Our beloved Miami-Dade County is celebrated globally as a vibrant community rich in diversity. The term “community” has many nuanced meanings. Two that stand out are “a group of people living together” and “the condition of sharing certain attitudes and interests in common.”
The first definition is a trivial observation. The second is an aspirational goal that Miami-Dade has pursued since its founding. The Black community has contributed significantly to the creation of modern Miami-Dade. Some of us are fiercely loyal natives and others are proud immigrants. Together, we represent one out of every five residents in this county. Still, many issues that hurt the black community never become priorities for our government or larger community agenda.
Many African-American residents still wonder whether Miami-Dade is a community that merely lives together or one bonded by common interests and attitudes. The state of black Miami-Dade is dire and unsustainable. We need our government and neighbors to join us in creating solutions. Study after study has shown that, on average, blacks in Miami-Dade have less wealth, poorer health, lower employment and less access to economic opportunity than our non-black neighbors.
Recently, the County Commission sent an unintended, but shocking, message to our community. By unanimous vote and without any meaningful discussion, commissioners in attendance voted to support a request by the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust (MDEAT) to eliminate the requirement that it collect data for its signature disparity study report that documents the economic conditions of the black community. The justification was that MDEAT “can no longer afford to conduct the disparity study.”
Put simply, the agency tasked with advocating for fair economic participation by the black community can no longer afford to collect the information necessary to quantify the problems. At best, this vote was a show of naïve indifference. At worst, it was callous disregard. Our community is dismayed by this vote. We call on the County Commission to realize the damage that would result and strike this request down with a No vote.
MDEAT’s stated mission is “to ensure the equitable participation of blacks in Miami-Dade County’s economic growth.” It was formed in 1983 as one response to the infamous McDuffie riots which marked the height of racial tension in Miami-Dade. Four decades later, many of the same issues remain for our community. Instead of reducing its workload, MDEAT should seek to do more, be better and make a larger impact. The original mission is still necessary today. County leaders should request more from MDEAT and then provide the funding required to do a great job. Miami-Dade County can only become what we aspire to be when all of our residents having a real opportunity to fully contribute to and benefit from our economic growth.
The issues can be solved with collective effort. Let’s start with major structural issues such as massive disparities in county procurement spending, uneven allocation of infrastructure investments, exceedingly low levels of inclusion for black-owned companies in our largest industries and absence of an economic-development strategy to sustainably enhance most neighborhoods with majority-black populations.
Government, by itself, is not the sole problem or the only solution. We ask the titans of local industry to look at their company’s data: Does the data suggest that even a modest share of your business is placed with black-owned firms? Does your workforce diversity reflect meaningful presence of black individuals, at executive and staff levels? In recent years, has your company done anything to expose talented black youth to careers in your industry? Corporate Miami-Dade can help in ways that strengthen your brand, add to your profits and enhance our community.
Don’t wait for the problem to become worse.
We are a community, for better and worse. Our pain should not be isolated. Our community’s success should be shared. Imagine how great Miami-Dade could be, if the black community was a full participant in our economy and able reap the rewards of their talent and hard work justifies? Blacks in Miami-Dade simply want to join the party that is Miami-Dade’s economic growth. That invite list is controlled largely by our government and business community.
Let’s become the community we aspire to be and embrace our common interests, including that of economic participation.
Eric Knowles is president of Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce. This oped was also written on behalf of Paola Pierre, chair, Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce; William “DC” Clark, of the Inner City Alumni for Responsible Education; and Darryl Holsendolph.