ted_deutch_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

NORTH CENTRAL MIAMI-DADE — Nadine Sierra’s Liberty City community has no wealth and that was true even when jobs existed.

“Liberty City had none,” Sierra told a congressional hearing Saturday at Miami Dade College’s North Campus.

When federal dollars are dispersed for Liberty City’s planned transit village, Sierra said, “we need to be employed. The transit village belongs to us and we deserve a part in its development.”

That is precisely the aim of the project, said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, a member of the delegation hosting the local leg of the national Speak Out For Good Jobs Now! Rebuild the American Dream Tour.

“Part of [our] purpose is to revitalize the heart of Liberty City,” Wilson said. “We will make sure that Liberty City is put to work in the center. Black construction workers are already involved in the process of its building.”

Overall, though, jobs remain hard to come by. The unemployment rate among blacks in South Florida has risen to 17.2 percent, while the rate among whites dipped from eight percent in 2009 to 7.8 percent in 2010, according to the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute.

“Many of our traditional, well-paying jobs are going, if not gone, away,” Wilson said. “There are no
more toll-takers, two-man garbage trucks, Sky Caps – and these jobs are not coming back so we need to create new opportunities.”

The tour, sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, brought Wilson and two of her Democratic colleagues, U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida and Raul M. Grijaiva of Arizona, to the Miami area to listen to residents in a standing-room-only gathering at the college’s Lehman Theater, 11380 NW 27th Ave. in the north central section of Miami-Dade County.

Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim member of Congress, had been scheduled to join the panel but his office said he had to undergo knee surgery Wednesday after falling and injuring himself during a workout.

Ronald Fulton, 48, of North Miami, a paraplegic, said he has been looking for work daily despite being confined to a wheelchair. “I am a qualified applicant but there is always an excuse,” he said.

Employers, Fulton said, claim that liability is a factor or that they have found a more qualified candidate. “And if you are not bilingual, forget it. They make me jump through hoops just to get an interview and, when they see my chair, it stops them. Don't let the chair fool you. I can work.”

When it comes down to jobs, Fulton said, a person with a disability is at the lowest end of the totem pole. And state Medicaid cuts, he added, “are doing away with the home care I need to help me do things like dress so that I could go to work.”

Wilson suggested to Fulton that he work with his state legislator and state senator. “See what’s available. They can help, especially with your health care,” Wilson said. “And, if you contact my office, we’ll see if we can find some other grants.”

Sergio Pierre of Little Haiti said that his American dream “has turned into a nightmare,” adding, “but I’m not ready to give up. I have my family here. Everyday my heart breaks because my kids need more than I can provide. There are no jobs or they pay so little that I cannot make ends meet.”

Pierre described himself as a “hard worker ready for any job.”

Grijaiva said there is still an American dream, adding, “and we cannot let it die. My father busted his back and said, ‘Your life will be better than mine.’ That’s what we’re all fighting for.”

Deutch said that it was clear that the audience comprised “hard-working people” and that “no one is looking for a handout.”

Too many people in Washington and Tallahassee, Deutch said, are putting large corporations’ profit before the needs of mom-and-pop businesses.

“Those are the ones that create the jobs in America. That’s what we need to address,” Deutch said.

Cynthia Roby can be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.

Photo: Ted Deutch