Born to Lose

Created after the 1980 riots, the Metro Miami Action Plan was supposed to level the playing field for blacks. What happened?

County Manager Merrett Stierheim has appointed one of his assistants, Barbara Jordon, to work with MMAP to resolve the issues raised by the audit. Jordon says before the February planning session: "If they can come up with a plan where they are much more focused, the outcomes will have a greater impact ... but if it is going to be where you take your resources and you are still trying to concentrate on a vast program, it is going to get lost."

She believes that prioritizing means allowing certain pressing needs to go unaddressed for the time being. It also demands accountability. The shift is almost painfully difficult for MMAP, whose purpose was predicated on advancing all the issues facing the black community all at once. "It is always difficult to cut off something that you love," Jordon says.

The difficulty is apparent at the planning session, the goal of which is to create a five-year strategic plan. The last such plan ended in 1998. MMAP board members delayed work on charting their next five years out of pique that the county commission had bypassed them to fund what they considered a duplicative Mayor's Task Force on Urban Economic Revitalization. "We wanted to find out where we stood," Sherwood Dubose explains.

MMAP got an answer with the audit. After its release the county manager's office demanded a five-year plan be formulated immediately.

At the meeting MMAP staff member Ralph McCloud's frustration finally boils over. "We have let Uncle Bubba paint us into a corner with this ambitious task and then [he] says we haven't accomplished it," McCloud seethes. "It's a sin." McCloud is a job-training specialist employed by the City of Miami on loan to MMAP since 1987. He has been involved in two of MMAP's more successful efforts: the nonviolent training workshops and more recently, the Miami-Dade County Teen Court, which aims to steer first-time offenders away from crime.

This is where tonight, on the second floor of the South Dade Government Center, teenagers mete out punishments of community service and teen-court jury duty to minor offenders, under the watchful eyes of adults. Victoria Osorio, a mother whose sixteen-year-old son Carlos walked out of a store wearing a hat without paying for it and into the arms of a security guard, is thrilled with teen court. "It gives him a lesson in civics," she says, adding that she hopes it will wake him up. She has already grounded him for two weeks. In addition the teen-court jury adds fifteen hours of community service and four turns as a juror at the court. Carlos thus becomes one of the 200 postarrest cases McCloud believes will be heard before the end of the school year. Both teens and adults who have participated in the court lavish praise on it, but it is only a small step in addressing youth violence and crime in the inner city.

Today at MMAP's strategic planning session, such achievements are overshadowed by the organization's flaws.

Consultant Donna Ginn tries to get the group to acknowledge their contradictions and forge a new identity. Is it a funding or an advocacy program? How much control should the board have over the staff? How can it be both a nonprofit environment and a government agency?

McCloud gives some history. "The [1992] ordinance was an order of execution for MMAP that we turned around and made into a new life," he says. "We were driven away from advocacy for survival."

Ginn tries to get the group to move forward. "You can't keep returning to what keeps you down," she says. She uses her own example as a successful black businesswoman. Originally from Ohio, she was an executive with Procter and Gamble before moving to Miami. "I live in a community based on segregation that was never resolved," she tells them. "I'm not going to let environmental conditions put me out of where I want to be."

The MMAP staffers and board members struggle with the message, returning again and again to the community's failure to its commitment. "When MMAP was started, the larger community saw it as a way to [prevent] a riot," Bradford Brown says. "If you don't have a riot, they don't care."

By the time MMAP is actually creating a strategic plan it is 5:00 p.m. and there are eight people left in the room.

In the end those remaining limit MMAP's strategic goals for the next five years to increasing home ownership, business retention and development, lowering juvenile arrest rates, and raising test scores for students. Ginn forces the group to come up with concrete plans to meet each goal.

One of the most important items on the agenda, planning for independence, is barely touched on. But Ginn leaves them with one thought: She asks them whether they believe in what they are doing enough to continue regardless of whether they stay part of the county or not. When those in the room nod yes, she says, "Then by God you better raise some money."

Later the board discusses and approves the results of the strategic planning session. The board agrees on a plan that includes several measures to give MMAP more financial independence, including securing equity in businesses it helps and buying rental property.

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