Cecilia Gutierrez-Abety is the president and CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative.
Around 10 p.m. on July 27, the calls came in rapid succession — another child shot, this time within our blocks. No news cameras showed up, no marches were planned, there was no public outcry and very few tears were shed. Has Miami become numb to the senseless and constant violence plaguing our children in Liberty City?
This time the community was saved from a funeral. Both youth recovered. But the momentary sigh of relief is suppressed by the reality that our children remain in the kind of constant danger known by peers in war-torn nations like Syria or Iraq and in U.S. cities infamous for their violence, like Chicago and Baltimore.
Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI) is a nonprofit organization focused on breaking a cycle of poverty in Liberty City, a Miami neighborhood with a per capita income lower than 97 percent of American neighborhoods. MCI’s mission is to create a community-based network that develops, coordinates, and provides quality education, accessible health care, youth development programs, health and nutrition supports, opportunities for employment, and safe neighborhoods for children and families residing within Liberty City.
The neighborhood of Liberty City is bound by NW 79th Street to the north, NW 27th Avenue/Unity Boulevard to the west, NW 41st Street to the south, and I-95 to the east. MCI models its efforts after the Harlem Children’s Zone, and similarly has identified its Phase 1 Impact Zone, which is a designated 29 blocks where we provide academic, community, and family supports.
MCI believes that the strength of Liberty City lies in the undeveloped potential of its youth and that the potential of each child can be unleashed through focused, intentional and strategic educational and social investment. These supports serve as a buffer against the daily environmental stressors faced by communities grappling with pervasive violence.
Days after the shooting, we gathered our youth to go surfing on Miami Beach and for a road trip to Busch Gardens. We knew that maintaining our programming would bring some much needed routine and comfort to our kids and their families. But numbness permeated each member of the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI) team.
As if in silent alliance, the Miami Herald released an article entitled, “One Year. Three Miami Neighborhoods. 8,280 bullets.” This feature captured the thoughts and feelings that we couldn’t summon: This was it, the tipping point that would wake the city up and make it obvious that unprecedented action was needed to save our youth.
The Miami Herald article was too important not to share — we distributed it to our youth and residents and watched as the data startled them. It was confirmation of what those of us who live and work in Liberty City know to be true. Our children hear gun shots each and every day. This statement is not meant to be dramatic, rather to offer an understanding of what our youth must endure.
Individually and collectively we struggle because we know too often both the shooters and the victims are our children. There is a unique kind of fear, anxiety, and constant trauma that takes place when you live in a community where survival is a daily concern and funeral services a weekly reality.
Since that day, our hearts and minds have been overburdened with media coverage of children shot and killed within our communities. A warm weekend, following the start of the new school year, was plagued by a trio of shootings, resulting in four deaths, including an 8-year old girl.
It took MCI a few years to become purposeful in our Liberty City mission. We grounded ourselves by doing the hard work — walking the neighborhood daily, sticking around when things got tough, building relationships with residents, listening, and empowering a community that had been isolated and marginalized for far too long.
We joined forces with Chief Press and police officers and hosted experiences full of hope and laughter, but it’s not enough against the easy accessibility of guns in our neighborhood. It’s not enough that we march and stand vigil after these tragedies when drugs are easier to come by than jobs.
We have a growing group of “advocates” who are determined that the future of Liberty City’s children will not be defined by their zip code. We are relentless in our pursuit of high quality care and education for all children and families. We are tackling the structural and systemic barriers in our community, block-by-block. And we will not stop, even when the work seems too daunting and the resources too limited.
When most kids in America go to bed at night, their biggest worry might be tomorrow’s test, not enough likes on social media, a peer conflict, or the imaginary monster under their bed. When the kids in Liberty City go to bed, their biggest worry is a drive-by shooting that could kill them or someone they love.
It’s easy to become desensitized to the violence that occurs in our city when it doesn’t directly affect your life. But for Liberty City’s children and their families, violence is a daily reality. But whether a child lives in Miami Beach or Liberty City, she deserves to grow up safe, educated, full of promise for the future ahead.
So the next time you see a news story that involves a child being shot, don’t judge her, her family, her friends, her choices instead ask yourself what can I do to protect her. Take action and help us change Liberty City block-by-block. Here are some immediate things you can do.
- Hire a Liberty City resident. If you own a company or run a business or responsible for recruitment at your organization, consider joining forces with MCI and offering a job/career to resident we know and are supporting.
- Home library installation. Volunteer or donate a home library in a Liberty City home.
- Sponsor a college tour. Offer an aspiring scholar an opportunity for a week-long college experience.
- Organize a day of service in Liberty City with your company. The volunteer experience will expose individuals to the richness of our neighborhood and will include working alongside a Liberty City resident/youth.
- Adopt a block in Liberty City. MCI has a block-by-block strategy to intentionally invest in children and families with the only outcome being successful completion of college. Contact MCI to learn more about the specifics and take a tour.
For more long-term solutions, please contact us at 305 514 6120.
Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected]