buyers after the showcase.


Keisha Edward's Me Plaire Boutique models

Keisha Edward’s (center, salmon-colored dress) Me Plaire Boutique offered such a wide variety of pieces, she needed an army of models to show it all. Photo by PH Pros Photography.


Brandi “Bahiyah” Wajd, also from Tampa, appropriately closed out the show, bringing the house down and into Africa with her custom-made African-inspired Bahiyah Epifania Fashion collection, African music and all. Bahiyah Epifania, which means “beautiful awakening” in Swahili, is made solely of African fabrics and offers modern African looks, and Saturday’s showcase included delightful face paint (multicolored dots across the brow, on the cheeks, and beneath the eyes) crafted by Brit Lytle. Wajd’s designs embraced the season’s maxim: Print is back. And better than ever.


The Bahiyah Epifania collection brought vibrant prints back with so much style, the audience was spellbound with each piece. Photo by Kevin Coates.

The Bahiyah Epifania collection brought vibrant prints back with so much style, the audience was spellbound with each piece. Photo by Kevin Coates.


Like Keisha, Wajd came away with interested buyers.


Between each designer’s showcase, Java Lava’s cash bar was so popular, the area had a constant line. During one of the breaks, the line was so long that Dr. Mose used the time to go around to the different rooms and conduct impromptu interviews with random people in the audience to keep the energy going, including Ms. International World, Jenny Rosario. Some conversations had the audience laughing.


The Weekend’s Lasting Impact

While the fashion show was entertaining, the two-day event proved an important point: When small businesses unite, they create big things that benefit everyone involved and then some. Over forty businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals made Florida Fashion Weekend possible, including Aveda Institute, Elite Catering & Events, Lapalme Magazine, and Jai Gallery.


A banner image with all the local businesses and entrepreneurs involved with Florida Fashion Weekend


These entities banded together and not only increased the public’s awareness of the event, but of each other’s services. The night’s designers engaged buyer interest; and those who had never been to Jai Gallery, or experienced the delicious cuisine Java Lava, Onli Beverages, or Elite Catering & Events offers, they know now, and prospects made connections with these businesses. Local artists and models connected with media outlets for potentially greater exposure, and Friday night’s vendors met prospects and made sales as well.

Downtown Orlando is a beautiful place, but usually busy with individual affairs. Events like Florida Fashion Weekend galvanize the area, even the region, in celebrating the unsung artistry that has always been here, and welcomes artistry from everywhere else.



Image Sources:

Photos credited accordingly. Florida Fashion Weekend partners banner created by Ready Inc.



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Mellissa Thomas headshotAbout the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.

She’s currently available for hire, writing content for websites, blogs, and marketing material. She also writes poetry, screenplays, and ghostwrites books.

She has published four books, all available on Her most recent release, Faded Diamonds, is now available in paperback on all major online book retailers and digitally available on the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.



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Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness Coming March 2023



WINTER PARK, Fla. (Florida National News) – Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness, inspired by the children’s TV host and icon, comes to Orlando in March 2023. This week-long series of events was announced today at the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation in Winter Park.

“Fred McFeely Rogers devoted his entire life to reminding us of some of the most important ideas of what it means to be human among humans: love, respect and kindness,” explained Buena Vista Events & Management President & CEO Rich Bradley. “Many of us find that nearly 20 years after Fred’s passing, it is important to focus on his teachings once again, perhaps now more than ever. This is a week to re-engage with his massive body of work with some folks, and to introduce his teachings to others.”

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness begins March 20, 2023, the date which would have been Fred’s 95th birthday, and concludes on Saturday, March 26 with the Red Sweater Soiree, a community dinner to recognize ten ordinary members of the community who inspire and exemplify the affinity that Fred Rogers had for showing kindness to our “Neighbors”.

Mister Rogers Week of Kindness coming March 20-26, 2023. Photo Credit: Mike Brodsky (Florida National News)

Activities planned for the week will include early childhood education activities and faculty training, as well as events open to the public.

“The events will be offered free or at low cost,” continued Bradley. “This week-long celebration is not a series of fundraisers, but rather about once again remembering and sharing some of the great work that Fred Rogers created, not only in early childhood education, but in reminding us that we are all part of one big ‘neighborhood’. Fred taught us the importance of accepting our Neighbors just the way they are and engaging in kindness with our interactions. I can’t think of another period in my lifetime where we needed to reflect on those messages again more than today.”

“There are three ways to ultimate success,” Fred Rogers was once quoted as saying. “The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

Many of the activities of Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness will be attended by members of the cast and crew of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 – 1975, and again from 1979 – 2001. David Newell, known as “Mr. McFeely,” the “Speedy Delivery” man, appeared at today’s media conference via video, and looks forward to visiting Central Florida next March.

David Newell, “Mr. McFeely.” Photo Credit: Mike Brodsky (Florida National News)

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness is supported by the McFeely-Rogers Foundation, the Fred Rogers Institute, and Fred Rogers Productions. Details regarding the specific activities and venues will be released over the next few weeks.

