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Breaking Down Walls: A Night of Enlightenment with Bill Diggs & M-DEAT

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

By Tony C. Lesesne

Picture this: Bill Diggs, the charismatic Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust, striding onto the stage before a diverse crowd, his team flanking the sides and rear of the venue. We're talking residents, civic leaders, county officials, and some media folks (yours truly included, of course).

It was the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust on tour, and that evening's hotspot was none other than the legendary Youth Education Town (Y.E.T.) Center in Liberty City. The purpose; to listen to the residents. To ask them questions. To learn.

In case you didn't know, the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust's mission is to ensure the equitable participation of Blacks in Miami-Dade County's economic growth through advocacy and monitoring of economic conditions and economic development initiatives in Miami-Dade County.

Now, if you're not familiar with the Y.E.T. Center in Liberty City, it's like the Hogwarts of community gathering spots. Kids from every nook and cranny of the area gather here to learn, play organized sports, explore, and gain enough wisdom to give Yoda a run for his money. The place is stacked with young students, athletes and friends. Overseeing the action inside and out are commanding yet loving teachers, coaches, parents, family and little cheerleaders. A strong police presence is unmistakable. It's one of Miaimi's proud "Legacy Communities." This place and the community it serves have churned out generations of leaders, NFL stars, entrepreneurs, and folks who generally make Miami-Dade County a better place to live.


An inspiring message from Baptist Health


But on this particular night, that gymnasium didn't echo with the sounds of bouncing basketballs and joyous laughter. Nope, it was transformed into a town hall-style assembly, with Bill Diggs, our ringmaster for the evening with seasoned moderators in tow, The mission?

To let the community air their concerns, share their experiences, and lay out their expectations as they eagerly awaited the unveiling of a long-awaited disparity report.

Now, let's not get too serious just yet. The key session was orchestrated by the illustrious Gail Askins of CMA Enterprises (pictured at left) and Elbert Waters of E.L. Waters & Co. - two people who know South Florida like the back of their hands. They wove a historical tapestry that would make any Netflix documentary jealous. They outlined centuries of barriers to home ownership slapped on Miami-Dade's Black community. These folks, mind you, were instrumental in getting the city's charter signed when Bahamian residents were needed to form the city.

People approach the microphone to share their responses to the questions at the center of the discussion.

From redlining to outright discrimination, home ownership for Black residents in Miami-Dade County, has been about as elusive as a parking spot in South Beach during spring break. But hey, it's not all doom and gloom. The talk soon steered toward the future and the fate of young professionals trying to create a life in the 305. Opportunities? Check. Challenges? Double check. Mental illnesses, a lack of affordable housing, some folks couch-surfing on life's rollercoaster – it's all part of the Miami-Dade experience. Then, there was the juicy bit about entrepreneurship.

Black entrepreneurs in the house, stand up!

Janae Tate, (pictured at left) the millennial media maven behind High-Low News, dropped knowledge bombs like confetti. She reminded us all that Black media is the unsung hero, always there to champion the community, even when the mainstream folks don't quite get it. And guess what? The event itself was a testament to that truth. It attracted Black media including yours truly and LMG Entertainment's President Woodie Lesesne among others.

So, what's the big takeaway from this whirlwind evening of laughter, insight, and enlightenment? Simple: when leaders actually take a minute to listen to their community, magic happens. They get the lowdown on what the community needs, who's making things happen and where the real action is.

At the venue, Diggs, Askins and Waters shared info and saked questions for the audience; from housing and infrastructure to quality of life and equal access. At the rear of the venue, Zachary Rinkins, M-DEAT Public Information Officer and the team manned the M-DEAT table where attendees could get information and resources.

Let's get back to the ever-lingering housing crisis

Askins began the session with a detailed history of Miami and its Black populations. It was painful, yet necessary. Her report revealed that housing discrimination against Black residents in Miami has long, dark history, from its founding. It's a story of displacement, inequality, and systemic racism that continues to shape the lives of many Black residents today. Acknowledging this history and working toward meaningful change is essential for Miami to become a more inclusive and equitable city for all of its residents.

Initiatives aimed at investing in underprivileged neighborhoods, improving education, and combating systemic racism are crucial steps in the right direction. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has unvieled a plan to meeting the crisis head-on. Miami-Dade's County's proposed budget of 10 billion was revealed in July. "My proposed budget provides immediate relief in the form of the lowest property tax rate since 1982", said the Mayor.

Her agressive HO.M.E.S. plan provides 85 million additonal dollars in a comprehensive strategy to tackle the housing crisis. This includes relief for struggling home owners and renters. It creates more housing that people can affford and it preserves and enhances existing affordable housing. The news comes at a time when a new generation of residents have the need for housing as they seek to grow families and build careers in the communiuty they know and love.




Everyone can play a role, or an instrument

This may sound cliche but we've seen community/county initiatives and efforts work, and fail. Either way, the chances for success increase when more voices are heard. When we organize, Its like an orchestra. Developers, builders, employers, community leaders, clergy, media and so on; they (we) all play a role in this grand scheme.

This is nothing new for Diggs. He has led several successful organizations and economic development efforts throughout his career. It's can be a rollercoaster ride when it comes to the world of leadership; the hot seat is a place that few can truly appreciate until they find themselves there. Leaders are constantly under the spotlight, their every move and decision subject to scrutiny by their followers, peers, and the media. Successes are celebrated, and failures dissected, often with ruthless precision. It's a position where courage is not just an asset; it's a necessity, especially when faced with troubling times.

One of the most remarkable qualities of courageous leaders is their willingness to listen. In a world where ego often takes center stage, the ability to actively engage with others, hear diverse perspectives, and consider alternative viewpoints is a rarity. Leaders who embrace this approach not only gain the trust and respect of their teams but also make better-informed decisions.

In the end, the evening was a reminder that when we come together, share our stories, and break down those walls, we can build bridges; bridges that lead to a brighter, more equitable future for everyone. So, here's to Bill Diggs and the M-DEAT for initiating an open dialogue with those they serve, and daring to innovate in doing so. Stay tuned for more.


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