Postcard from Miami: PLACES Miami Site Visit December 2011
If any of the 2011-12 PLACES fellows united in Miami thought they were coming to be nourished solely by warm weather and good food, they were wrong.
They also left enriched by personal leadership training, an innovative framework for thinking about their work through a lens of race, and a group of new colleagues they’ll be learning with over the coming year. Site visits to Miami’s diverse neighborhoods and non-profits provided a vibrant multicultural learning experience to inaugurate the year.
Coming from St. Louis and Seattle, New Hampshire and New York, D.C. and Detroit, and many places in between, the 14 fellows in the third class of the PLACES initiative are engaged in diverse areas of grantmaking: organizational strategy, neighborhood-based funding, philanthropic innovation, community engagement, and a host of other areas. Their organizations are large and small; national and regional; government, private and faith-based. But the fellows are all united by a strong desire to gain insights and tools that will help increase the impact of their grantmaking in improving the regions and communities they serve.
PLACES: A Multi-Faceted Fellowship
Standing for Professionals Learning About Community, Equity and Smart Growth, the PLACES fellowship offers a compelling series of activities over the course of a year for grantmakers from across the U.S. and Canada. The goal of the initiative, says Kris Smith, director of leadership development for the Funders’ Network, is to build grantmaker capacity to address inter-related community issues, help funders understand shifting inequities in the smart growth field, and create a community of practice among fellows, alums and the Network. PLACES is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Loom Foundation, and the Funders' Network.
With such hefty goals for the fellowship, says Smith, the problem is not trying to fill the time but rather making sure it is not crammed with too many activities. Miami was the first stop for the 2011-12 fellows, who will be reunited over coming months in Seattle, Albuquerque, and Chicago. (Last year’s fellows visited Baltimore, Omaha, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.) They will also participate in frequent conference calls, webinars, and personal coaching sessions led by Colorado-based leadership development coach Jesse King.
Miami Site Visits: Global Themes, Local Flavor
The two-and-half day stay in Miami was packed with programming meant to explore a number of provocative and timely themes. Nicknamed the Capital of Latin America - one presenter said the nice thing about Miami is that it’s “so close to the United States”—the theme of immigration was ever present, infused into discussions of neighborhood dynamics, business, banking, and even the city’s rich media ecosystem.
As a region particularly hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, housing emerged as a preeminent theme, too. In a visit to Virginia Key Beach, a historically black park currently threatened by development, the issue of preservation and the importance of a community’s narrative were highlighted. The theme of storytelling, information flow, and community narrative was woven throughout. Local themes, for sure, but with clear lessons across the country.Read more...
Miami’s unique challenges emerged in an overview by Annetta Jenkins, principal at Strategos and formerly the head of Miami’s LISC office. In a discussion moderated by former fellow and advisory board member Mary Skelton Roberts of the Boston-based Barr Foundation, Jenkins said Miami’s geography makes regional impact a daunting goal: the Miami-Dade area covers more than 7,000 square miles, with some 100 jurisdictions between Palm Beach and Miami, with population density largely hugging I-95. In addition, she said, the area is not exactly home to a plethora of Fortune 500 companies, or – with notable exceptions – a long list of foundations. And even with the presence of a large banking center – including many Latin American banks – very few invest in the local community.
Despite these hurdles, Jenkins discussed the positive impact of years of capacity building that has helped bolster the local nonprofit sector. She highlighted the Brownsville development, a unique housing partnership that succeeded by involving numerous entities, as an example of the type of collective work agencies are capable of when they overome differences and work together. The importance of collaborations emerged repeatedly – from Brownsville to the ConnectFamilias program in Little Havana to the ways that nonprofit media outlets partner to disseminate investigative reporting pieces.[Collapse]
Virginia Key Beach: A Sacred Place?
There are places like Virginia Key Beach. But there is only one Virginia Key Beach.
