Heart of Liberty City Forum - Thursday, 02/03/2011 - Church of the Open Door
I attended the Heart of Liberty City forum Thursday night at the Church of the Open Door. It was scheduled to start at 6 pm. When I arrived the parking lot was already almost filled to capacity and cars were still pulling into the lot. That was a good sign because too many important community meetings are not well attended.
After signing in and finding somewhere to sit, I scanned the room and saw a few familiar faces. Many of the attendees were taking advantage of the refreshments and others were in engaged in conversation. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and the sound of the African drumming added to the communal ambience.
TACOLCY CEO Alison Austin welcomed everyone and Rev. Dr. Joaquin Willis, pastor of the Church of the Open Door, delivered an inspirational prayer. There was a brief PowerPoint presentation on Liberty City, its current plight and visions for the future by the Miami Workers Center’s Lead Organizer Hashim Yeomans-Benford. After the presentation, Stephanie Sylvestre facilitated the small group discussion segment.
Each table of individuals was asked if they supported a community alliance to establish a strong, unified voice in determining the future of Liberty City. Everyone in attendance seemed to rally around the alliance recommendation but the rest of the meeting seemed to rapidly deteriorate in an attempt to garner consensus around other issues.
As a representative for each table group spoke, a disconnect between the organizers and many in attendance became apparent. After talking with my tablemates and others in attendance, there was a desire for more information on the MLK Transit Village Project and the designation of The Carlisle Development Group as the developer. Some came to hear from the developer, others had negative history with The Carlisle Group and there is overwhelming distrust of county government to do the right thing for the residents in Liberty City. Passionate comments by Tyrone Greene of Greene Dreams Shoe Repair pretty much sealed the deal on expressing community discontent.
When the evening was coming to a close, there was an odd and awkward exchange between Austin and Rep. Darryl Reaves who asked a question about The Carlisle Group. Austin’s retort and insistence multiple times that the meeting was not about Carlisle led to grumbling by folks in my immediate area about secrecy and the transit project being another empty promise to the black community. Moreover, urging local residents to call County Manager George Burgess and Matt Greer of The Carlisle Group and ask them to reach a resolution before February 8 just didn't seem right without knowing what that resolution will be.
Perhaps the forum agenda was not well thought out and too ambitious for the period of time allotted. Perhaps sharing substantive project background information could have quickly brought everyone up to speed and on the same page. I don’t think the audience push back was expected; if it was there was no strategy used to effectively mitigate it.
I got a better sense of the MLK Transit Village Project after the forum via internet research and talking with individuals with knowledge of it since its inception. There is also confusion about the next steps since the County website shows the Regional Transportation Committee meeting scheduled for Monday, February 7, 9:30 - Noon not Tuesday February 8. The MLK Transit Village Project is not specifically identified as a topic to be discussed but I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for the meeting confusion. Besides, it’s important to just be ready at all times.
When all is said and done, prayerfully, the community alliance will be formed and there will be more outreach in crafting the vision for and fighting for fair treatment of blacks in the redevelopment of the 7th Avenue Corridor in Liberty City. Residents and small business owners are angry. They do not trust county government and are tired of broken promises. Nevertheless, the people must make demands and follow through on making sure those demands are met. If there will be progress we must move from emotion to action.
I overstand that organizers of the forum understand the adage that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu and are trying to get in front of and trying to drive needed community engagement in the Transit Village Project because its construction is needed and seems inevitable. The devil will be in the details of the actual construction of the MLK Transit Village Project and further development of the 7th Avenue Corridor.
One thing the community must not do is become paralyzed because of the misdeeds of others in the past. The happy medium is to do right by the small businesses in the community and the residents. It’s time to recoup, regroup and move forward.
A Policy Paper on Community Development in Liberty-Model City
Millions for deals, not for merchants
Executive Summary and Transmittal of the OIG1s Final Audit Report on the Agreement Between Miami-Dade Transit and the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust to Jointly Develop the 7th Avenue Transit Village Project, Ref. IG07-09
Transit Village takes root in Liberty City
Our Fight for a Fair Transit Village
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