Over 20 years ago, a movement to transform the lives of children and families in Central Harlem began on one small block. The driving force was a nonprofit organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), and in the beginning, no one believed that they could succeed. It isn’t hard to see why. The area was poverty stricken, crime ridden, and filled with an overall sense of hopelessness. The odds were completely against their favor, but somehow, they succeeded- and succeeded big. Today, the HCZ spans almost 100 blocks.
On January 21, 2013, the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI), an organization modeled after the HCZ, began its own transformational journey in Liberty City. As the world woke up to celebrate MLK day, MCI mobilized almost 200 volunteers and residents to begin transforming its first block. After speaking to residents and community leaders, it became clear that a physical transformation needed to take place in Liberty City before the more personal, intrinsic changes could occur. The streets were dirty and a lack of beauty in the area left residents without any inspiration to work towards their dreams.
Over the course of the day, volunteers and residents planted flowers and shrubbery in front of 39 apartment units, about 30 flowering and fruit trees, and 3 vegetable gardens. They rid the block of trash and gave the entire area a complete makeover. Children played in the “kids' zone,” getting their faces painted, listening to volunteer readers, riding the play train, and painting garden stones. The energy was high and despite the huge amount of work that went into the day, everyone had an amazing time. But the true victory was in the process. There were volunteers there from organizations like AmeriCorps Public Allies and VISTA, Teach for America, I Have a Dream Foundation, Girl Power, Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast-TOP (Teen Outreach Program), along with individual volunteers, not to mention the residents who live on the block. District 3’s Commissioner Edmonson also picked up her shovel and came out to help the cause. We all came from different organizations, but on that day, we truly became one single force to be reckoned with.
When you go out on that block today, the change is tangible. It looks and feels like a place where you want to raise your kids, a place where a child wants to grow up. And this is just the beginning. MCI hopes that, like the HCZ, in 20 years it will look out at Liberty City and see almost 100 blocks completely transformed.