I visited the Overtown neighborhood in Miami this week. I learned a tiny bit of their history. Historically, this was the “over the tracks” section of town for black folks. The lead entertainers for the posh white community had to cross town at night after hours and this was their neighborhood. It was rich in musical talent, cuisine arts, and many other skills that made life in Miami so great for the rich and famous.
More recently it is a community of exclusion by virtue of poverty. It is plagued by many social ills. It is the place self-respecting folks avoid. No big surprise when the highways were built they ran smack through the middle of this part of town. On the other hand, had the highway not been a detriment to development, this likely would be a totally gentrified neighborhood today with its proximity to downtown and waterfronts.
Serving Miami with Love is a little non-profit organization serving in this neighborhood. They receive coaching and training from CRWRC to increase their capacity to transform this community from the inside out.
A few years ago they were feeding the poor and homeless, and running some after school programs for kids. These are good things to do in a community like this but they do not typically lead to sustainable change in the community.
CRWRC has coached this partner to:
- Stake out a specific neighborhood that will be their target neighborhood.
- Listen to the people in this neighborhood for what is really great, and what they care about changing.
- Facilitate neighbors meeting and interacting with each other
- Facilitate neighbors working together on what they care change.
Themis is a newly recruited CRWRC AmerCorps worker from within this neighborhood. She loves her community. She says that 6 months ago, she would never let her kids out of her apartment because they could get shot. She did not know her neighbors and she was afraid of them. Today Themis freely walks the neighborhood with many folks hollering a friendly hello to her as they catch sight of her. She has connected neighbor to neighbor in ways that neighbors help each other, breaking out of their isolation and strengthening community.
There is a growing sense of community here. Resident participation in the things they care about, working together for the welfare of the neighborhood is way up, especially in things that affect their children. There is a growing sense that the residents when they work together can make good things happen.
It was a joy to walk into their office, and the FIRST thing I saw walking in was the map of their neighborhood. The first thing Jason did to introduce us to his ministry was to talk about the history and strengths of the neighborhood. Then he started talking about some of the dreams the residents shared for neighborhood strengthening.
This little non-profit is giving their neighborhood their voice and their future by helping them work together for God’s glory! Incidentally (and naturally) the residents are now asking for Bible study and Worship opportunities.
Jay Van Groningen