PRINCETON, N.J. — The mayor of Miami said that President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) Initiative has yielded positive results for Black and Hispanic men in his city.
“There were people who told me, ‘Don’t do it. You may end up with egg in your face,’” said Tomás Pedro Regalado, the Republican Cuban-born mayor who was elected in 2009. “We decided to risk it, and was the third city to take the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ challenge.”
As a result of directing additional resources and efforts to young men of color, Regalado says that more than 2,000 Black and Hispanic high schoolers have taken the MBK pledge and have expressed their interest in attending college someday.
The popular mayor made his remarks during a visit to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, N.J on Thursday where he shared best practices with education and nonprofit leaders from the region interested in how Miami has successfully been able to curtail gun violence and improve the graduation rates of young men of color.
Regalado said that the city has implemented several initiatives, including a successful gun buy-back program at local Miami churches to tackle the problem head-on. Over the last three years, 12,740 weapons — 700 of them assault weapons — were turned in to authorities who gave out gift cards donated by local businesses in exchange for the guns, he said
“If we did it at the police station, no one would show up,” he said adding that authorities do not ask individuals any questions, including their name or address. “If by turning in 700 assault rifles we avoid one death, that’s a good thing.”
A former broadcast journalist, Regalado praised the Miami-Dade public schools with a miraculous turn-around under the leadership of Alberto M. Carvalho.
“He really gets it,” Regalado said. “They have brought that school system from an ‘F’ rating 7 years ago to an ‘A+’ today,” he said of the fourth largest school system in the nation with 360,000 students and an annual budget of $3.2 billion.
Regalado called for a “level playing field,” and said that the city’s investment in the Police Athletic League (PAL), where police officers tutor and mentor young men have helped to reduce crimes. He said that every sworn city police officer in the city of Miami has to enroll in a course that is taught by instructors at Florida International University and focuses on diversity and de-escalation.
“We are ahead of the curve,” said Regalado. “The theme of the Miami police department is, ‘Let’s fill parks, not jails,’” he said, adding that despite steady progress, economic challenges remain in a city where despite its diversity, the cost of living has become too expensive.
“I think that in Miami, we don’t have an unemployment problem,” he said, adding that the unemployment rate in the city is about 5 percent. “We have a problem with underemployment. I think it’s important that we have a conversation about higher skill jobs.”
Because of the high number of low-paying jobs that were created as a result of Miami’s booming tourism industry, he said that he worries that many of the city’s college students will be forced to settle in Orlando, New York or Los Angeles once they graduate in order to secure a high-paying job.
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson