Once forgotten communities like Overtown and Liberty City have become hot commodities in the real estate development market with developers seeing new possibilities for bringing much-longed for commercial and residential vibrancy to these African-American communities.  Government planners and private developers focusing on Overtown and Liberty City are being asked a number of tough questions these days, not the least of which is: What is the “community benefit” to current residents as a result of these new development efforts? And more specifically related to Overtown, has All Aboard Florida fulfilled the commitments it made to the black community when soliciting support for the rail project? Were the economics of the deal struck between the Miami World Center and the Overtown CRA adequate to truly strengthen the community? And as for Liberty City, how will the black collective benefit and meaningfully shape the look, feel and residential composition of Liberty Square 2.0.

The question we must ask ourselves about both of these historically black communities is — what do we control if not our vote and our voices?  We must exercise both to ensure that our communities thrive as South Florida continues to prosper and grow.

The time is now for our vote and our voices to be heard relative to the most ambitious development in Liberty City’s history. The Liberty Square project and its surrounding corridors of 12th and 15th  avenues and 62nd street are an economic boon that must directly benefit the black business community and residents who have long called for transformation that has been too long in coming.

After the last tile is laid, the sidewalk poured, and the landscape is placed, there should not only be a change for the residents, there should also be a change in the narrative of how and who built the new Liberty Square.  It is a point of both pride and profit.  The black community, and specifically black businesses, should be the beneficiaries of the growth in their own community.

If there was ever a time for the black community to stand up and express a position in favor of economic equity and prosperity, that time is now. The train may have left the station, but every train has tandem brakes. It is not too late to slow or even stop this train. There must be significant black participation in this project, not merely symbolic gestures.  It is a matter of economic parity. The community has a right to expect to benefit, in both the short and long term, from this $300,000,000.00 plus project. In order for this to occur, there must be time for the community to fully understand and engage in this process. Thirty days to respond to an RFP for a project of this magnitude is not enough.

If the Mayor and other constituents are sincere about making a difference and truly wanting Miami to be a World Class City, this cannot be achieved solely through Employ Miami-Dade, which I applaud. There has to be a commitment to the black business community in particular, to have significant participation.  This is our community – one of the last historically, majority black communities in South Florida.  This would not happen in any other community in Miami-Dade County.  It likely would not occur in Hialeah, Coral Gables, or any other and we cannot stand idly by and allow it to occur in Liberty City. It is simply non-negotiable.  The black community has a stake in Liberty City and must be an active participant in its development.

All of our elected officials are charged with the responsibility to govern all constituents, including the residents of Liberty City.  The community must insist on accountability to the black businesses and residents.  Our votes will go to those who represent our interests.  That is the democratic process and we must use our collective will to ensure that we are engaged and that our community is not left out of its own growth and prosperity.  Liberty Square Rising, will not be about gentrification without representation.

Let us commit to slow and/or stop the train until the black community is All Aboard!

G. Eric Knowles is the president & CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce-the community’s black business organization