barack-obama_web.jpgOPA-LOCKA – A city with Arabian-themed street names such as Ali Baba Avenue, Sabur Lane and Sultan Avenue soon will have a street that bears the name of the nation’s first African-American president.

The official designation of  “President Barack Obama Avenue” is scheduled for Feb. 16. It will make Opa-locka the first U.S. municipality to name a city street after the 44th president, city leaders say.

“Someone asked me, ‘Why honor him if he hasn’t done anything yet?’ But he has already done so much,” said Opa-locka Vice Mayor Dorothy Johnson, who came up with the idea. President Obama gave hope to the younger generation. This is a plus for South Florida.’’

The city council voted on Johnson’s resolution at its Dec. 10 meeting, just five weeks after Obama won the Nov. 4 presidential election. The measure will rename Perviz Avenue, one of the city’s oldest streets, to include the president’s name.

The street, which runs for about three fourths of a mile north to south from Oriental Boulevard to Ali Baba Avenue, includes a mix of residential and commercial properties. Opa-locka’s city hall, public library and administrative municipal complex are all near the avenue.

“The street is centrally located and the makeup of the community reflects the meaning behind the renaming of the street as well,” Johnson said.

The city, founded in 1926, has a population of about 15,000, and is located in northwest Miami-Dade County, north of the city of Miami. Developer Glenn Curtiss designed the city using an Arabian Nights theme; and the city is said to have the largest collection of Moorish architecture in the Western hemisphere.

Opa-locka is a shortened version of the original Native American name for the area, which translates as “the high land north of the little river on which there is a camping place.”

The city, which has a nearly 70-percent black population, is one of about a handful of Miami-Dade County cities that has a majority black council or commission.

The city has had its share of challenges.

In his Jan. 26 “State of the City Address,” Opa-locka Mayor Joseph Kelley said the city is continuing its efforts to stem a pervasive crime wave that has plagued the community for years.

“We are still involved in ridding the streets of deadly weapons,” the mayor said regarding an initiative in which the police department has acquired new firearms and is actively training officers to handle situations involving AK-47s.

President Barack Obama Avenue,  however, is a legacy that Kelley said he wants to leave behind for future generations.

“Perviz has undergone major improvements,” the mayor said. “The street has had a new beginning and our president represents a new beginning for our nation. This will give young people the chance to walk down the street named after the first African-American president. This has a special impact for the city of Opa-locka as we undergo a renaissance along with our nation ushering in Barack Obama.”

Corey Ealons, who served as director of communications for African-American media during Obama’s campaign, said he would inform the president about Opa-locka’s steps to honor him, but would not comment on whether the president would be on hand for the official ceremonies.

Actress and former Opa-locka resident Jo Marie Payton has confirmed that she will participate in the official renaming ceremony on Feb. 16, which is Presidents Day. Payton, who played the role of
Harriette Winslow on the 1989-1997 ABC TV sitcom “Family Matters,” will serve as grand marshal of the parade, which will precede the naming ceremony.

The city is seeking groups to participate in the parade and vendors to sell food and other goods during the event, which is expected to be a full-day celebration.

“We want to share this with everyone all across Miami, not just Opa-locka,” Kelley said. “This is something that includes everyone.”

Michael North is a graduate student of journalism at the University of Miami.

Photo: President Barack Obama


What: Parade and ceremony renaming Pervis Avenue as President Barack Obama Avenue.

The event: The festivities include a parade with actress and former Opa-locka native Jo Marie Payton serving as grand marshal.

When: 9 a.m. Feb. 16.

Where: The parade route is still being determined.

For more information:  The city is seeking organizations, community groups, businesses and vendors to participate in the festivities. To register, call the city clerk’s office at 305-953-2800.