Last month, Jean Monestime, the first Haitian American to serve on the Miami-Dade County Commission, was elected its chair. The installment ceremony was witnessed by every power player in the county, grassroots activists and numerous dignitaries, including the ambassador from Haiti.
It was a rare display of poise and grace on the dais. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson relinquished her own nomination to support Monestime’s leadership, and in doing so she created the first noncompetitive vote in memory for the chairmanship. The rest of the commissioners honored Monestime and lauded Edmonson.
This was a powerful and hopeful moment for politics in Miami-Dade. It was a particularly sweet moment for the black community, which is eager for and welcomes the opportunity to lead, serve and contribute to South Florida’s prosperity. With Monestime as chair, the black community has stepped into the bright lights of leadership under the storied microscope of local Miami politics. We held our breath and pinched ourselves about what we were witnessing at Government Center.
Later that night, when a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis went up in flames, and blacks were reminded, again, of enduring injustice. Thirty-five-years after the McDuffie verdict, the conditions that keep black communities smoldering are ever present.
Monestime represents Liberty City where the fires burned decades earlier. His district includes some of the poorest areas in Miami-Dade. These communities are home to a historic African-American community that has been alienated from civic life and the political processes for decades. They have never benefited from Miami’s prosperity. The disparity between these areas and the wealth in the county continues to be our biggest fault line.
As chair, Commissioner Monestime has a double duty. He must represent the interests and fight for the transformation of the poorest communities, and he must lead for the good and prosperity of all the county’s districts. These two goals are one in the same. They are fundamentally tied together, one cannot happen without the other. We must recognize that in order for Miami to truly become a world-class city, it must treat its residents as well as it treats its visitors. Its teachers, domestic workers, hotel staff, retirees and young people must be as highly valued as its developers and moguls. They are the lifeblood of the community.
As a small businessman and community leader, Monestime understands that the investment and integration of District 2 into the county’s prosperity is a win-win for all. It is from this unique vantage point that his leadership, and black leadership, can be transformational.
Commissioner Sally Heyman evoked this sentiment when she declared, “We must remain committed to delivering excellence everyday with inclusiveness.”
We call this approach “Prosperity Politics.” For too long, the black community has only been a conversation about poverty, racism and disenfranchisement. Despite all the right intentions to focus on the problems, the county has too often marginalized black communities and hamstrung black leadership. Black leadership has to be about community wealth at its core. To get to community wealth, we must deal with the challenges, but with a dogged commitment to reaching the solutions: economic and educational investments, leadership pipelines, labor standards, leveraging cultural assets, spiritual well-being and political participation.
There is an added value to this prosperity-for-all approach. There is latent talent throughout the black community that is ready to join in.
Professionals in every corner have been eager to contribute to a renaissance of black life, only to be marginalized by politics. Prosperity politics, which understands the transformation of poor areas as the foundation of prosperity for all, affords several opportunities for black residents to give back to not only their own communities, but for the good of all of Miami-Dade. One of the community’s biggest tragedies is the number of young people who want to stay and contribute but leave because we do not offer them avenues to do so.
This can change drastically under Monestime’s leadership and requires the continued support of the rest of the commission.
Certainly, the euphoria of Monestime’s historic appointment will inspire hope. It will also challenge Miami-Dade’s black communities to step up in its own civic engagement and accountability on issues of direct and indirect impact. We must come together to address the core issues affecting the county such as public contracting policies, climate change, the criminal-justice system, income inequality, affordable housing and urban mobility, among others.
Let’s get started.
Gihan Perera is the executive director of Florida New Majority. Marlon A. Hill is an attorney with the law firm of delancyhill.