Next Tuesday, a few thousand people will meet up across Miami-Dade in small groups to ask each other the same question: “What’s your Miami story?” The conversations that result, one Miami nonprofit hopes, will yield very different answers about where participants come from and how they might make Miami better.
The conversations are part of the Miami Foundation’s My Miami Story project, which encourages Miami-Dade residents to gather in small groups to discuss public policy issues and possible ways to improve the region, said director of communications Matthew Beatty. Modeled after a project from the Chicago Community Trust, with funding from the Knight Foundation, the story project seeks to capture what issues matter most to people in Miami-Dade, from transportation to job opportunities to cost of living.
The initiative, tied to the foundation’s 50th anniversary this year, is also meant to complement the data collection the foundation already does on quality of life issues in the county, Beatty said.
“What [the data] misses are the stories behind the ways in which people experience life here,” he said. “We have statistics about income levels, about cost of housing, but do we know the residents who are experiencing that issue and how it's affecting their life here?"
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The story project is intended to tap into a diverse set of Miami experiences to back up that data with anecdotes, Beatty added. After the conversations are over, the foundation plans to survey participants, summarize those discussions in a report by early next year and use some of those anecdotes in advocacy for policy changes.
“Data doesn't always move people,” he said. Sometimes, “what they need is a narrative.”
Lawyer Marlon Hill, who hosted a conversation for the project last year, said the project is a chance to gather people who might otherwise never cross paths.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to know people from Miami irrespective of the time they got here or were born here,” said Hill, a former board member for the Miami Foundation.
His 10-person discussion last year, he said, included a radio broadcaster from 103.5 with roots in Trinidad, a young woman who had grown up in Liberty City and a friend of his who teaches at Miami Dade College.
“They had different comments and different perspectives and different resources,” he said. That mix “magnifies Miami in a whole different light.”
Beatty said the project aims to represent as much of Miami’s diversity as possible, and gathers some demographic data from survey respondents to assess who participates. Last year’s survey indicated more than 2,000 people participated, though more than half hailed from Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Beach.
This year’s project is likely to be larger: More than 250 hosts have signed up to participate, and Beatty said the foundation projects more than 3,000 people will take part. People can sign up to join or host a conversation on the Miami Foundation’s website.
For this year’s conversation, Hill said he was co-hosting the session with a new friend who is bringing colleagues of her own. He said he expects several topics — particularly local politics and Hurricane Irma — are likely to be discussed.
Hill said the small conversation setting shouldn’t just be an annual recurrence.
“It’s something that we should be doing as part of our daily habits,” he said. “By knowing each other’s story you have a more intimate sense of the people you might collaborate with, work with or recruit to tackle problems.”