12/01/2011 03:30 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2012

Miami: The B- Side

Miami: the destination for domestic relaxation. Most of us have awesome memories of days on the beautiful beaches and evenings roaming a vibrant nightlife with a band of friends. Rarely does one venture across the causeway to explore what else lies in The Magic City. A short drive takes us from skyscraping condominiums to dilapidated three story dwellings with absent landlords and numerous code violations. A ride along the metro rail from the top of Miami Dade County to the bottom will introduce you to people of all races, professions, and nations. Regardless of your method of transport, a few days exploring Miami can feel like playing hopscotch on boxed communities of the developed and the not-so-much. As a new resident of Miami Dade County without a vehicle, my reliance on public transportation has made me privy to varied peoples who call Miami home.

Incorporated in 1896, the City of Miami is younger than most large cities in the United States. In Miami's youth we see many opportunities, some seized and others not. With an ever-growing Latin population, Miami is an example to other American cities of how to incorporate immigrant populations with regard for language barriers. Signs commonly appear in English and Spanish (even Creole) and businesses seek to employ individuals that are bilingual. Historically, Miami has been the go-to city for politicians looking to gain the vote of the Latino population. A walk down Calle Ocho with rolled up sleeves and a few swigs of Cuban coffee lets everyone know you care. What my time in Miami has also taught me, is that for many other groups living in Miami, this concentration on various Latino populations means their concerns can feel swept under the rug.

As a community organizer in the Model City area of Miami Dade County, I have learned a great deal of what it means to be Black in Miami. I make it a point to explore the communities and cultures of areas that are new to me. Conversations with persons from all age groups and professions carry many of the same themes of consistent overlook and disregard for the needs of those who are not Latino. A lack of trust has festered alongside decades of clear political disinterest and abhorrent gentrification in neighborhoods such as Overtown and Liberty City, which once flourished in the segregation of earlier decades as havens for black entertainment.

Racial stratification is only one aspect among many in Miami. Income inequality in Miami has surpassed national averages for over a decade. Over 12% of households in Miami make less than $10,000 a year. In neighborhoods such as Overtown, the area median income is $14,000 a year. For the have-nots, beaches and resorts are places to find employment and are seldom a place of relaxation. Construction of condominiums and "affordable" housing complexes provide luxury living for those who can afford it, and unstable, low-skilled employment for those who need it. A limited transit system is high on the list of factors limiting one's ability to get to the door of a construction company. The very individuals who assist in the construction of these dwellings as day laborers often make far too little to afford a chance to reside there, and possibly have a criminal record or credit history that prevents owners from renting to them. While income inequality can seem standard in today's society, high levels of inequality put an undue stress on employers, housing providers, and institutions of education just as much as they stress the likes of those carrying the burden of a cost of living that can supersede economic opportunity.

As the American Dream becomes harder to reach for people across America, Miami leads the pack in civically unengaged citizens. Constituents who feel misrepresented by their representatives but who often fail to take advantage of their voting power to change their circumstance leave the direction of Miami to those who see no issue with the current state. The unheeded concerns of many a Miami resident go unheard due to a breech in communication between the voice of the people and those whose sole job is to move according to that very voice.

The Miami we see as visitors can be very different from the vision of those who live here. This is especially true for those with lower incomes and those who are less civically engaged. How do we engage the opportunities in Miami such that all individuals feel connected to Miami's potential?

Can Miami be the shining example of economic justice in a diverse yet unified community to the rest of the world? There is no doubt that the potential is there. The real question is how we turn it into a reality.

Conversations that highlight the opportunities and complications of life in Miami in hopes of exploring solutions to low civic engagement, income inequality, and isolated communities are vital to Miami's progress. A dialogue amongst insiders, outsiders, and those who have yet to venture from the beach can break down more barriers than it would build.

While I make no claim to any sort of comprehensive knowledge, my seat at the table as a young professional, progressive, community organizing African American woman with a standing membership in "Precariats R' Us" gives me a unique perspective to living in the Magic City. My story is only one of many in an ever growing city such as Miami. The first opportunity we can easily seize is to engage in each other's experiences.

Here's to investing youthful optimism to the greater good!