Left to right: Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, lobbyist and philanthropist Mario Bailey, Pastor of Church of the Open Door Rev. Joaquin Willis and Managing Director of EcoTech Visions Foundation Sir Charles Hill were among those awarded for service.



Special to South Florida Times

MIAMI – Ten black Miami men whose communal causes produce opportunities for upward mobility throughout urban pockets of South Florida were honored for their efforts.

On Jun. 21, BMe Community, an awardwinning social enterprise, recognized the group during its 2017 BMe Community Genius Awards ceremony at Miami-Dade College Wolfson Campus.

The recipients each received a $10,000 honorarium to be used to finance individual projects.

Comprising a cornucopia of professional and personal backgrounds and experiences, the group included Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who said he views the BMe Community as an antithesis to the pervasive perception of black men as miscreant, inclined to violence and absentee fathers.

“The emphasis of BMe is that it allows black men to tell our story best. One of the things that [we] do even as a community is that we tend to highlight the bad things,” he said.

Contrary to popular assumption Gilbert added, “In much greater numbers we are doing extraordinary things. BMe actually highlights them. It highlights black men being productive in their communities, actually being fathers, actually being business owners, actually contributing to the community.”

Sir Charles Hill is an awardee who has been able to turn life’s lemons into lemonade. The managing director of EcoTech Visions Foundation knows the importance of changing one’s life trajectory.

He dubs himself the poster child of optimism. His parents were drug addicted, crime convicted and he was acquainted with the foster care system.

“Life is not what you let happen; life is what you make happen,” Hill said. “Because your parents went through certain things, your family members are dealing with certain things or your boys are going through the breaks, you can sometimes feel like it is going to happen to you, but you can change the outcome.”

“If you have a mentor, someone you can latch onto, someone in your corner that can help you to see, the change you want for yourself is immeasurable,” Hill continued, adding, “I’ve been there and I am willing to be that someone to whoever needs me.”

Benjamin Evans, Community Manager of Miami’s BMe Community sees Miami as a city that the greater world is going to need.

“We’re young, diverse and represent what America will look like in 50 years. ‘So, why not tell the narrative of a community coming together to discuss issues that everyone cares about like safer streets, healthy environments, better schools and a stronger economy?’” Evans asked.

According to Evans, local and regional community redevelopment must begin with the contributions of black men if it is to have a global impact.

“We start with black men as a catalyst because we’ve been the most demonized in the media. The ambition is to remove the black face off of crime, remove the black face off of community issues, poverty … and tell the fuller story of how we’re giving back to the community and that we can be an example for other cities around the country,” Evans said.

Malik Benjamin, managing director of Institute of Collaboration Innovation, LLC and founder of Creative Mornings Miami is both hopeful and critical about black Miami’s progression.

“It is time for us to be different from every other city before us and, right now, we’re making the same mistakes and that makes no sense because we have the talent here and people are looking in the wrong places and not respecting the talent that exists,” Benjamin said.

While Benjamin said he’s grateful for being acknowledged as a community genius, he vacillates between appreciation and angst.

“Out of the 10 people here, when we arrived in DC for a summit we didn’t know who was chosen to receive the BMe Community Genius Award. The mayor was the only person I knew. Everyone else knew maybe one other person,” Benjamin said. “The problem is when you see awards go out from other organizations or foundations they go to the same people. And the fact that Trabian Shorter, Benjamin Evans and Sara Bouchereau (founders of BMe) can sit down and start asking people to choose people who are the geniuses in their communities and the fact that we didn’t know each other beforehand but, if we did we would’ve been working with each other is something that needs to change.”

Benjamin said Black Miami needs global power.

“There’s a lot out there in terms of ownership. Ownership is big business. There is a trend in global ownership that is taking place right here when someone who is nowhere near your city is buying the property and pushing you out,” Benjamin added. “For older people who may want to sell their homes we want to be able to pay them so they can make money, move on and we keep our communities intact. The goal is to have our communities own our communities. An increase in community ownership is about business, homes, parks, policy, elected officials – it’s about owning everything and that is power!”

Other BMe Miami awardees include: Mario Bailey, Senior Government Relations Consultant of Becker and Poilakoff and founder of Mary’s Kids; Chad Cherry, owner and CEO of Refresh Live Café, Inc.; Damian Daley, founding partner of Wilson Daley, PLLC and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Catalyst Miami; James Mungin, Technical Director of the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center; Dawyen Sekajipo, president and CEO of Sekajipo for the People Productions, LLC.; Kevin Smith, Director of Smith Capital Investments and a member of the Millennial Investment Group, which works with OneUnited Bank to purchase and upgrade housing for more sustainable communities; and Rev. Joaquin Willis, Pastor of Church of the Open Door.

For more information, visit www.bmecommunity.org.