For more information on the events, visit or

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A Quick Primer on the Team Solving Orange County’s Affordable Housing Crisis



Orange County’s Housing for All Task Force held its introductory meeting on April 12, 2019 at the Board of County Commissioner Chambers. Photo: Orange County Government.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Orange County faces a growing affordable housing crisis, and Mayor Jerry Demings has taken notice–and action. Shortly after his inauguration, he formed Housing For All, an affordable housing task force to face the challenge head-on.

The Housing For All task force doesn’t meet monthly like the County Commission–in fact, their next meeting won’t be until October 4, 2019–but they do work when they’re not meeting. The task force is made up of three subcommittees, Design and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Accessibility and Opportunity Subcommittee and Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee. These three subcommittees meet twice a month to come up with ideas and plans to fix the affordable housing problem.

Each subcommittee has a specific focus on ways to help solve the problem of affordable housing. The Design and Infrastructure Subcommittee is focused on the design of new affordable housing projects, the renovation of current affordable housing that might need fixing and land development for affordable housing units. The Accessibility and Opportunity Subcommittee is focused on making sure affordable housing is accessible to the major economic zones of the city, develop partnerships with groups and focus on outreach in the county. The Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee is focused on finding ways to increase the supply of affordable housing and how to preserve affordable housing.

At their next meeting in October these subcommittees will update the county on what they have accomplished and what they plan to do in the future. For information from previous Housing for All Task Force meetings or the meeting schedule, visit the Orange County Government website.


Leyton Blackwell is a photojournalist and Florida National News contributor. |

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Opening Biopic ‘Te Ata’ Sets High Bar for 2016 Orlando Film Festival



ORLANDO: Chickasaw Nation Biopic 'Te Ata' Sets Stage for Orlando Film Festival.

ORLANDO (FNN NEWS) – Orlando Film Festival kicked off at Cobb Theaters in Downtown Orlando Wednesday night. The red carpet came alive with excited filmmakers and actors ready to showcase their projects to the Orlando community and, in some cases, to the world at large, including Nathan Frankowski, director of this year’s opening feature Te Ata.

About Te Ata

Frankowski’s biopic feature chronicles the true story of Chickasaw actress and storyteller Mary Frances Thompson, whose love of stories and the Chickasaw Nation fueled her to share the Chickasaw culture with new audiences in the early 1900s, a time when the United States was still growing as a nation and clashed with Native American peoples in the process.

Viewers are immediately swept into the saga from the film’s opening scene with a voice-over folk tale told by Mary Thompson’s father, T.B. Thompson (played by Gil Birmingham). Ironically, though his storytelling places the seed of inspiration in her, it slowly becomes a source of friction between them as she ages.

What makes the film engrossing is the sprawling backdrop upon which Thompson’s journey takes place. While young Te Ata (which means “The Morning”) flourishes with each solo performance and eventually sets her sights on Broadway, the Chickasaw Nation is fighting to secure the funding due them from the U.S. government in the face of ethnocentrism and religious bigotry–to the point that the government passed a law forbidding the sale of traditional Native American textiles and creations, which caused further financial struggle for the Chickasaw Nation. Viewers even experience the Thompsons’ fish-out-of-water feeling as the Chickasaw people’s territory, Tishomingo, shrinks significantly to become part of the newborn state of Oklahoma.

The political tensions are counterbalanced with Te Ata’s experience. Te Ata does her first performances among family, but chooses to leave home for the first time in her life to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (known today as University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma), despite her father’s wishes for her to find a job at home. Viewers immediately empathize with Te Ata’s awkward experience upon her arrival at the predominantly Caucasian-attended College, but cheer her on when that one connection is made, because all it ever takes is one.

Te Ata’s jumping off point occurs when she meets drama teacher Frances Dinsmore Davis, who encourages her to join her class and to share the Chickasaw stories for her senior presentation instead of the usual Shakespeare recitation. From there, Te Ata’s career blossoms from one serendipitous connection to another, taking her performances across the country. She eventually makes it to New York City, hustling to find her place on Broadway, and finds love in the process while performing privately for Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband was then Governor of New York. The heroine’s journey continues with well-placed highs and lows, keeping the viewer visually and emotionally engaged.

Te Ata is touchingly channeled through lead actress Q’orianka Kilcher who, like Te Ata, has stage experience, and brought it to bear in the role. Kilcher’s magnetic singing, with the help of the film’s sweeping score and indigenous songs, imprints the true Te Ata’s passion for her people onto the viewer’s heart.

Frankowski, who worked closely with the Chickasaw Nation in creating the film, honors Te Ata’s memory and legacy in a cohesive, sweeping tale that will edify audiences everywhere.



Florida National News Editor Mellissa Thomas is an author and journalist, as well as a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with degrees in Entertainment Business and Film. She also helps business owners, CEOs, executives, and speakers double their income and clinch the credibility they deserve by walking them step by step through the process of developing, completing, marketing, and publishing their first book.

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