patricia-macias_web.jpgMIAMI — “This has been a refuge, a place to stay and to eat. At the beginning it was very peaceful, and then it turned into a movement.”

Community activist Patricia Macias spoke these words in a 2007 interview with The Miami Herald about the shantytown once called “The Umoja Village.”

Formerly located at Northwest 62nd Street and 17th Avenue in Liberty City, the shantytown served as a sanctuary for more than 40 homeless Liberty City residents, some of whom were displaced by the Miami-Dade County housing crisis and the demolition of Scott Carver projects.

Umoja, as it was affectionately called by its residents and supporters, served as a symbol of liberty and hope for six months before a mysterious fire destroyed the make-shift sub-community in April 2007.

Macias, who was a housing specialist at the Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust, served diligently with other community leaders to find permanent housing for all of Umoja’s tenants before and after the blazes.

Affectionately known as “Patty’’ to those who loved her, Macias, 53, of Miami, died on Saturday, Aug. 15 after a battle with colon cancer that lasted more than a year and a half.

“The most memorable characteristic that sticks in my heart and mind about Patty is that she was truly unselfish in her efforts to help others, and gave literally without a thought of who it was that needed her at the time,” said Patricia Reeves, whom Macias helped to solidify a position at the Liberty City Trust.

The two worked closely to assist the housing needs of residents in Liberty City.

Describing Macias as a dedicated community servant, Reeves said, “She never stopped to consider if she could or should, she just simply did. Her faith was strong; she loved her God and gave him praise every minute and every day. She made the world a better place because she was here. God blessed Patty Macias in a lot of ways and blessed us all for having known her.”

Macias was born on July 16, 1956 in Liberty City, where she devoted her entire life.

She became an activist for her community at a very tender age. At only 16, she had already begun selling clothes to needy residents in Scott Carver projects, and worked with the Teen Clean Project. She learned Spanish while obtaining her education from Lillie C. Evans Elementary, Dorsey Jr. High and Miami Springs Senior High schools.

She spent her young adulthood serving as a community leader by fighting for tenant rights in Opa-locka. She was also a registered nurse and entrepreneur who sold and leased plants through her company, Walden’s Interior Design.

By 1989, Macias was married with two children, and used her “home” time to improve her fluency in Spanish. She divorced from her husband in 2003, and by 2004 was homeless and shortly thereafter disabled following a bad fall that placed her in a wheelchair.

During this period, Macias became more religious, and used her past experience as a platform to start a new organization, Hope for the Homeless and Hopeless, Inc.

Her mission was to serve the community by providing resource information for transportation, clothing and shelter for the impoverished residents in her community.

When Umoja first started in October 2006, Macias immediately placed her organization at the helm, and encouraged residents as she engaged politicians, local and national media as well as tenants in other communities to take an interest in the lives of these underprivileged residents.

She also launched her career with The Liberty City Trust, where she not only specialized in housing needs, but also became a certified credit counselor, enabling her to help her community on an even broader level.

In January 2008, Macias was diagnosed with colon cancer and found enough strength to educate her community on the importance of healthy living and eating.

She began working with Body and Soul, a cancer awareness project sponsored by the American Cancer Society, and even taught cooking classes with her youngest daughter in the Liberty Square Housing Projects.

She has received several awards and has been recognized for her dedicated service by dignitaries such as Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Miami
City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and the Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis, pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City.

“The passing of Ms. Patty will be great loss for the Liberty City/Model City community,” said Eric Thompson, site manager for the Liberty Square projects. “She has been a mother, a sister and friend to all that have known and loved her. There is no greater way of saying thanks to my friend and sister than for us as community leaders to continue the work that she has started. May God continue to bless and keep her family.”

Macias is survived by her mother, Bernell Smith; two daughters; Tiffany and Samantha; three sisters; Pamela, Angela and Iris; two grandsons and a host of other family members, co-workers, colleagues and friends.

Thompson, The Liberty City Trust and other community organizations coordinated a fundraiser on Wednesday, Aug. 19 at Café Soul on Northwest 7th Ave. to give back to the family as a token of appreciation for the service Macias gave to Liberty City.

Other services include a viewing scheduled for Friday, Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. at Poitier Funeral Home,  2321 N.W. 62nd St./M.L.K. Blvd. in Miami, and a funeral scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 22 at 11 a.m. at Mt. Zion Church, 301 N.W. 9th St., Miami.

Brandyss Howard is the communications manager for the Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust.

Photo: Patricia Macias