Just minutes from downtown Miami and connected to the mainland only by the Rickenbacker Causeway, it is a pristine beach with a sense of seclusion rare for such urban proximity. It is also rare for its historical past and significance.
Virginia Key was a segregated colored beach, beginning in 1945. At that time, it was accessible only by boat. In the parks’ main building, an exhibit of vintage photos tells this portion of its history: a parking lot full of Studebakers, a baptism in shallow water, black lifeguards and beach-goers, and the faces of people like M. Athalie Range, who helped lead the fight to save the historic site. The park remained segregated until the late 1960s, when racial bans were lifted, and remained open until 1982. It was then shuttered for nearly 30 years, when a plan for the site to be developed into condos was leaked, sparking a strong response from the African-American community. Though the park was re-opened in 2008, its fate is anything but secure.Read more...
The gorgeous park, and its story pitting black leaders, conservationists, developers and a city hall hungry for revenue, stimulated a rich discussion facilitated by leadership coach Jesse King: One fellow discussed having grown up with little open space in her neighborhood and how this place therefore resonated. Another shared a story similar to Virginia Key – how elegant older homes in her city’s black neighborhoods were being razed. Some jumped in enthusiastically to offer ideas – perhaps quarterly festivals on the Key, or even youth sports leagues - that would draw attention to the park’s assets. Another said a YouTube campaign could harness peoples’ creativity to raise its profile. Another refrained from offering immediate reactions; after all, a solution to Virginia Key would have to be one that satisfied a number of parties, not just its immediate champions but also the needs of developers, and of City Hall, too. King teased out broader questions of how individual styles can clash with organizational culture, and techniques for maximizing the creativity of everyone involved in decision-making. This made for a rich discussion.
Kris Smith, director of leadership development for the Funders' Network, later explained the motive behind bringing the fellows to this site for a training that could easily have happened in a hotel meeting room: “One of the reasons we came here today is this represents sacred ground,” he explained. “I can recall my mother and grandmother talking about Virginia Key Beach as a place where the black community came and had weddings, carnivals, and it was seen as a spiritual place. It was important to come here today, to reflect on the relationship between people and place, and to talk about storytelling.”
Pointing to a photo in the museum, Kris said “That’s the first time I ever saw a black life guard.”
“This dirt matters,” he said.[Collapse]
Site Visits Focused on Learning
Toward the end of the stay, one fellow commented on how liberating it was to explore a city, guided by local experts, and free of the normal expectations of having to consider a grant request. The visit meant something more though: the rare opportunity to partner on what were basically site visits with a group of colleagues with very different skill sets and backgrounds, from different cities, and working for foundations with diverse portfolios and programmatic guidelines.
The result was illuminating, as evidenced by the rich site visit debriefs moderated by leadership and organizational development facilitator Jesse King. The process illustrated how a group of diverse individuals can react quite differently to a given neighborhood, issue and strategy, in infinite and personal ways. For example, is a remarkable arts center like the city-run Little Haiti Cultural Center an anchor for personal enrichment, a safe haven and beacon for pride, and a potential catalyst for economic development? Or is it a luxury that saps resources away from much-needed basic essentials such as schools and sidewalks? And does it matter that an arts center may not address what some consider the most urgent needs of the community if the political stars are aligned to provide funding for such a project and it stands a chance of becoming a reality? And more broadly, how can foundations best serve as effective catalysts – asserting much-needed ‘philanthropic acupuncture’ – in strategic and timely ways?Read more...
At the end of the Miami visit, King and Todd Vogel, chair of the PLACES advisory board, led the group in a round robin discussion on all they’d seen.
