Memorial Day Weekend Fiasco Could Have Been Avoided Long Ago
Miami Beach could have avoided the deadly mess that occurred this past May 31 had they invested in making Memorial Day Weekend an event we can all be proud of as Americans. Nine years ago, I stepped forward to help the city of Miami Beach get a handle on Memorial Day Weekend. I graduated high school on Miami Beach. I owned a nightclub in the city too. I love the place. And I want to see everybody get along. So I came up with Umoja Festival, which is derived from an African word that means "coming together in oneness and unity."
I wanted to recreate the success of the Essence and Carribana festivals in New Orleans and Toronto, respectively. So I worked with other African American promoters to bring in quality entertainment that included R&B and soul acts alongside rappers. I also secured food and retail vendors -- small business owners from all over Miami-Dade -- to create a street bazaar along Ocean Drive so visitors could eat and shop, similar to Art Deco Weekend. But the Ocean Drive restaurants had a problem with that so greed killed it.
But for any large event in a major city, you need the financial and operational support from the host government. Instead, city officials, along with Miami-Dade Community Relations Board executive director Larry Capp, undermined my efforts while pretending they wanted to help me create an event the city could support like it does the South Beach Food & Wine Festival. In fact, Capp, wearing his county employee hat, even incorporated the name Urban Beach Week in 2002 to make it appear that the city and the county sanctioned the event.
All he did was create a web-site to post club parties. Meanwhile, Umoja failed from a lack of support. When you have a weekend like Memorial Day with no structure and no free entertainment, you are inviting thugs and the criminal element, who ruin it for the out-of-towners who have the money to pay for an airplane ticket and a $500-a-night hotel room. To avoid deadly situations like the police shootings that occurred this past May 31, someone has to accept responsibility for organizing and structuring city-sponsored events on Memorial Day weekend.
What we don't need is reactionary political rhetoric that borders on racism like instituting a curfew.That's an idiot idea. If you put a curfew on one event weekend, then you need to put a curfew on every other event that comes through Miami Beach. And you can't ban an unofficial event and tell an entire group of people that they are unwelcome in the city. Not all of them are criminals or part of an "unruly and dangerous mob" like gay activist Herb Sosa put it so eloquently.
I never thought I'd see the day when a gay man would call for the disenfranchisement of a group of people. I was appalled by his open letter to Mayor Matti Bower and the city commissioners. Thankfully, Bower is a very good mayor and a fair and honest lady. But she and her fellow elected officials need to get back to the original plan of having somebody in charge of Memorial Day, whether it's me or another trusted community leader.
They can't have that many people coming into Miami Beach without organizing free public events to give folks something to do other than hanging out on the streets getting liquored up. And we can't let Miami Beach be classified as a racist city. Remember, African Americans visit Miami Beach year round, not just on Memorial Day.
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