Every week, Christopher Norwood welcomes guests to Overtown’s Historic Ward Rooming House, a 1925 safehouse built by Bahamian immigrants for Black and Indigenous travelers.
Now showcasing the work of such individuals from Jacob Lawrence to Maya Angelou, the building has been repurposed as a free gallery housing Black artwork curated by Norwood. Inside, every piece on its wall tells a story.
“It’s an appreciation of culture,” said Norwood. “And the art teaches history – a museum is a classroom. So the preservation of the history of what this building represents, combined with the types of exhibits that we bring, we’re showing people aspects of African American culture that even the people who are not Black that come, they’re now gaining a better understanding of their own community.”
Norwood’s introduction to the arts began with his musical upbringing. He grew up in a gospel-singing family and performed around the globe as a student of the prestigious Newark Boys Chorus School.
He attended Hampton University in Virginia, where he graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and four years later found himself in Miami when he received his Juris Doctorate at St. Thomas University’s School of Law in 2002.
In 2018 as the national treasurer for the Hampton Alumni Association, Norwood set off to showcase 30 borrowed works by Elizabeth Catlett for Art Basel. Hampton houses the nation’s oldest African American art collection and he wondered why HBCUs did not have a presence in what is dubbed as the premier art fair in the Americas.
“I started understanding the jewel that we have, and wanting to share that jewel in a way that benefited the advocacy for the university,” he said.
The exhibition took place in none other than the Ward Rooming House, a space that was offered to him by the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency (SEOPW CRA). This, he says, is how he found himself in the center of Overtown’s current revitalization as an arts and entertainment district.
Norwood has always had an affinity for community. His first job out of law school was as policy coordinator at the Human Services Coalition (now Catalyst Miami) for now Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, and he assisted his first client, The Children’s Trust, with its strategic planning shortly after its creation under his consulting company, The Norwood Consulting Group.
Over the years, he worked on campaigns for state, Senate and judicial races. Despite working in local government in New York, he started doing political work in Miami by attending local Democratic party meetings, which he credits as opening up doors for him to meet those running for office.
It was through campaigning that he met Rodney Smith prior to him becoming a federal judge. Norwood, as chair of the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys at the time, supported Smith’s appointment to the bench.
Norwood’s passion and experience in making an impact on his community is just a part of who he is, he says.
“I realized I do this because it’s something that I feel that I need to do, it’s something that provides meaning to my life,” he said. “The energy and the spirit that you get by service is something that cannot be replaced, and it’s something that I’ve learned over the years.”