A fellow wondered aloud how to apply locally what they had seen in action in Miami, with all of its uniqueness and local flavor – but also the flaws and limitations of any market. Vogel replied: “Every place we go we’ll see some exciting things, things that don’t work, and things that infuriate us. Our project as a group is to work through what works and what doesn’t.”[Collapse]
Travel Lessons in Little Haiti
by Todd Vogel, former fellow and chair of the PLACES Advisory Board
PLACES lessons often come in unexpected ways. It was the last day of our whirlwind tour of Miami. Fellows had learned about race and societal structures, learned about themselves and their own decision-making styles, had seen a little of the glitzy Miami and a beautifully restored business district in Little Havana. On the last day, we were heading to the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
There was just one problem. It had rained the night before. Not much, less than a tenth of an inch, just enough to make the streets wet around our hotel. The Funders' Network's Kris Smith knew Little Haiti, and he knew that the drainage was so bad on Little Haiti’s streets that, even with so little rain, the bus would never make it on our planned route. He huddled with the bus driver. They jettisoned the route that would have taken us through the residential area of Little Haiti. And we departed for the Cultural Center.Read more...
The Cultural Center in Little Haiti is a shiny new building in the heart of the Haitian business community in Miami. The Haitian community first started arriving in large numbers nearly 60 years ago, and the population in Miami now totals 400,000. The building’s glass-filled form opened to the surrounding grassy lot for after-school programs and continuing-learning classes. Its aim is to provide a gathering place for local Haitians as well as a respite and training center for a population in which as many as two-in-five people are unemployed. Its location in the heart of the business district was sure to make it wonderfully useful for the Haitian community members who lived and worked in the area.
We arrived across the street from the Center, and the wide avenue glistened black and threw off the smell of new asphalt. Then we faced our next hurdle. How do we cross the street? There was no cross walk. Two lanes away, the shiny center line looked like a warning strip, telling us that our lives were in danger. And the street, heavily travelled with four lanes of cars and trucks shooting past, felt dangerous.
Where were the sidewalks to make it easy for people to get to this gorgeous building? There were none. We all knew about the great people-watching streets of South Beach. The evening before, we had walked through some wonderful people-friendly streets in Little Havana. “If this is the heart of the Haitian business community, why couldn’t the city have created a walkable town-center? Don’t they want to nurture the community’s economic potential, grow its businesses and provide jobs?"
“Hey, most of these streets are barely drivable,” came the answer. “They were just glad to get new asphalt!”[Collapse]
john powell: “Be hard on structures, soft on people”
One of the core dilemmas that john powell studies is this: Many Americans – particularly white Americans - have adopted a position of ‘color-blindness.’ We like to say we’re living in a post racial world. After all, we have a black president. Kids today seem beyond racial bigotry. And that particularly poignant historical taboo - interracial marriage - is on the rise.
But powell, then-executive director of the Kirwan Institute For the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, says this outlook is flat out wrong. Or simply doesn’t match evidence all around us. Look at incarceration rates for people of color (black males have a 32% chance of being incarcerated at some point in life, Hispanics 17%, Whites 6%), unemployment (black unemployment tends to be twice the rate of white unemployment), and a host of other issues, from educational attainment to household income to access to healthcare. Many of the institutions that govern our day-to-day lives have inherent biases - biases that result in people being treated differently.Read more...
And so often, the results of institutions churning away at their day-to-day work are – well, arguably racist. But, interestingly, powell is unlikely to use that word. And it is entirely plausible that while institutions can have race-based impact, that doesn’t mean the individuals behind them are bigots.
Powell, whose work combines history, psychology, brain science, and synthesizes all of the above to provide a framework for how we are building out our cities, presented to the 2012 PLACES fellows on their first day in Miami. His presentation consisted of a mash-up of three areas he has studied for some time.
The provocative framework that powell espouses explores a ‘structural racialization.’ This term means that in contrast to the ideal of a color-blind world, the racialized barriers are many. “Structures are never neutral,” he says. “They affect people differently.”
The second area that powell explored with fellows is what he calls ‘implicit bias.’ The thinking here is that while many Americans are not necessarily bigoted today, we do in fact carry with us the images and lexicon of an intensely racialized past. It’s as if we have reels of film running in the back of our minds, of which we are not the authors. They include stereotypes and clichés about ourselves and others. This unconscious realm is where 98% of our thoughts lie; it is also where racial bias resides.
