The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a formula. In whatever city he’d visit, he’d identify the top black lawyer, the top black preacher and the top black activist in that city. When he came to have his first meeting in Miami at Mount Sinai Baptist Church, I was chosen as the activist. I got a chance to meet Martin and I’ll never forget it.
I was the Muhammad Ali of black Dade County and I was talking the talk. I was talking back to white folk, sassing white folk. I couldn’t wait to get to the conference in Louisville, Ky., just step out and say, “Yeah, I’m here! Ol’ bad T. Willard.’’
While I was writing my decade of progress report, it said the Urban League of Greater Miami was doing great but its constituency was not. I realized then that we’re not here to do great for ourselves. We’re here for the people who we’re supposed to serve.
We came up with a leadership Miami component. We began to look at identifying persons to place them on boards. We identified more than 400 young black people. They came through our leadership training classes and we placed them throughout this community. We integrated every workforce in Dade County.
If you were black, you could not work east of Biscayne Boulevard. That was the unwritten code. We changed that. We ran the open occupancy law. We drafted that law and got it passed.
The next step was clearly a step that my parents understood, education. I know today that the only thing that is broken in my community is the will to achieve.
We decided to make the league self-sufficient. Now we can say what we want to say, do what we want do, be who we want to be without the support of other folks. We’re the largest developer of housing in Liberty City, second only to the city of Miami.
We have the freedom to be as aggressive as we want to be in helping change the system. Martin said, ‘Free at last, free at last.’
Well, we’re free, we’re free.
This story was compiled by HistoryMiami intern Lisann Ramos, as recounted by T. Willard Fair