The Miami City Commission has reversed course and approved a million-dollar contribution to the Black community nonprofit Circle of Brotherhood after more than a year of holding out.
The Circle of Brotherhood has been waiting for the money since October 2021, when Mayor Francis Suarez presented the group with an oversized million-dollar check.
"We as an organization are grateful to have an opportunity to do major violence prevention and wellness work in the City of Miami," Lyle Muhammad, executive director of the Circle of Brotherhood, tells New Times upon learning about the city's reversal. "I don't think we would be here without the support of the community members who viewed our ill treatment by the commissioners as unacceptable."
New Times brought the situation to light last year, outlining how the organization never received the funds after Suarez presented the jumbo check at a heavily promoted event featured all over the mayor's social media.
As it happened, the mayor made the pledge before the city commission approved the funding, which was to be drawn from a $137 million tranche the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
While the commission swiftly approved ARPA contributions to other organizations, it dragged its feet and deferred a vote on the Circle of Brotherhood donation for more than a year, the group says. At one point, head organizer LeRoy Jones claimed the municipal budget office had tried to reduce the funding to $250,000.
"We are not going to take less than what we are worth anymore in the Black community," Jones said at a commission meeting in October 2022. "The mayor promised us one million dollars. We want one million."
The city agreed to discuss the item at a meeting on January 27, and the exchange was heated: Muhammad faced scrutiny from commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who were grilling the group about its finances and infrastructure.
"Nobody that has gotten this money... went through this," Jones said before the dais.
Diaz de la Portilla ultimately voted against the contribution, causing it to fall short of the four required yes-votes.
Muhammad suspected the city was over-scrutinizing the Circle of Brotherhood and rejected the contribution because members of the group had spoken out against the commission's takeover of the majority-Black board of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust. Leaders of the organization had been part of a vocal protest inside the commission chambers late last year that included chants and sharp criticism of the commission.
After the January vote, the Circle of Brotherhood donation was back on the agenda for the February 23 meeting. Commission chairwoman Christine King told New Times at the time that she wanted to bring back the item for discussion.
"There is important work to continue and my goal is to support those organizations who are making change," King said in a statement.
The funding item was then deferred to this week's meeting on March 9, at which point all the commissioners, including Diaz de la Portilla, voted to approve it.
Muhammad tells New Times he applauds the mayor now that the city has followed through on his promise, but believes this ordeal has "revealed a lot of unethical behavior and practices" within the city commission.
"We have a lot of work to do in cleaning up Miami politics," he says.