As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this year, the call to action to build a more just community is louder and clearer than ever.
We continue to confront a public health crisis that has disproportionately devastated the Black community nationwide and here in Miami-Dade. The pandemic didn’t create this tragic dichotomy in outcomes – a legacy of structural racism and lack of access to health care and financial security made it inevitable. And we face the urgent need to build an equitable economic recovery that includes Black workers, who make up a disproportionate share of frontline-exposed workers and are more at risk for contracting the virus.
Now is a pivotal moment to reimagine the fight for equality and invest in new approaches that that not just tilt, but aggressively bend social structures toward justice here in our own community.
Since I took office about two months ago, I’ve been getting to work to set us on a path that will lead to clear results. One of my first initiatives as mayor was to announce the creation of the Office of Equity and Inclusion within my administration to bring together government, nonprofit and other community partners to dismantle systemic inequities and barriers to opportunity.
The officewill advance equity in budgeting and government, working to reduce the disparities in contracts awarded to Black-owned businesses; build awareness and involvement through community engagement; and work to improve trust in local government by delivering meaningful results.
We are also bringing innovation into all levels of county government, because engaging directly with community stakeholders to tap into creative problem-solving and new ideas is crucial to tackling our most pressing challenges and bringing about change.
Measuring progress and performance is key to the success of these endeavors. We’ve also brought Florida International University’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development and Harvard’s Kennedy School into the fold to assist us in expanding the scope of the office and developing performance metrics – to evaluate these programs and keep us and our work accountable.
As COVID-19 vaccination – our path forward to the end of the pandemic – accelerates across the country, it’s critical that we prioritize equity in distribution across all neighborhoods and communities. With the limited supply we currently possess, my administration has worked to prioritize vulnerable seniors by directly reaching out to those aged 65 and older in county care to schedule vaccine appointments. Starting this week we will also be sending a mobile vaccination unit to senior housing, and will expand these efforts to more facilities countywide as we secure more vaccine.
We are partnering with the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County to expand access to sites where vaccines are currently being administered, including the Health District, Little Haiti Health Center and West Perrine Health Center.
I have also taken steps to help address racism within county government and to elevate lifelong, incredibly talented Black public servants to serve in key senior roles in my administration.
Under the guidance of leaders like our new of Chief Public Safety Officer JD Patterson and Chief Community Services Officer Morris Copeland, we are working to build stronger communities through policies focused on violence prevention, intervention and re-entry. Chief Copeland’s portfolio includes greater coordination on delivery of services that are the safety net for so many, and programs to better engage and create pathways for at-risk youth.
Chief Patterson will work closely with our police and corrections directors to drive culture change within law enforcement and continue building trust and accountability, key components to keeping both residents and police safe.
I’m proud that Rahel Weldeyesus, the former chief of staff in my commission office, will drive forward our work on innovation, equity and inclusion, and community engagement, as senior advisor for innovation and performance.
And following the appointment of Chief Copeland – the former director of Miami-Dade Juvenile Services who built a nationally recognized department during his long tenure – I was proud to promote former division director Cathy Burgos the new head of Juvenile Services. She is an award-winning public servant recognized for her work crafting innovative juvenile justice programs. As an Afro-Latina, she is the first Black woman to lead the department, now tasked with creating a countywide continuum of care plan for our children.
Tackling entrenched disparities will require coordination and investment across departments and within the community. Policies that aggressively support business and home ownership in the Black community are essential to building wealth and creating pathways to prosperity. And we need to invest in institutions like the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust and Black Affairs Advisory Board that work to address disparities and expand Black participation in local government.
I was elected to ensure that we are using all the tools of county government to build a more equitable Miami-Dade from the inside out. Now, the hard work begins.