Nothing reveals more about you than your story – the sum total of past experiences that shape who you are and what you care about. My story is one defined by a love for Miami. I was born and raised in the Upper Eastside (yes, we natives DO exist), and can still remember the shock every time I came home throughout college. A blighted rail yard was all of a sudden Midtown Miami; Jazz in the Gardens went from an annual neighborhood concert to one of the top music festivals in the country; Brickell had more condos than office towers. My city evolved, and after graduation, I got excited about being a part of this new Miami.

Still, with the positive changes came trade-offs: my friends were leaving town because they could not find employment at their education or skill level; my job’s salary barely covered my expenses to live in the increasingly expensive city; and my favorite restaurants closed as they were pushed out by skyrocketing rents. I began to see ‘two Miamis’ emerging: one enjoyed by people who had high-paying gigs, partied on South Beach and brunched every Sunday, and an entirely different one characterized by people working two and three jobs to make rent and battling hours of traffic every day because they couldn’t afford to live near work. That dichotomy made me want to be part of the solution. If I built a bridge between residents and the programs, services and initiatives we could use to improve our lives, then I could help close the gap between those two Miamis.

When I spread the word about The Miami Foundation’s work and the outstanding donors, nonprofits and community partners we collaborate with, it’s connecting our quality of life solutions with the residents who need them most. It’s also an effort to inspire Miamians to take ownership of where they live and join the thousands of people, groups and organizations who champion the community change they want to see. That was the concept behind our My Miami Story conversations last year. If we talk about our experiences in this town – how we got here, why we stay here, what matters to us – then we uncover the common threads that bind us as Miamians, and most importantly, the small things we can each do to address what we care about. In a place where three-quarters of the people who live here were not born here, there still remains a deep connection to each other based on our shared experiences. That’s why connection is critical to advancing our community as a whole.

Connect Miami struck a chord with me because it is spot-on with how the Foundation thinks real change happens – not dictated from offices downtown, but in the churches, playgrounds, neighborhood centers and porches where Miami-Dade County residents connect every day. The record engagement we just saw around the fifth annual Public Space Challenge proves this. With 441 ideas submitted – the most ever – and well over 10,000 likes, comments and shares on the website, Miamians continue to get behind decentralized efforts to shape local communities as they see fit.

This is our opportunity to take it a step further and reach out to a fellow Miamian we otherwise would not have. We can heighten the understanding of what it’s like to live in Greater Miami … from ALL perspectives. That knowledge helps us determine what needs to be done. As Miami Fellows alum Rebecca Fishman Lipsey says, “When everyone, not just those in need, demands equity for all people, that’s when it will happen.”

The two Miamis I saw emerging throughout college is still a reality in this town, but there is a critical mass of residents working hard and making real progress to change that. With each Connect Miami experience, we will better-understand who we share this community with, and that will continue uniting us around some common solutions every Miamian can get behind.

 

Matthew Beatty is the director of communications at The Miami Foundation.