By Jason Smith

A new day dawned with the election of Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in November 2020. Our County’s first female mayor promised to turn the tide on the chronic underinvestment in economically vulnerable communities and begin the hard work of dismantling systemic barriers to opportunity for the residents of Miami-Dade.

To guide the implementation of her vision for a more equitable Miami-Dade, Mayor Levine Cava created the Office of Equity and Inclusion in the Division of Innovation and Performance. Rahel Weldeyesus, the Mayor’s Senior Advisor for Innovation and Performance, leads the division that includes the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI), the Office of Civic Engagement, and overall performance and process improvement.

Serving as the inaugural OEI director has been the honor of a lifetime. In the eight months since this office was created, OEI has made great strides towards addressing our community’s longstanding challenges.

We began our work at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and our initial focus was on creating an equitable County response to the public health emergency. To ensure that lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines reached the most vulnerable and underserved communities, OEI convened a virtual roundtable of more than 160 community organizations to identify challenges and opportunities for vaccine distribution. The suggestions sourced from that roundtable were incorporated into the mayor’s vaccine distribution plan leading to a County-wide vaccination rate of over 80%

OEI also partnered with the Iota Pi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., to host a vaccine distribution event in Florida City, which had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates.

To spur the development of affordable housing, OEI convened faith-based organizations, housing developers, and County administrators to chart a path for developing affordable housing through public-private partnerships.

OEI also worked closely on the development of the recently adopted County budget, providing research and support to ensure that the budget aligns with our shared values of equity, representation, and community participation. 

To address the deferred investments that have hampered the success of many of our Black community organizations, this budget includes vital investments for community-based organizations and the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust. Additional funding will allow these citizen-led agencies to better fulfill their missions of delivering services and uplifting our communities.

The budget includes new investments in the arts and culture with additional funding for the Historic Hampton House, the restoration of the Carver Theater, redevelopment of the N.W. 18th Avenue Corridor, support for the Larcenia J. Bullard Plaza and community archives in Richmond Heights, and upgrades to major cultural arts centers including the Joseph Caleb Auditorium and African Heritage Cultural Arts Center (AHCAC). This budget also funding to develop the North Dade Cultural Arts Center, and funds to support the Orange Blossom Classic, Jazz in the Gardens, and the South Dade Smooth Jazz Festival.

We’re making major investments to tackle our affordable housing crisis – including $260 million in funding for affordable-housing programs and the creation of new housing advocate positions to address the housing instability many experienced during the pandemic and support long-term solutions.

These historic investments in our community would not be possible without the support of our Board of County Commissioners, the advocacy of MDEAT and the South Florida Black Prosperity Alliance, and resident participation in the Thive305 process. Thrive305, an initiative of the Mayor’s Division of Innovation and Performance, was the largest public outreach effort in County history.

As we enter a new fiscal year, we will continue to collaborate with MDEAT, the Black Affairs Advisory Board, and our residents to build a more equitable and prosperous community.


Jason Smith is the director of the Mayor’s Office of Equity and Inclusion in the Division of Innovation and Performance.