Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Miami Herald.

On Tuesday, October 17th, this community made history as more than 3,000 Miamians gathered at hundreds of My Miami Story conversations across the county. Small and large groups of residents came together in homes, schools, restaurants, nonprofits and parks for the biggest community conversation ever in Miami-Dade County. The Miami Foundation, inspired by The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table program, convened the initiative as part of their 50th anniversary push for residents to share their Miami stories: how you came to this community, why you stay here, what you value about it and how we can all invest in making Greater Miami a better place to live. With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the conversations will be captured in a participant survey and analyzed by the University of Illinois at Chicago, providing a better understanding of local resident experiences and informing more effective solutions to critical community issues.

After personally attending five gatherings and debriefing with several hosts and participants, these are our top 12 takeaways from this year’s conversations:

1. People are so tired of hearing others moan and complain about socioeconomic problems in Miami-Dade County. They want to talk about solutions and ways to put them into action.

2. The issues we face, like a girl who turns to the streets so she doesn’t have to ask her mother – who herself is working three jobs to pay rent – for money, are interconnected (drugs/gun violence/housing affordability). If we don’t take a holistic approach, we’ve missed it.

3. Sometimes, just knowing a person’s story goes a long way in making you more empathetic and compassionate toward them. Sitting down and having a conversation is impactful in and of itself.

4. If it’s our fourth graders outperforming their national peers in reading and math, or that our HIV infection rate is second-highest among all major U.S. cities, people are astounded to hear the facts about life in Miami-Dade County.

5. The weather, the culture, the energy, the vibe of our fellow Miamians … people LOVE living in this place.

6. Residents aren’t waiting for governments or public agencies anymore. They are creating their own organizations and systems to shape their lives and communities as they see fit.

7. Whether being related to a homesteader who helped found the city or someone who moved here for a job nine months ago, people are proud of their connection to this community and tell their Miami stories enthusiastically.

8. Miami is one of the most diverse cities in the country, but we’re diverse separately – segmented by race, ethnicity and background. We have to integrate our networks and broaden the events/areas of town we frequent.

9. Our children have become insensitive to gun violence and see it as a common component of their community’s landscape. If we don’t intervene now, their value for life will only further diminish.

10. There is outstanding community-building work happening on the ground in neighborhoods. The onus is on institutions and funders to meet them where they are and help them scale up.

11. A lot of us are born and raised here. Despite our reputation as a transient city, people have generational roots in Miami and have lived through its long, storied history.

12. Diversity means nothing. The essence of making people feel valued is giving them a sense of belonging. We have to find a way to make all these different people from all over the world feel like they are embraced here.

Matthew Beatty is senior director of communications and engagement at The Miami Foundation.


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