The Mayor of Miami Gardens Talks Jazz in the Gardens, the Birth of the City and His Love of Bow Ties
Getting into politics may have been an accident for Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III but he has found his purpose in serving his city. Learn more about Mayor Gilbert as he talks about what Jazz in the Gardens means to the city of Miami Gardens, what he’s focusing on this year and his love of bowties.
Being that Miami Gardens is your hometown, how has Miami Gardens changed and stayed the same over the years?
Well, the perception of who we are has changed. Everybody thinks of us as a small place, but we have 133,000 people, the third largest city in the county and the largest predominately black city in the state of Florida. So we’re not small but it feels like it is because we’re a new city just incorporated in 2003. So people are used to their neighborhoods, they’re not necessarily used to the city of Miami Gardens. As we transition from the neighborhoods and transfer those identities into Miami Gardens moving forward together, you can see the vestiges of what was. But you can also see us creating things. You see new businesses popping up at a pretty fast rate. You see the parks being redeveloped. Those types of things are definitely different. But the feeling of who we are and that pride of building something together, that’s the same feeling that moved people to incorporate the city in 2003.
You’re currently serving your second term, what is your focus for 2019?
It’s continuing with economic development. What we’re working on right now are two major things. One is the lighting district. We just took over 19 of the 20 lighting districts and so that is what we’re going to be working on. Turning on lights and making it brighter in our neighborhoods. Previously, the county controlled those. As a function of city government, I’m looking to actually register voters, educate voters, and to create an environment of civic activism. I want to create habitual voters in Miami Gardens. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for or what part to register for. I’m going to talk to you about and educate you on the importance of participating in the process.
I hear all the time the government is broken. We can’t really say the government is broken because we don’t really participate in government. We sit back and talk about it, we tweeted about it, we facebook about it, and we talked at the bar about it but we don’t actually engage, educate, and motivate about it. Our voices are active and our continuous voices are important parts of what we become and how we become and how quickly we become. I want to give people and voters in Miami Gardens that idea. I want to give it to kids who are growing into a system and seniors who are aging out of a system and young adults who feel like the system isn’t built for them. I want to give it to everybody because ultimately it takes every voice. It takes every viewpoint to create what can be not just a greater Miami Gardens, but a greater Miami Dade county and greater Florida and a greater America.
What is Jazz in the Gardens?
Jazz in the Gardens is a parking lot that we transformed into a world-class entertainment destination. It’s something that started in 2006 when the city was a few years old. It started with a couple of hundred people and now we expect thousands of people. It’s us, the residents of Miami Garden saying, “Hey, come to our house, this is our party. And by the way, our Dj is going to be really hot.” The people who perform are going to be world-class talent like Lionel Richie, The O’Jays, Teddy Riley with his friends Black Street, Dave Hollister, Bobby Brown, Doug E. Fresh, En Vogue, Jagged Edge, Stephanie Mills just to name a few.
Jazz in the Gardens is a concert, but it’s a party and it’s an experience. It’s the opening night party with Sugar Hill Gang. It’s the film, music, art and culture conference because we want to introduce the people of Jazz in the Gardens to people who have succeeded in those industries so they can hear and learn how they did that. It’s engaging women’s topics with a women’s impact luncheon. It’s a spoken word contest where we give away a $10,000 first prize because we don’t just value your presence, we value your poise and your voice and your vision and your ideas and your imagination. We know that if we empower our people to think and speak and communicate, that empowers us. It’s not just a concert.
Why is Jazz in the Gardens important to the city of Miami Gardens?
It allows us to tell our story. It allows me to have conversations with people about who we were, who we are, and who we’re becoming. It allows us to engage our residents in something recreational. It also allows us to say, “hey, welcome to our home. Enjoy yourself. We hope you come back.” It allows us to speak to broader audiences more often. When it started, it was a way of rebranding the city. Now I use it as a way of telling our story because a lot of times people get caught up in the headlines. Headlines are typically about something that’s bad. The story of Miami Gardens is something that’s magnificent.
What’s one thing about Miami Gardens that most people don’t know?
We’re the largest predominantly black city in the state of Florida. We’re the home of the black working class, the middle-class professional, blue-collar black folk that’s building something great. And if you haven’t witnessed, you should. We’re building something here.
I don’t think I have seen a photo where you are not wearing a bowtie. How many bowties do you have?
Maybe four or five hundred. It’s a lot. I’m not afraid of color. The thing is this about my bowties and my socks. I don’t think that when people say that things have to match that matching actually exists. I think that matching is a social construct. So I think that what looks good is when you wear it and if it makes you feel good, then it looks good. And that’s all you gotta worry about.
Jazz in the Gardens is March 9-10. Get your tickets here.