“One of the reasons we’re in such a funny place in our society around race,” powell says, “is that we’re going through all these complex changes and don’t have a word for it.”
Racial and other stereotypical concepts are embedded in our psyche, only to manifest themselves when prodded. This ‘priming’ refers to the multiple ways that these images are implanted; it’s as if we fulfill societal expectations when we’ve been programmed to do so. The performance of students on tests can be influenced by comments made prior to the test. (Tell a group of students about to take a test that Asians tend to do better on the test, and whites actually perform worse as a result.)[Collapse]
PLACES Focus: Role of Journalism, Community Information
The visit to Miami provided fellows an opportunity to delve into Latino issues, but was also a multi-faceted snapshot of the shifting landscape of journalism and media-making. This was coupled with how a leading foundation is addressing community information needs and its tie to civic engagement.
Sergio Bendixen, a leading national pollster and founder of Miami-based Bendixen and Amandi International, talked about the role of ethnic media, highlighting a 2008 survey he carried out in partnership with San Francisco-based New America Media. The survey found that for many minority groups the ethnic media plays a critical role – reaching 89 percent of Hispanics, 78 percent of African Americans, and 73 percent of Asian Americans. This is remarkable, Bendixen said, “for media that receives little publicity.” The ethnic media, he added, is arguably the fastest growing media sector in the country.Read more...
The diversity of this growing sector came out in a panel the next day at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. There, Florida International University assistant professor Moses Shumow stressed there is no single Spanish-language media. “There is a Colombian media, a Nicaraguan media, a Peruvian media, a Cuban media, and a Venezuelan media.”
And a community’s media does not reflect just its numbers in population, he said, but its overall influence and educational level. Venezuelans, he said, are one of the smallest immigrant communities in South Florida, yet they have a tremendous media presence. Nicaraguans, the third largest Latino group but generally poorer, by contrast, have one community newspaper to the six run by Venezuelans.
Panelist Yves Colon, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Miami’s School of Communication, gave a valuable history of Haitians’ migration to the U.S. and South Florida in particular. He discussed the growth of Little Haiti, originally called Lemon City, and how Haitian political power has increased in recent years, resulting in a Haitian elected as mayor of North Miami. As a co-founder of the Haitian Times, he discussed his co-founding of the paper, which appeared in English intentionally, to target younger, more educated Haitians in the U.S.
McNelly Torres, assistant director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, explained the role of investigative journalism. In its brief life, her center, FCIR, has already won numerous awards for its investigative work, including a story on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, deportations of Haitians with no criminal background. She handed out resources for creating a data-based community profile in a short time.
In a visit to the Knight Foundation, staff there discussed the work they do – as an ally to place-based funders and a catalyst for others to better appreciate and even fund the news and information initiatives at the local level.
The group heard from the Foundation’s Strategic Initiatives Program Associate, Jeffrey Coates, as he discussed the Soul of the Community survey initiated four years ago. Conducted in partnership with Gallup, the project involved 26 communities and some 25,000 respondents. A key finding was that social offerings, openness, and aesthetics trumped other reasons for Americans’ choice in where to live.
There were other drivers, such as the quality of education. Perhaps surprisingly, jobs and the economy fell lower than expected. Unlike previous generations, Coates said, today “young talent moves to the city of their choice, then finds a job.”
Bahia Ramos-Synnott, Knight’s director of community foundations, is at the heart of the Foundation’s work encouraging community foundations and place-based funders to pay attention to information needs. It began as a whim, she said, when Knight President Alberto Ibarguen spoke to the Council on Foundations and ended up inviting representatives of community foundations to Miami for a seminar on the information needs of communities. This has grown into a five-year investment, resulting in more than $16 million in grants to more than 80 projects.
