Miami’s new leaders must confront its challenges


Miami-Dade County Commission chairman Jean Monestime spoke to the members of the 2016 class of Leadership Miami upon their graduation from the program on Thursday. Here are excerpts from his speech:

Like many before you, you will be able to say with pride: “I am a Leadership Miami Fellow.” You will instantly have something in common with hundred of employers, mentors and community leaders.

My hope is that you are willing to lend a hand to help others in their own life journey. As you have learned over the past year, our metropolitan region has many, many challenges. The good thing is, the opportunities for civic leadership are everywhere. And, with term limits, there are even a lot of opportunities for political leadership.

Today you are being recognized for completing all of the obligations of this incredible leadership program. Your willingness to commit your time, to give of yourself, is a sure sign that you are, in fact, a leader. To lead, one must be willing to take a stand for others, and to give your all to a particular cause. I know you have studied all the challenges in our community, but I want to give you my “Top 7 list” of challenges that you should consider tackling.

Number 7: Be an early childhood and day care leader: We need more affordable early children education and day care services for children. We need leaders to push for expanded subsidies for working women. At this time, only women who earn less than 150 prcent of the federal poverty level are eligible for subsidies. I think every woman who wants to work, should be able to. For too many women, the cost of daycare is so high that it does not make economic sense to return to work. For a family depending on two incomes, more opportunities must be offered to women who want to work. Especially considering that women are still not getting equal pay for equal work. This is an issue that is begging for leadership.

Number 6: Be a prosperity leader: We need leadership in the private sector to increase the earnings of our working people. The more we lift up the least among us, the better off we all are. I encourage you to read the FIU Metropolitan Prosperity Study to fully appreciate this challenge. Underemployment is undermining our competitive position in the nation.

Number 5: Be a community-relations leader: We need leaders in Miami to help us show the rest of the nation that a community that embraces tolerance and mutual respect is more prosperous. The incidents like what happened in Orlando remind us that community relations requires constant vigilance and leadership.

Number 4: Be an affordable-housing leader: Leadership in the private sector is needed to respond to the emerging housing crisis. The market needs to include opportunities for young professionals to find housing near where they work. Please help us figure this one out.

Number 3: Be a transportation-innovation leader. Leadership is needed to improve safety conditions throughout Miami-Dade County for people who drive or bike to work, and for those who bike for recreation. We are all familiar with the issues about the Rickenbacker Causeway, but we need leaders to advocate for bike safety programs in all areas of Miami-Dade County, including places like North Miami, Medley and Sweetwater. Bikes are a great way for commuters to cover the final mile of a train or bus trip. Lead the way on this one.

Number 2: Be a climate-change and sea-level-rise leader. We need civic leaders to organize communities and speak out for programs and infrastructure investments that need to be made to protect our communities from sea-level rise and climate change. We also need leaders to work with property owners in extremely low-lying areas and in the areas on the highest ground. I expect to see “climate-change gentrification” become a social challenge for our community, and we need leaders who are in place to ensure people are treated fairly.

Number 1: Be a stop-the-gun-violence leader. This is an area crying out for new leadership. We need social change, innovation, creativity, private and public resources, compassion and long-term commitment. I hope one of you will emerge as the leader who helps our community solve this problem. Losing young people to gun violence is incredibly painful. To attend the funeral of a young person who dies from gunfire on the streets of Miami is a horrible experience. More difficult is when that is an elementary school child. I do not want to attend any more. The sun will shine brighter in Miami when we get this problem under control.

Though our challenges are many, I remain ever the optimist. I know what we are capable of doing in Miami. We know how to overcome adversity. Miami is a caring and loving community. We are resilient and we are strong.

Let’s make Miami the No. 1 metropolitan region in the nation — a place where people are willing to give of their time, a place where so many bright young people are ready to lead.