Cecilia Holloman's Real "Legacy" Is Empty Coffers and No Jobs, Say Liberty City Residents
Over the next decade, her organizations would receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants, including $400,000 for a job and community garden project called the Legacy Communities Initiative.
But fellow activists say the jobs never came, the gardens never grew, and C.C.'s only legacy has been the empty coffers she's left behind.
Holloman arrived in Miami in 2001 billing herself as a neighborhood development guru. She was promptly awarded a prestigious Knight Fellowship at the University of Miami.
She quickly helped create a nonprofit called the Coconut Grove Collaborative. She secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and local grants. But then things turned ugly, says the collaborative's CEO, Jihad Rashid.
"She was very charismatic," he remembers. "But she morphed from being a consultant to being a self-styled executive director. C.C. didn't want to be employed by us, but she wanted to run the business."
Next stop: highly paid consultant for the City of Miami. Then came the Urban Empowerment Corporation in the Grove, where she won a $167,000 job training grant in 2008. But when city officials audited UEC last year, they found it was broke despite receiving more than $500,000 in city funds. Holloman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
"The next thing you know, she springs up in Liberty City," says Ken Knight, a Liberty City community activist. He met Holloman in early 2009 and told her about plans to create jobs with a community garden. A few months later, however, he learned she had incorporated his and others' ideas into her own grant proposal.
Working with a little-known local nonprofit -- The Institute for Community Collaboration, run by the South Florida Regional Planning Council -- Holloman received $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to start something called the Legacy Communities Initiative. She hired a farmer and a chef to teach poor, often-homeless people to cook healthful food. The trainees received a weekly stipend. Many even found jobs afterward. Yet other local gardeners had doubts.
"They were gardening in red mulch, but it's poisonous," says Roger Horne of Urban GreenWorks. "And [the] menus were all about fried food, burgers, and conch."
Records also raised questions about the program. Over the course of six months, Holloman herself received nearly as much as all of the students combined: $87,500. But Legacy Communities Initiative's money dried up after half a year. Then Holloman disappeared from Liberty City. She is now back in the Grove, as the vice chairwoman of the much-maligned charter school, Academy of Arts and Minds.
"When the money ran out, she ran out," Knight says. "When they have these types of reputations, why do we keep managing to give these people money?"