Nonprofit Group Says Miami Backtracked on Million-Dollar Promise

The Circle of Brotherhood has yet to receive the $1 million contribution promised by the City of Miami a year ago.
The Circle of Brotherhood has yet to receive the $1 million contribution promised by the City of Miami a year ago. Screenshot via Mayor Francis Suarez's Instagram
Last year, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez staged a press conference to present a one-million-dollar check to the Circle of Brotherhood nonprofit organization for its service to the Black community.

"The Circle of Brotherhood has been active in this community, helping people for years," Suarez said before handing over the check. "They've done it as tech people say, 'boot-strapped.'"

Founded in 2013 and managed by a group of Black community activists, the Miami-based organization has provided programs for youth development, crime prevention, societal reentry for former prisoners, and economic sustainability in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Images of Suarez showing off the oversized check to the Circle of Brotherhood during the October 2021 ceremony were featured on his social media, with the mayor praising the organization's leadership: head organizer Leroy Jones, president Jeffrey Mack, and executive director Lyle Muhammad.

"I'm sure Leroy probably thought I forgot," the mayor said, noting that it had been six months since the two had talked about a contribution from the city. "It is okay because I'm sure a lot of people make promises and forget. That's unfortunately become the status quo."

A year later, the Circle of Brotherhood says the ceremony may have been nothing more than a big photo-op for the city, as the organization has not received a penny of the promised one million dollars. 

During an October 27 city commission meeting, Jones expressed disappointment that commissioners have held up the funds by delaying a vote on the contribution. "People still think we got this money," Jones said in front of the dais.

What's worse, Jones claimed, the city's budget office emailed the Circle of Brotherhood and suggested that the contribution is now $250,000.

According to Jones, the organization will not accept the reduced offer.

"We are not going to take less than what we are worth anymore in the Black community," Jones said. "The mayor promised us one million dollars. We want one million."

The contribution was to be awarded out of $137 million that the city had received from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which aimed to help communities respond to health and economic impacts from the pandemic. The Circle of Brotherhood was one of a number of local entities that were slated to receive money through ARPA.

Muhammad tells New Times that other city-earmarked ARPA initiatives were readily approved by the commission by the required 4-1 vote.

"We find out that we have opposition from District 5," Muhammad says. "It's quite clear with us that the opposition was political. All of our work was properly vetted by the consultant that was hired by the city."

District 5 commissioner Christine King tells New Times the funding item, which she co-sponsored, was first deferred in the spring because of insufficient documentation. She asserts "there is no opposition from District 5 and never has been."

Muhammad says he was told by Suarez that more time is needed to work out the funding details. He says he hopes the mayor will take a more proactive stance on the issue and push the commission to enter a vote.

"It's a travesty that you parade an organization when you're talking about a violence prevention and wellness program in your community," Muhammad tells New Times. "It is a sad statement on the state of affairs and our politics."

Suarez's office did not return New Times' request for comment.

The mayor was not in attendance at the commission meeting, but commissioner Manolo Reyes agreed with Jones that the city should keep its promise on the funding.

"The gentleman was right," Reyes said on the dais. "One million was promised."

Nonetheless, the commission deferred a vote on the item once again. 

Muhammad says the organization is determined to continue its work regardless of city support.

Recently, the Circle of Brotherhood announced it would receive a $100,000 grant from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and $2 million in funding from the Department of Justice for programs to address gun violence.

Though King denies that she's blocking the City of Miami funding, Muhammad says he believes the commissioner opposes his group because it has not backed her political allies in county government.

Prior to the funding item being brought up at the October 27 commission meeting, the Circle of Brotherhood staged a vocal protest in the meeting room, speaking out against the commission's action to remove managers of the historically Black beach on Virginia Key. Earlier this month, the commission voted 4-1 to take control of the beach's managing trust and appoint King as its chairperson.
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Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein

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