Finally, Jose Zamora spoke on the Foundation’s News Challenge, which he manages. Five years ago, with the news world ‘turning upside down,’ Knight decided to launch a contest with the hope of speeding innovation. Not even sure what questions to ask, the Foundation decided to make it an open, worldwide contest with little requisites. This five-year, $25 million global initiative is now ending its first round. So far, the initiative has supported more than 60 projects, chosen from some 12,000 applications. To keep up with a changing media landscape, the Foundation has expanded the pool of potential grantees from nonprofits to both individuals and for-profits. It has also included support via fiscal agents as well as PRI’s and low-interest loans.
An example of one of these innovations is spot.us, a website where the community can pitch story ideas. “What it’s doing is opening the editorial process to the community,” Zamora said. “The organization puts a price tag on the story, and the community then funds it. People can donate between five and 25 dollars each. This makes sure no one owns the story.”[Collapse]
Sergio Bendixen & A Polling-Based Profile of Latino Communities
A key theme in the Miami visit was the Hispanic community and its burgeoning but diverse - and often divided - communities. Sergio Bendixen, founder of Miami-based Bendixen and Amandi International, presented an overview of Latino demographics, some insights into young Hispanics, what to look for in the 2012 elections, and a sense of the reach of ethnic media. Some highlights:Read more...
Latinos are a growing political force – and their numbers are about to increase dramatically:
- Between 1990 and 2010, Latinos grew from 5 percent to 16 percent of the U.S. population.
- Their potential political muscle is significant – surprisingly, some 500,000 Latinos will turn 18 every year for the next 20 years.
- Since 2000, candidates for national office have begun to court the Latino vote with very targeted ads. Bendixen showed a 2004 Bush ad targeting Hispanics that portrayed a commitment to human relationships, enjoying life, showing emotion. It was so successful it was mailed to 2 million Latinos across the southwest. He explained part of the reason for candidates’ trying to romance the Latino vote: it is still largely ‘unpredictable.’
- The Hispanic middle class has grown considerably: the number of Hispanic households earning $100,000 or more has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
Policy-makers and foundations need to adjust their messaging when trying to reach Latino voters:
- Family is very important in Latino culture, and Latinos tend to have a wider definition of ‘family’: when asked ‘How many people make up your immediate family?' white Anglo Americans responded an average of 8.7 people, while Latinos responded 29.3.
- Hispanics tend to view their relationship to work differently than the mainstream; ‘they work to live, as opposed to living to work,’ Bendixen explained. (As an example of this, he said that successful Latino entrepreneurs in Miami often retire in their 50s or early 60s, while they can still enjoy their earnings.)
- When asked to rank issues by importance, Hispanics overwhelmingly placed the economy and jobs at the top of the list.
- When you talk to Hispanics about deportations of immigrants, it tends to be a very personal issue.
What is the PLACES program?
In 2008, the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN) launched the PLACES fellowship, a year-long program consisting of four intensive site visits to different cities, extensive professional coaching, and additional resources such as conference calls and webinars. The program’s name stands for Professionals Learning About Community, Equity and Smart Growth.Read more...
PLACES fellows come from a variety of grantmaking entities across the U.S. and Canada. They are a diverse group in terms of the type of foundation they work for, their backgrounds and areas of expertise, as well as their age, race and ethnicity. To apply, prospective fellows must submit an application, resume, and letter of recommendation.
What is Funders’ Network?
Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities is a membership organization that helps grantmakers across North America advance strategies to create fair, prosperous, and sustainable regions and communities that offer everyone the chance for a good life. TFN believes that the toolkit available to funders – investments, grants, collaborations, convenings, etc – position them to lead the movement for smarter growth policies and practices. TFN shares knowledge, fosters networks, and encourages funder leadership.
Who funds PLACES?
The PLACES program is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Loom Foundation, and the Funders' Network. It is also partially subsidized by fellows’ own organizations, which are expected to contribute their airfare, hotel, and incidental expenses.
For more information, please call Kris Smith at (305) 667-6350 ext. 202 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.[Collapse]
About the Author/Photographer: Mark Hallett is a 2011 PLACES alumnus and senior program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation