By MATTHEW BEATTY
As communities across the nation grapple with an inflammatory racial and political climate, there is an increased need for spaces where people can find common ground through shared experiences and open dialogue. That’s a main driver behind The Miami Foundation’s My Miami Story conversations, an effort to get thousands of Miami-Dade County residents to sit down with each other on Tuesday, October 17, over a meal, snack or coffee, and share their personal stories about life in the county. By understanding how we each came to this community, why we stay here, what we value about it and how we can make it better, we uncover the common narrative about what matters to us as Miamians and connect around solutions that enhance life in Greater Miami.
Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of The Miami Foundation, indicated that My Miami Story conversations are about discovering how our connections to this community actually unite us as residents within it.
It’s an important step to increasing our understanding of each other and helping every Miamian take ownership of improving quality of life here.
Now in its second year, My Miami Story is a community engagement initiative driven by The Miami Foundation with additional support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In 2016, close to 2,000 Miamians participated in the inaugural My Miami Story conversations. More than 160 residents and organizations signed up to host 6 to 12 people in homes, restaurants, classrooms, offices and outside in neighborhood parks. Discussions ranged from local transit to housing affordability, the need for more equity across Miami-Dade and other issues in the 2016 Our Miami Report. A post-survey distributed to participants found that more than half spoke with people they didn’t already know and many of them exchanged contact information. About a quarter made specific plans to work with each other on civic efforts. Participants also found the discussions clarifying with a majority saying they better understood community issues and civic solutions and had a sense of how to address their concerns. Building on the momentum of Connect Miami and with additional support from Knight Foundation, the initiative is on track to nearly double resident participation this year.
My Miami Story is part of a larger national initiative, supported by the Knight Foundation in 10 cities across the country, which aims to bring residents together in small mealtime conversations to talk about ways to make their neighborhoods stronger, safer and more dynamic. It is based on the success of The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table initiative.
Chris Caines, Knight Foundation interim program director for Miami, shared that My Miami Story conversations highlight the incredible diversity and possibilities present in communities. Bringing together Miamians of all backgrounds and experiences to discuss pressing issues and collectively develop solutions to challenges is needed now more than ever. At the same time, as part of their national initiative, it is a chance to share lessons with cities across the country.
Several leading Greater Miami organizations and residents have signed on as conversation hosts this year, including Cynthia Curry, executive vice president at Florida Memorial University; Stephanie Sylvestre, chief programs officer at The Children’s Trust; Marlon Hill, attorney and board member, Orange Bowl Committee and Miami Book Fair; and Jason Taylor, pro football hall of famer and Founder, Jason Taylor Foundation.
Anyone can sign up to host a My Miami Story conversation. Hosts will receive a simple toolkit with tips on planning and guiding the discussion. The Miami Foundation also invites all conversation participants to register as guests to ensure they receive a postsurvey. If a resident would like to participate as a conversation guest but does not already know of one to attend, they may register as a guest and the Foundation will connect them with the host of an open conversation. To register as a host or guest and for more information, visit mymiamistory.org.
Matthew Beatty is director of communications at The Miami Foundation.