Leroy Jones is a fixture in County Hall in Miami-Dade. He’s always been there, it seems, prodding us to do more for the “Mom and Pop” program where we loan small businesses money to get started.
Small businesses provide 80 percent of all new jobs in America. They are not an afterthought; they are the backbone of the U.S. economy. For the most part, they don’t get government help. Like the restaurant in Overtown called the Lil Greenhouse, they are mostly built on cash, saved by people who worked hard at their day jobs, until they could start their own business.
Jones runs an organization called the Circle of Brotherhood. Members meet on Saturday mornings and bond over the idea that our society is not a collection of sterile quantities, maximizing individual welfare, but a community of people who truly believe in what Martin Luther King Jr. said when he preached that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Jones recently decided to start a hunger strike with eight “brothers” — The Hunger 9 — to call attention to gun violence in the Liberty City area. The location was symbolic: It was staged on a lot, on Northwest 62nd Street, where upon hearing the verdict in the McDuffie trial in 1980, people broke into lawlessness that destroyed businesses in what should be Miami’s central highway of shops and residences and what we call the American Dream.
One morning, I spent time talking to The Hunger 9. I told them I couldn’t sleep, thinking of them. I asked what government could do to end their fast. I texted Jones the scene from “Gandhi” where he’s dying after many days of fasting in order to stop the violence in India.
It is a moving scene. It portrays one man’s influence over a huge nation, torn by religious and cultural differences that lead the less disciplined to commit awful crimes. I told Jones that he is the “Mahatma” of Miami — the “Great Soul” in our midst.
He just smiled at me, as he wrote “Thank you” letters to various people.
The day before, I had visited at almost the same time as my son, the mayor of Miami. He told the hunger strikers that homicides were down to minimal numbers in Miami, this year, including in the Liberty City area.
But that wasn’t enough to stop The Hunger 9. They want to sacrifice more, symbolize more, convey more angst about inequality in our society.
I called some of their wives. Some are teachers; others work at hospitals. All are confident that their husbands are doing the right thing. None are panicking.
A city paramedic checks their vital signs every couple of hours. Each and every one of the Hunger9 is actually doing better physically than before, including a man with diabetes.
I see a pastor with a handful of young men, listening to the testimony of one of the hunger strikers, who did time for drug dealing. One asks about how he avoided being caught. He answers, with rather clear logistics. Not a good idea, but I think the kids understand that the point isn’t about not to get caught but instead not to deal in deadly, poisonous drugs.
One of The Hunger 9, George Jackson. He reminds me of my older brother, also named George, who entered a Jesuit seminary when he was 16 and in the flower of his youth. My brother gave up a lot to be a Jesuit; he was arguably the best student-athlete in the best high school in all of Latin America. Jackson is equally talented; he’s a landscaper and a stand-up comic. He has a gig coming up in about a week, in Doral. I will be there, for sure.
His wife is a Ph.D. in the school system, so the family will not starve as George starves himself, to make a point.
I tell all nine that I am losing sleep over their hunger strike. They tell me they are sleeping like babies. That they don’t want anything from government.
But I know they do, and I busy myself with ideas of how to bring economic development, jobs and affordable housing to this area. It’s what I was elected to do.
It’s what I would do for my brothers, even if I were not elected to do it.
Xavier Suarez represents District 7 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.