28 Aug MY MIAMI STORY CONVERSATIONS: WHAT WE LEARNED LAST YEAR
People play, eat, sleep, go to school in all different parts of Miami-Dade County so what does it mean when people say they’re “from Miami?” And what do issues like homelessness, transit options and equity look and feel like in each place?
The Miami Foundation’s My Miami Story conversations are all about exploring how you relate to Greater Miami and how you can engage in different ways. Take, for example, Malik Benjamin, a professor and Changemaker Faculty Fellow at Florida International University. Malik is on a mission to get Miamians more engaged in issues like these. As part of that effort, Malik asked his FIU students to participate in My Miami Story conversations last fall.
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The Foundation launched the conversations, with support from Knight Foundation, last October as part of our effort to get more people like Malik’s students talking about how issues in the Our Miami Report impact their daily lives. The biennial report is a way to help us better understand critical community issues and statistics shaping this unique place. But the numbers only tell part of the story.
My Miami Story conversations create the space for people to connect with one another and get thinking about issues they care about, whether it’s landing a job that’s close to home or finding a safe, affordable place to live. By doing so, the hope is that folks will see that they can do something to make living here better and inspire them to step up and do it. The conversations struck a chord with Miamians. Already, we’ve seen and heard from participants, like Malik and his students, who’ve found ways to get more actively involved. Building on that momentum, we’re bringing back My Miami Story conversations this year – save the date for October 17th.
This blog post explores the results of the 2016 My Miami Story participant survey, with some added context from Malik and his students and short answer responses.
MY MIAMI STORY IS BORN
Their My Miami Story conversation was an opportunity for students to delve deeper into what it means to be a Miamian and explore how they can make positive change in their community.
Capturing residents’ real life experiences with these issues through the conversations expands the narrative. So we asked Miamians to gather eight to 12 of their friends, colleagues and neighbors for a meal and have an informal conversation about their experiences living in Greater Miami and, what’s more, actions they could take to make it better. Malik and his students started the school year talking about identity, so My Miami Story was a perfect opportunity to delve deeper. Ask him how he gets his students to engage and he’ll tell you to “make it feel natural” and to “carve out time and space for students to simply be citizens of Miami.”
On October 18, 2016, close to 2,000 Miamians county-wide gathered for the inaugural My Miami Story conversations. Residents came together in peoples’ homes, schools, workplaces, even parks, over breakfast, cafecito, lunch and dinner. In Malik’s case, it was in class. They got to see and hear from friends, neighbors and folks they just met about experiences and community issues that impact them daily. The Miami Foundation shared with conversation hosts cards with facts from the Our Miami Report as a spring board for dialogue and to help people better understand the issues. The conversations lived on social media as well with people sharing their stories using the hashtag #MyMiamiStory.
We didn’t want the conversations to end there. The goal was to spark change, and we asked guests to help us record thoughts, solutions and actions by completing a short survey.
WHY A SURVEY AND WHAT IT TOLD US
With funding from Knight Foundation, we partnered with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement to create the survey and analyze the results. The intent was to help local civic leaders and changemakers better understand how Miamians experience their community and what some of their thoughts are for taking action on the issues they care about. Here’s a snapshot of what we found:
Following My Miami Story conversations, 189 participants responded to the survey. Many people were interested in discussing community ideas, challenges and solutions. Others saw it as an opportunity to tell their story, share ideas and hear from others “to better understand their attachment to Miami.” And some simply wanted to “learn more about Miami’s culture” and get more involved.
WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT
The conversations echoed the Our Miami Report. Five of the top issues shared were: transportation, housing and affordability, lack of diversity and civic pride, education, and the environment and public spaces. When it came to transportation, people were most interested in talking about ways to alleviate traffic and improve public transit, walkability and biking infrastructure.
The potential collaborative impact of these conversations was encouraging: more than half of participants said they spoke with people they didn’t already know and many of them exchanged contact information. “Most of us are longing for connection and have a generous heart if we are encouraged,” said one respondent about meeting new people during her conversation.
About a quarter made specific plans to work with each other. Participants also found the discussions clarifying with a majority saying they better understood community issues and a sense of how to address their concerns. Some people committed to concrete next steps such as a broadcaster who said, “I will have some of my radio shows focus on educating my audience about parks,” while others took the challenge to personally “commit to being the change I want to see.”
Even for those who are already civically involved said the discussions prompted them to do more. One participant shared, “I consider myself to already be actively engaging with different and new people, but I will make the effort to head out to places around Greater Miami that I don’t frequent.”
The majority of respondents said they were likely to recommend My Miami Stories conversations to their friends and colleagues. They saw sharing stories about their Miami experiences as having “the most potential to bring about change in our community” and gained “new perspectives on how to tackle important issues.”
With greater understanding of each other and civic issues comes a willingness to work together.
Almost half of those surveyed said they were very likely to take action doing things such as participating in their community, collaborating with others, raising awareness of issues, mentoring and volunteering. Others said they were inspired to get more civically engaged by educating themselves more on local politics and public affairs. It was encouraging to see the number of people who felt they had the influence to bring about change. My Miami Story conversations aim to help residents feel empowered.
One participant said it best: “Every effort at bringing people together to raise awareness and potentially create improvement would be time well spent. We need to invest in our community because it means we are investing in ourselves and the future of other generations.”
Malik’s students’ experiences are proof of this. After participating in My Miami Story, they’re getting more engaged, instead of standing by, he says: “I now have students interested in transit talking to people at The Underline because it’s close to them. Others into economic opportunities are getting involved in Wynwood’s Neighborhood Revitalization District. Another student is looking into growing cottage industries.”
NOW, IT’S YOUR TURN
Seeing the success of the first My Miami Story, we knew we had to bring it back. Thanks to support from Knight Foundation, we’re expanding the conversations as part of their national initiative to roll out On the Table conversation efforts in 10 U.S. communities.
On October 17th, we’re inviting you and all Greater Miamians to share a meal, get to know one another better, talk about community issues that affect you and, together, take ownership of coming up with solutions.
Stay tuned for more information about this year’s events at mymiamistory.org. We’ll be sharing updates and how you can get involved.
See photos from the 2016 My Miami Story conversations on our Facebook page.
Stuart Kennedy is director of program, strategy and innovation at The Miami Foundation.