MIAMI GARDENS – After spending the last nine months as mayor of the city of Miami Gardens, Oliver Gilbert told an audience of more than 300 that the state of their city is strong and getting stronger.
Residents, friends and dignitaries from around South Florida came out to hear Gilbert deliver the 10th annual State of the City address at Florida Memorial University’s Lou Rawls Performing Arts Center on Monday.
Gilbert highlighted the prolonged efforts that resulted in the incorporation of the north Miami-Dade County community into Florida’s largest majority black city, with more than 110,000 residents.
“Ten years ago, the incorporators of this city stood firmly in the face of critics who said we couldn’t do this but we knew we could and we did,” Gilbert said. “We created a city of over 100,000 people bound by the idea that government closer to us was government better for us.”
Gilbert also spoke of several accomplishments the city has made since he took office, including ongoing construction of a municipal complex, hosting the most successful Jazz in the Gardens music festival yet, charting a route for a new express bus shuttle, taking the initial steps to create a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and hiring more police officers and developing new safety programs.
Echoing his comments from his swearing-in ceremony in August, Gilbert said economic development, public safety and programs for youth and seniors remain top priorities being addressed.
“We will guide this city with the truest of spirits, always looking toward the success of the next generation and never just the next election,” Gilbert pledged.
Other promises included friendly service from all city officials, boosting business growth, increased police presence and expansion of community policing, putting to voters proposals for the city’s first general obligation bond and reopening and modernizing all parks and recreation centers to house buildings dedicated to teaching special skills in the entertainment, arts, technology, culinary and sports fields in which blacks don’t traditionally participate.
“The only limits we have are the limits we embrace,” Gilbert said. “We’re not one person, we’re one community and our path is traveled together.”
Some trailblazers who helped incorporate Miami Gardens were excited about the future and gave Gilbert kudos for his vision to carry the city forward.
“I’m ecstatic, it’s a success story and, when you have success, it’s something to be proud of because of the hard work,” Shirley Gibson, Gilbert’s predecessor, said in an interview.
Gibson chaired the incorporation committee which was successful in 2003 after an earlier attempt to create a city called Destiny failed. She became the first mayor, leaving office due to term limits.
“I see this as the close of the first decade, taking us into the second decade, and I’m looking forward to some really wonderful things that will happen in the next 10 years. It’s going to be exceptional. I think he’s doing a wonderful job,” Gibson said.
Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Betty T. Ferguson, also a leader in the incorporation attempts, said she is pleased that Gilbert is honoring their struggle by continuing to make residents’ needs a top priority.
“I really, really liked his address because it lets me know that the mayor and the elected officials still remember and focus on why this city was created in the first place,” Ferguson said. “It’s very important to me that we don’t lose sight of why we came into being. The way that he laid out the future and direction for the city of Miami Gardens still keeps the focus on the residents. He has great plans for the future of the city, so I was very pleased.”
Gilbert told the South Florida Times he too was looking forward to what the future will bring for the city he was elected to lead.
“It’s the 10th birthday of the city today and so it’s a special time for us to actually set our path forward. We know what we’ve done in the first 10 years; we’re talking about what we’re going to do in the next ten years,” Gilbert said.
Asked why he continues to stress the importance of unity, the mayor said it’s because he is not an island and Miami Gardens is stronger collectively.
“E Pluribus Unum, out of many one,” he said, quoting the national motto. “This country was founded on the idea of us doing things together that we couldn’t do separately. I grasp very pointedly the concept of me just being one person but us being one community. And, as a community, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”