- Faith & Family
Miami is a city that prides itself on its diverse communities, its wide variety of cultures and languages and its ever-growing international appeal. But when it comes to the equitable distribution of wealth, business opportunities and upwardly-mobile jobs, Blacks are still lagging
far behind other ethnic groups. But who holds the reins here in Miami? And as it relates to the political process, when will Blacks grow tired of being ignored both by candidates seeking office and incumbents who often turn a deaf ear to our concerns?
We spoke with several longtime residents of Miami who have served as community leaders, lawyers and grassroots activists and asked them to assess the current state of affairs facing Blacks in Miami-Dade County. Here are their remarks.
“Blacks are certainly being ignored and you can start with the Democratic Party,” said H.T. Smith, a native of Miami, distinguished trial lawyer for over 35 years and the founding president of the Black Lawyers Association of Miami-Dade County [now known as the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association].
“Blacks’ relationship with the Party is akin to a domestic violence situation — the Democrats continue to abuse us but we insist on staying with them and remaining fully committed. In terms of local politics, Blacks have yet to get a fair return for the contributions we make to the Democratic Party and to the candidates up and down the ballot. We have grown comfortable supporting white candidates but whites are still reluctant to support Black candidates. Rarely do we see white candidates spending money with our businesses that work in the political arena like consultants, the Black press or Black radio stations. Until we got a strong, consistent voice and can see specific and measurable returns for our contributions, the situation will remain unchanged.”
Who’s to blame — ourselves or others?
Kymberlee Curry Smith, 31, is the founder of her own law firm, counsel to delancy hill, PA and the immediate past president of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association. She says that Blacks are not so much ignored as they aren’t treated the same as other groups.
“Many candidates don’t court the Black vote and I think it’s because since so few Blacks vote, candidates simply believe that it’s not worth the hustle. We should be upset but more at ourselves than anyone else. If we aren’t making a concerted effort to get our community to the polls, how angry can we be? People will listen to us and give us our respect if the Black community rises up and votes. Voting has to become a given activity in the Black community. And we must put pressure on those folks who come to our churches and neighborhoods during election time and then aren’t heard from again until the next election.
In recent elections Miami has seen a growing trend — Blacks and Haitians have been pitted against one another both as candidates and among the voting populace. Smith says she’s not surprised but she is concerned.
“When the Republicans in Tallahassee look at Miami, they see one group of Blacks — Black-Americans and Haitian-Americans,” she said. “Despite our cultural differences, we tend to agree on the majority of issues. Even when we differ one thing is certain — we are all Black. We can ill-afford to split the vote and therefore allow both groups to become disenfranchised. What power we would have if we voted as one community and stopped complaining about what we don’t have.”
Former Miami-Dade Public School Board chairman, Dr. Solomon Stinson, 74, cites unqualified candidates as the reason why so few Blacks vote.
“We have far too many candidates that just decide to run one day but haven’t done much for the community,” he said. “Few people know who they are and they really haven’t been out in the trenches. As for our voting percentage among Blacks, it’s just dismal. The statistics speak for themselves. It’s not that people aren’t registered — we just don’t get up and vote. It anything, what we need is more voter education in the Black community.
Could Black lobbyists be the culprits?
Brian Dennis, 45, president of Brothers of the Same Mind, took a different route when asked about why Blacks are still being ignored in the political realm.
“Back in the day, candidates came out to our communities to talk with us and field our questions — now it’s their consultants who do the work. And many are advising the candidates that they don’t need to bother with us. We have become apathetic. Many promises have been made and most have been broken. It’s like we see different candidates but they are pretty much doing and saying the same thing — nothing.”
By D. Kevin McNeir