11 Dec HOW THE FELLOWS TAUGHT ME TO BUILD COMMUNITY IN MIAMI GARDENS

Pictured above: Linda Julien, contract compliance manager for city of North Miami and a member of Miami Fellows Class X.

I was born in Little Haiti and raised in North Miami. I attended nearby Catholic schools, including St. Mary’s, St. James and Archbishop Curley Notre Dame. And while I currently work for the city of North Miami, when I made the decision to purchase a home in 2017, one place came to mind – Miami Gardens. Some asked, “Why?” I asked, “Why not?”

The city of Miami Gardens, located just northwest of North Miami, is home to about only 115,000 residents. Most young professionals I know run from it, but I’ve chosen to run to it. While some may see it as a less desirable city, I see a city that’s blooming. It’s not the same Miami Gardens of 10 years ago. Everywhere you look, there are new businesses popping up and shopping centers rising. The Hard Rock Stadium is here and Super Bowl LIV is slated to come in 2020. That is progress. Knowing, too, that I had my brother, a Miami Gardens police officer, and a good relationship with the city’s mayor and other officials, I knew that I would be in a good position as a resident and to be an active member of the community and make a difference.

My decision to move to Miami Gardens happened at the same time that I joined Miami Fellows Class X. I entered the leadership program eager to learn and connect with others making an impact. Over the past 14 months, I’ve done both. What I didn’t expect, was to find and exercise my voice the way that I have. Two salient lessons stand out most: First, the importance of community and intentionally engaging with one another and second, the need to be present and unafraid to make myself heard.

Becoming a new member of the Miami Gardens community gave me a chance to put these lessons into practice. The Fellows taught me that change starts with being engaged in your community. I went door to door, meeting neighbors and introducing myself, letting them know I was there. As a new resident and homeowner, I also started attending city council meetings and familiarized myself better with city administration. Doing so helped foster a genuine sense of community and created an atmosphere of open communication and familiarity. When Hurricane Irma hit a few months later, the fact that my neighbors and I had created a sense of community made it easier to pitch in and help each other out. I mobilized neighbors to assist our elderly and vulnerable residents with home and roof repairs.

But it’s more than simply making the connection; it’s about keeping that connection. I’ve started holding monthly neighborly gatherings in my home to talk about city happenings. In the fall, leading up to the November midterm elections, I rounded residents together to talk about the importance of exercising our right to vote and educated people on the ballot. I also hosted my first My Miami Story conversation and convened a group of diverse people around the table to talk about and learn from our differences. My neighbors may not see each other every day, but when we do, we’re friendly with one another. We look after each other’s homes when someone goes out of town. We’re like a family now.

Through the Fellows program, I’ve also built the confidence that I never knew I had. Early on, when I questioned myself in a lab session, Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey, a Miami Fellows Class VI alum, said to me, “Linda, you’re not here by accident. You have a seat at the table. It’s all up to you what you do with it.” A light bulb went off and I taped her words to my wall where I could remind myself of it every day. So, when an opportunity to join an organization’s board came up, I took a chance and expressed interest. Now, I sit around the table with people I would never have thought I would, making decisions on behalf of the Greater Miami community about issues I care about.

I am being the change that I want to see. You don’t have to be an elected official to get this stuff done. You just have to be a person who is willing to engage with others. I truly believe that the greatest gift one can give to inspire humanity is the gift of service. I plan to take these lessons with me as I continue to serve my Miami Gardens neighborhood, my community and my Miami. I entered the Miami Fellows experience eager to learn and connect, and now feel ready to serve with passion and purpose.

Linda Julien is a contract compliance manager for city of North Miami and a member of Miami Fellows Class X.

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