Local chat reaches new low in its mean-spirited and baseless conspiracy theory involving philanthropic scholarship fund

Thirty-two years ago, after my sister, Eileen, was tragically killed at age 15 by a drunk driver on the Rickenbacker Causeway, neighbors and friends started a scholarship in her memory. Over the last three decades, the Eileen McCaughan Memorial Scholarship, funded entirely by caring members of the Key Biscayne community, has given hundreds of scholarships worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to deserving college students on and off Key Biscayne.

These scholarships have been a tremendous source of joy and pride for my mom, my sister, and me, as well as the many volunteers and donors, as we come together to memorialize Eileen and try to give some meaning to her untimely death. The Eileen McCaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund has its fiscal home at the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, which I serve as executive director.

I was deeply saddened to hear that the scholarship named in memory of Eileen has become the latest way in which a small group of local residents has disparaged the KBCF and me. The latest attack apparently originates because an academically gifted and musically talented student, whose father, Matt Bramson, is a candidate for Village Council, received a scholarship. Rather than applaud Matt’s deserving son for hard work, or Matt for his volunteer service, this group has concocted a conspiracy theory somehow tying the scholarship to Matt’s willingness to serve the public.

It would be laughable if it were not so disturbing and harmful.

Even more concerning is that this is just the latest in a growing list of similar vicious, mean and divisive rumors, conspiracy theories and baseless allegations regarding individuals and organizations in this community and our village government. And these defamatory and untrue statements seem to always originate in the same place -- a WhatsApp chat created and administered by Louisa Conway. While it may seem ridiculous to take a social media platform seriously, the constant and daily barrage of rumors, conspiracies, and mistruths over a period of years has an effect, even on those reading for amusement or shock, and makes its way out of the chat. In 2019 a council member, who was on the chat, took the defamatory and untrue statements about the KBCF so seriously that he brought them before council. The level of nastiness emanating from Louisa's chat over the last two years has infected the quality of discourse on our beautiful island, where getting along with others has long been more than an empty concept. This ugliness is our social dilemma.

For Key Biscayne’s entire existence, people with diametrically different views have worked together to make our community work. And work it has. Looking beyond our own success, the magnitude of charitable giving coming from the community is inspirational. No one can attest to that more than me, as I am constantly inspired by the generosity and kindness of our community, not just through a scholarship created by caring neighbors and friends to help a devastated family navigate unimaginable grief, but by the innumerable charitable organizations and philanthropic individuals that I have been lucky enough to serve at the KBCF.

And that is what we need. More inspiration. Less meanness.

Melissa White, 42-year resident

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