Continue to connect, Miami — it works

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Stephanie Sylvestre, of The Children’s Trust, connected with students learning to crochet.
Stephanie Sylvestre, of The Children’s Trust, connected with students learning to crochet.

Just because this is the last day of Connect Miami’s “10 Days of Connection” initiative, don’t think that you’re off the hook.

Yes, May 31 is the end of the designated week and half in which the Miami Herald and its partners — the United Way, the Miami Foundation, the Children’s Trust, MCCJ, and Radical Partners — urges Miami-Dade Countians to engage, listen and be authentic with someone they don’t know, or don’t know well. But our most fervent hope is that everyone, whether you partcipated or not, keeps it going.

The lunches with colleagues you barely know. The house parties with neighbors to whom you have never, ever spoken. The deep dives into social issues that continue to challenge this community — and South Florida.

At a disturbingly divided time in this country, in which the rhetoric of intolerance has emboldened the closed-minded, the bigoted, the insecure and uncertain, Connect Miami was something of an antidote. Roberta Shevin, MCCJ’s executive director, frames the project perfectly when she says, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.”

The impact can’t be denied. Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, founder of Radical Partners wrote that, “We can count more than 11,000 people who have attended connection experiences. For some people it was their first meal with a refugee. First dialogue with a transgendered person. First close look at the experience of migrant workers. For others it was a personal experience — a conversation with someone very different from them. A panel on a somewhat unfamiliar subject.

“This is a big meaty topic we’re exploring.” And that was the point of Connect Miami. Still is, going forward from Day 11.

Stephanie Sylvestre, chief programs officer and chief information officer of the Children’s Trust, connected over yarn and crochet needles. The highlight of Connect Miami? “Watching a student from Miami Day Country School and one from Booker T. Washington High School connecting through teaching and learning how to crochet,” she wrote. “Especially moving because crochet seems to be a lost art, and these two would probably never meet otherwise. And if they met, they wouldn’t organically connect. However, that night they were connecting with crochet being the conversation starter.”

The challenge now is for those at least 11,000 people to stay engaged, and for thousands more to join them in whatever way they see fit. No doubt, it will lead to deeper understanding, less shouting, more listening and being listened to. To reach out and touch, which, during these days fraught with misunderstanding, and the resistance to crossing any divide, doesn’t sound as hokey as it did when Diana Ross urged us to do it decades ago.

Pay it forward, Keep it going. Connect, Miami.