Miami is the “City of the Future.”

I have spent hours debating this point with my friends and family from New York, often facing pushback about rising sea levels, superficial tastes and a lack of public transit options. The longer I live here (five years and counting!), the more it becomes clear that T.D. Allman was right when he wrote the aptly titled “Miami: City of the Future” in 1987.

Allman saw then-Miami as reflective of the country’s tomorrow, both through its problems and its potential. Today, that same potential fuels my work as nonprofit professional, overseeing operations at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, which aims to make contemporary art accessible to diverse audiences.

Like Allman, I view Miami as a laboratory for some of the biggest challenges facing our country.Income inequality and lack of affordable housing are daily concerns for a huge portion of our population. Our public transportation system needs significant changes if it’s going to keep pace with the city’s rapid growth. Perhaps most unrelenting of all, sea levels are rising directly beneath our feet. However, with those challenges comes the opportunity to create the roadmap that will drive this city forward, demonstrating to the rest of the country – and the world – that these problems aren’t insurmountable. What’s needed are people who are unafraid to question the status quo and, armed with the right skill, try new approaches.


Pictured: TJ Black Photo courtesy of MOCA North Miami

While looking for ways to sharpen my skills in conflict management, organizational change and leadership, I saw an opportunity to apply for a Miami Leaders grant through The Miami Foundation. In 10 years of nonprofit work, I had never received any formal leadership training. I applied and received funding to attend Columbia University’s Developing Leaders Program for Nonprofit Professionals. The course was a weeklong intensive experience taught by thought leaders in organizational management. My cohort – 100 nonprofit professionals from around the country – spent a week learning about negotiation, group dynamics, power and influence, and managing institutional change through lectures, role-play, small groups and one-on-one sessions. I was inspired by my colleagues’ work and the collective problem solving that came naturally to a room full of mission-driven individuals.

Moreover, I learned the single most important lesson for change – how to effectively create dissatisfaction with the status quo, which is a skill many of my colleagues and I struggled with. Challenging the status quo often carries with it a negative connotation. What I learned is that this disruption can be a positive force to do good. Even those policies, procedures and programs that are well-implemented and well-liked by everyone at an organization can be improved upon. As a leader, it is my job to create and drive positive disruption, ask questions and challenge the status quo. Doing so lets us remain nimble, spark innovation, adapt and grow.

The week ended with a networking reception for our class and a cohort from another program for more senior leadership. As an icebreaker, we all wore stickers with the phrase “Ask Me About.” I sat with my small group – affectionately referred to as The Ghosts – and thought about what to write. Not being a natural networker, my mind filled with dread. But then my thoughts drifted to Allman, and I was reminded about why I had applied to the program in the first place. Under “Ask Me About,” I quickly scribbled: Why Miami is the City of the Future.

T.J. Black is director of operations for the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, and a member of the 2018-2019 Miami Leaders class.

Pictured above: Exterior of Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami; photo credit: Duree Ross

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