28 Jan THE MIAMI FOUNDATION AT 50: ESTABLISHING THE LEGACIES OF GREAT MIAMIANS
2017 marks 50 years of The Miami Foundation connecting people, ideas and philanthropic resources to improve life in this community. Hundreds of local changemakers helped us launch the year-long celebration on January 27 at The Historic Alfred I. duPont Building downtown, honoring the legacies of great Miamians who have taken ownership of their community. Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of the Foundation, gave the following remarks.
Miami has been built by people who are filled with courage and a sense of optimism. Most of us came here from somewhere else. Some from other parts of the country; others who emigrated here from other parts of the world. I submit to you that there are few things more courageous than leaving the place you call home to start anew somewhere else, particularly when there are cultural and language barriers to overcome in doing so. There are also few things that reflect an inherent optimism in the future like taking that leap of faith, trusting that this new home will provide you with the opportunity to advance your goals and aspirations.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” That is what defines Miami. It is that courage, optimism and faith in a better future that has led generations of Miamians to step up and take ownership of that future, even though the path may have been uncertain.
Because of this unique history, every Miamian has a story: how you came here, why you stay here, and what you value about this community. Think back to the founders of Miami, Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell. Long before LeBron brought his talents to South Beach, Tuttle and Brickell made the journey to Miami from Cleveland. (And unlike LeBron, they stayed here.) Where others saw vast wilderness, they saw vast potential for a thriving metropolis. An important component of turning that vision into a reality was their successful campaign to convince Henry Flagler to bring his railroad to Miami. Tuttle’s relentless lobbying of Flagler and the contribution of land by both women resulted in the construction of this link to the rest of the country. I think it’s important to note that Miami was built on the promise of connecting people and commerce to this place, rather than erecting barriers to divide them. Today, people and commerce from around the world are connected to this place. The result is plainly evident in the growth and dynamism all around us.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” That is what defines Miami.
The legacy of Tuttle and Brickell extends directly to the occasion we will celebrate throughout this year. Fifty years ago, the founders of what was then called the Dade Foundation came together to create a vehicle that would support the needs of all Miamians forever. By uniting donors with causes that mattered to them, they helped forge deeper connections between Miamians and their community by removing barriers and opening doors to opportunity.
Just like Flagler and his railroad were instrumental in realizing the vision for Miami held by its founders, the indispensable key to realizing the vision for The Miami Foundation held by our founders was the courage and leadership of our president emeritus, Ruth Shack.
Ruth is a fearless Miamian who has been a driving force behind Miami’s march to greatness. She has spent her life fighting for equality and always, always stood up when others didn’t. Ruth grew this Foundation to what it is today and I know our entire community is forever in her debt.
Ruth’s legacy couldn’t be any more important than it is today. At a time when several million women marched around the world to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected, Miami can take pride in saying that from Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell to Athalie Range and Carrie Meek and Ruth Shack and Janet Reno and Kathy Fernandez Rundle, this town was founded by women, this town was built by women, this town has been led by women and, because of them, this town has always sought to give voice to everyone who calls this place home, regardless of their color, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or legal status.
My Miami story, like many others here, starts in Cuba, where my parents left shortly after they were married.
And just like each of these leaders, we all have a Miami story, a cause we want to champion, a legacy we want to create. My Miami story, like many others here, starts in Cuba, where my parents left shortly after they were married. They moved to Madrid, where I was born, then came to Miami three years later. Because I was a Spanish citizen, my parents had to put me on a plane by myself at age three. They would then join me a few weeks later due to the rules in place at the time. Family lore has it that one of my mother’s uncles was waiting for me at the airport and, when he saw a little kid walking off the plane holding a flight attendant’s hand, he yelled, “that must be him!” He put me on his shoulders and took me home. (Clearly, this was in the days before TSA.)
I then grew up in the Silver Bluff neighborhood, graduated from Coral Gables Senior High School and went away to college and law school. After law school it was very clear to me that I needed to come back to Miami. The reason is that Miami is not just my hometown, Miami is my homeland. What do I mean by that? Well, the easiest way to explain it is that I don’t get any other place the way that I get Miami. More importantly, there is no other place in the world that gets me the way Miami gets me.
I’d like to invite each of you and our entire community to share your Miami stories, how did you get here? Why do you stay here? What causes matter to you? And what legacy do you want to create? Throughout this year, we will ask you to answer those questions and build a collective story of the courage and optimism that will drive us forward over the next 50 years.
Throughout the Foundation’s history, more than 1,000 donors have worked with us to create their legacy. Their generosity has allowed us to grant over $250 million to the people and efforts improving residents’ quality of life. I am proud to announce that, thanks to them, we will make an unprecedented commitment to honor their legacies. During our 50th anniversary year, we will make a $1 million strategic investment celebrating our Legacy, creating Opportunity, ensuring Greater Miami’s Resiliency and fostering Creativity. This investment will provide resources to pivotal organizations with a legacy of innovation and success in both tackling Greater Miami’s most pressing challenges of the past and helping launch us towards a more prosperous future. This is in addition to our regular grantmaking activities.
I’d like to invite each of you and our entire community to share your Miami stories, how did you get here? Why do you stay here? What causes matter to you? And what legacy do you want to create?
I am pleased to announce the first recipients of these signature grants. These eight organizations were among the Foundation’s first grantees. In a town that doesn’t have too many organizations that have been around this long, we are very proud to say that our first eight grantees are still here and still helping to improve the lives of people in our community: Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Miami, Children’s Home Society, Florida Memorial University, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in honor of The Pap Corps: Champions for Cancer Research, Girl Scouts Council of Tropical Florida, Salvation Army, St. Alban’s Child Enrichment Center and The YWCA of Miami-Dade.
This is the power of philanthropy. This is the power of endowment. Just think about the thousands of young people who have been guided towards reaching their full potential at the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Girl Scouts, the YWCA and the Children’s Home Society. Or those who have been launched towards academic and professional success at St. Albans or Florida Memorial. Or all those who in times of illness or despair received a helping hand from the Salvation Army or UM Sylvester Cancer Center.
Looking forward to the next 50 years will be as central to our yearlong celebration as reflecting back on the legacy of the last 50 years.
They are the ones who give meaning to this work. They are the legacy we honor tonight. And they are the reason why all of us must re-commit to building a just and equitable community that affords all its residents access to opportunity.
Looking forward to the next 50 years will be as central to our yearlong celebration as reflecting back on the legacy of the last 50 years. As Greater Miami has evolved, our needs have changed and the Foundation has grown to meet them. It is this ability to adjust to change that has fueled our growth and that will carry us into the future.
To prepare for what’s ahead, we’re announcing the establishment of the Miami Forever Fund. This Fund will serve as a permanent endowment for Miami’s future. This platform will allow devoted Miamians to provide resources for innovation and solutions to the known challenges of today and the unforeseen ones of tomorrow. Our goal is to raise $5 million during our 50th anniversary year, and we invite all of you to join us as we work to ensure that, as the community evolves, we remain on the front lines of protecting and shaping a greater Miami.
Collectively, we can move Miami towards greatness. It’s up to all of us to follow in the footsteps of Tuttle, Brickell, Shack and so many others, and take ownership of this community’s future. So I ask…what’s your Miami story? And what will your Miami legacy be?
Javier Alberto Soto is the former president and CEO of The Miami Foundation.
Share your Miami story and become a champion what matters to you.