As communities across the nation grapple with an inflammatory racial and political climate, there is an increased need for spaces where people can find common ground through shared experiences and open dialogue. That’s a main driver behind The Miami Foundation’s My Miami Story conversations, an effort to get thousands of Miami-Dade County residents to sit down with each other on Tuesday, October 17th, over a meal, snack or cafecito, and share their personal stories about life in the county. By understanding how we each came to this community, why we stay here, what we value about it and how we can make it better, we uncover the common narrative about what matters to us as Miamians and connect around solutions that enhance life in Greater Miami.

“There is much more we have in common than what divides us,” said Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of The Miami Foundation. “My Miami Story conversations are about discovering how our connections to this community actually unite us as residents within it. It’s an important step to increasing our understanding of each other and helping every Miamian take ownership of improving quality of life here.”

Now in its second year, My Miami Story is a community engagement initiative driven by The Miami Foundation with additional support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Miami is one of 10 cities across the U.S. selected to replicate the initiative with funding from Knight Foundation.

In 2016, close to 2,000 Miamians participated in the inaugural My Miami Story conversations. More than 160 residents and organizations signed up to host 6 to 12 people in homes, restaurants, classrooms, offices and outside in neighborhood parks. Discussions ranged from local transit to housing, affordability, the need for more equity across Miami-Dade and other issues in the 2016 Our Miami Report. A post-survey distributed to participants found that more than half spoke with people they didn’t already know and many of them exchanged contact information. About a quarter made specific plans to work with each other on civic efforts. Participants also found the discussions clarifying with a majority saying they better understood community issues and had a sense of how to address their concerns. Building on the momentum of Connect Miami and with additional support from Knight Foundation, the goal is to double resident participation this year.

My Miami Story is part of a larger national initiative, supported by Knight Foundation in 10 cities across the country, which aims to bring residents together in small mealtime conversations to talk about ways to make their neighborhoods stronger, safer and more dynamic. It is based on the success of The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table initiative.

“My Miami Story conversations will highlight the incredible diversity and possibilities present in our communities,” said Chris Caines, Knight Foundation interim program director for Miami. “Bringing together Miamians of all backgrounds and experiences to discuss pressing issues and collectively develop solutions to challenges is needed now more than ever. At the same time, as part of a national initiative, it is a chance to share lessons with cities across the country.”

Several leading Greater Miami organizations and residents have already signed on as conversation host partners to champion the effort:

  • Florida Memorial University – Cynthia Curry, executive vice president
  • MCCJ – Roberta Shevin, executive director
  • Miami Fellows alumni
  • Miami Herald – Nancy Ancrum, editorial board editor
  • Radical Partners – Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, founder
  • The Children’s Trust – Stephanie Sylvestre, chief programs officer
  • United Way of Miami-Dade – Claudia Grillo, chief operating officer
  • Marlon Hill – attorney and board member, Orange Bowl Committee and Miami Book Fair
  • David Lawrence, Jr. – chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida
  • Mayra Lindsay – mayor of Village of Key Biscayne
  • Dennis Scholl – CEO, ArtCenter/South Florida
  • Don Slesnick – former mayor of Coral Gables
  • Jason Taylor – pro football hall of famer and founder, Jason Taylor Foundation

Anyone can sign up to host a My Miami Story conversation. Hosts will receive a simple toolkit with tips on planning and guiding the discussion. The Miami Foundation also invites all conversation participants to register as guests to ensure they receive a post-survey. If a resident would like to participate as a conversation guest but does not already know of one to attend, they may register as a guest and the Foundation will connect them with the host of an open conversation. To register as a host or guest and for more information, visit mymiamistory.org.

  • Steve Hagen
    Posted at 13:48h, 11 December Reply

    It seems the Miami Commission is always consumed with zoning changes, crisis management and proposals which are contrary to their Comprehensive Plan and various Master Plans whOct are desigbed to improve quality of live a phrase who h gets more lip service than real attention.

    Housing to fit existing residents is an obvious area were re City is making only limited progress.

    Another area where the city has outright failed is in making progress toward establishing the 25 new parks called for in their Parks Master Plan to serve residents in the four districts beyond district 2 which has 80 percent of the total park land.

    While the need for 25 new parks has been in three rewrites of the comprehensive Plan over 15 years little progress has been made. This is very troubling considering that over the same time the city has collected over 150 Million in impact fees to be used for parks.

    Sadly, the Commission ignored their Comp Plan and Parks Master Plan and there is no organized watch dogs to hold the city a countable.

    The City should be encouraging neighborhood involved which could eliminate the expense off NET offices. Those savings alone could produce one new neighborhood park a year.

    MiamI and Tampa are about the same population. MiamI has about 12 neighborhood groups while Tampa has over 80.

    While I no longer live in Miami, I have seen that the Foundation has funded some minor park improvements, I would like the Foundation a more imortant role to encourage individuals, neighborhoods and bisinesses to push the City to make real progress in producing at least 5 new neighborhood parks a year in till all residents have access to a parkwww with a 10 minute walk as called for in the Parks Master Plan.

    Businesses large and small need to be engaged as they are in many cities.

    MiamI has embraced visual and performance art but it has to date failed in the basic states need for parks. It is neighborhood parks where young people achieve a basic appreciation for public green space and that older people can share experiences with people who may not look like themselves.

    Police, fire, sanitation and parks are the basics of any city. MiamI parks need much more attention. Why can’t the Founddation take a leadership role? Make it a five year plan!

    • The Miami Foundation
      Posted at 16:52h, 11 December Reply

      Thanks for your insights, Steve! As we continue evolving our role in improving parks and public spaces around Greater Miami, we’d be happy to talk with you further about any ideas you have and how we can implement them.

      Our new director of public affairs will be championing this effort, and we are still in the process of finalizing the person who will be that role. If you’d like, you can reach out to us at info@miamifoundation.org in a couple of weeks, and we’ll connect you with the person in this position to talk through your ideas.

  • Steve Hagen
    Posted at 13:51h, 11 December Reply

    Sorry for typos in above. In a rush on my phone.

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