A New Chapter : The Transition of Leadership in Miami Gardens

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Miami Gardens has been blessed with dedicated elected officials who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of our residents and neighbors. Five (5) members of the Council will soon be leaving their current positions. As they transition, Mayor Oliver Gilbert, Vice Mayor Rodney Harris, and Council members David Williams Jr., Lillie Q. Odom and Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro took some time to reflect on their journey, accomplishments and the legacy they leave behind.

Mayor Oliver Gilbert
Every year, since I’ve been Mayor of Miami Gardens, I’ve visited each of our public schools in the City (and some outside the City) and spoken to a great number of our students. I go to our schools and talk to our students because I want them to know that I’m a kid from Miami Gardens. I grew up in this area. I went to church in this area. I played on the parks in this area. I went to schools in this community – Parkview Elementary, Parkway Middle, and Norland Senior High School. I went away to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) for undergrad, but came back home and graduated from the University of Miami School of Law, with honors. I want them to see me and understand that I was just like them. And now I’m the Mayor of my hometown, Miami Gardens.

Sometimes their inclination is to see what someone has become and not fully understand how they became. The students will ask me about my suits and bowties, and I will tell them about how I was homeless, living in a car in the winter in Tallahassee while I was in college. I tell them how a friend of mine, Tia Wanton, took me in and let me sleep on the floor in her apartment. Sometimes they’ll see me get out of the suburban and they’ll ask about the truck, and I’ll tell them about how when I went to law school I would get up every morning and catch the 27 bus all the way to the MLK Metrorail Station, I’d take the Metrorail all the way to Coral Gables, to the University of Miami campus. Often the students ask – do I have a big house. I tell them that I purchased the house that I lived in until I was 10-years old from my parents, a two-bedroom one bath in the Bahas, right around the corner from Antioch, my church. I get a lot of questions about the jobs that I’ve had. And I mention how my friend Roosevelt Deleveaux, got me a job at Walmart in receiving in Tallahassee, off of Thomasville Road when I was in college. I would work at Walmart at night and go to school during the day, and that’s how I paid my bills. When they ask about my first job, it was parking cars at my grandparents’ house, for people that were going to the Dolphin’s games at the stadium when it was newly built.

I talk to them about the hard work, perseverance, and faith it took for the young boy who parked cars for the stadium to become the man who is the Mayor of the City where the stadium is located. The overriding message I’m trying to get across to our students is this – I was a kid in Miami Gardens just like them, and I know life isn’t easy. Success isn’t easy.

Hard work and perseverance validate themselves. And if they work hard and stick to it, they can accomplish their dreams. This message isn’t just for them; it’s for all of us as well.

When I became Mayor of Miami Gardens eight years ago, people told me that businesses wouldn’t open here, we couldn’t have economic development here. I said that was not acceptable because this was meant to be a thriving community, someplace where people could live, work, and play. Eight years later, we have a record number of new businesses and job creation in the City. That’s because I would not accept “it can’t happen here” as an answer. When I became Mayor eight years ago, people said that we couldn’t have young people from our community become police officers in our community. I said that wasn’t acceptable, and now we have officers who are from Miami Gardens, that live in Miami Gardens, and are familiar with the community on the force because they grew up here.

Eight years ago, when I became Mayor, they said the City’s finances were shaky and that financially we would never thrive. Eight years later we have record reserves in the bank, our bond rating has risen, and we are a finalist for an All-American City designation.

We were not meant to be the tail; we were meant to be the head. Our story of progress in Miami Gardens has not been perfect, unflawed, or undeterred, but it has been progress, built on perseverance and community, bolstered by imagination and a fundamental understanding of the intrinsic worth of the City. We were meant to be the head, not the tail. We were not created in the spirit of fear. We are the guardians of the life we want and the architects of the future our children deserve.

Vice Mayor Rodney Harris
An active resident of Miami Gardens for the past 23 years, Vice Mayor Rodney Harris’ most noteworthy achievement is that he, and the Council on which he has served, “is leaving the City in a better financial status than we found it.” He speaks proudly of the City’s $60 million bond and the goals the City has been able to achieve because of the program.

During his terms, the City Council completed valuable projects like renovating parks, advancing mentoring and summer jobs programs for kids, supporting economic development, and making Miami Gardens “a destination City where people can live, work and play.” He plans to continue to advance the City’s forward-moving agenda even after leaving his current post.

Councilwoman Lillie Q. Odom
Councilwoman Lillie Q. Odom’s began her history of service in Miami Gardens at age 12, sewing curtains for neighbors in need. A resident of the district since 1952, she grew up to become one of the City’s founders, and one of its most dedicated servants. “It’s a matter of bringing our community together on all levels,” she shares. “That is what I’m most proud of.”

Under Councilwoman Odom’s leadership, the City has implemented successful HIV and sickle cell awareness activities, programs in service of military veterans, and school supply and toy drives for the youth. Among the City’s robust senior population, Councilwoman Odom has promoted financial abuse awareness, computer training and elderly affairs programming. A project with great personal significance was the digitizing of over 1000 documents, photos and articles on the history of Miami Gardens. “It was very difficult to get Miami Gardens incorporated, so I’m especially proud of the documentation.” In her next chapter, she plans to finally take some downtime and take care of herself.

Councilman David Williams Jr.
Councilman David Williams Jr. is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who moved to Miami Gardens in 1988. One achievement at the top of his list is the City’s elementary level Science and Engineering Fair, which has grown into an event supported by local families, major universities and corporations. Another is the development of Miami Gardens’ unique botanical gardens, where everything planted is edible and residents have access to fresh produce that can help to improve their health. He speaks warmly about the David Williams Science Award, granted to deserving community servants for the past nine years. In his next phase of life, Councilman Williams plans to continue pushing for better education, community programs, health and science resources. “I want to be able to bring those resources to what I consider one of the greatest cities in the country.”

Councilman Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro
Councilman Dr. Ighodaro arrived in Miami Gardens on a basketball scholarship 22 years ago. Since then, he has evolved into a career advocate for the City, building close personal relationships with his neighbors. He has been instrumental in job training facilitation, in developing programs to help local small businesses win contracts for infrastructure development, and in the reopening of Bunche Pool, which had been closed for almost 20 years. For the past four (4) years, he has sponsored a prom for senior citizens, stressing the need for inclusive programming. Just recently, he founded regulation for paid family and maternity leave for City employees. “I believe that Miami Gardens has the capacity to grow into a world-class City,” he said.

After his term, Dr. Ighodaro plans to “continue to work in this community, and to fight for the growth and development of our people.”

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Councilman Reggie Leon
First term Councilman, Reggie Leon, holds Seat Two and speaks with reverence of his fellow Councilmembers, thankful for their dedication to the City. “They have put us in a very good position,” states Leon. “It’s been a pleasure in this short year and a half I have had to work with them, and I want to thank them for such a job well done.”


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