Vote YES on Amendment 8
I will vote YES for Amendment 8.
Now, I know some will say, “Of course, you’d say yes, Geoff, you work for a community college.” And I’d have to admit that I do have a personal stake in the passage of this amendment. But as many readers of this blog also know that among the other things that I carried with me from Jamaica (literature, Reggae, Rastafari), I believe very much in the concept of InI—the individual recognizing his unity with himself and his community. So this decision is not only about me, but also about my community. And as someone who has worked in Miami for the past thirty years, I’ve seen firsthand the beneficial changes that Miami Dade College has brought to the lives of our community. I am one of those beneficiaries.
Back in 1979 when my family moved to Florida, we didn’t have a lot of money. My mother, ever the Christian woman who obeyed the laws of God and Manley, came to America with legal minimum. We lived with my aunt in Hollywood, Florida. After a few months, my sister and I pitched in, got jobs and with the help of my aunt, bought a house in Carol City.
After working for six months as a bag boy at Publix for about six months, I knew that couldn’t work like that for the rest of my life. I had to go to college, but I didn’t want to go to Miami Dade Community College. It was too embarrassing. All of my friends had graduated from UWI, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, and Cambridge. And although, I had gotten a scholarship to Barry College, I was still in a legal limbo, and the money for the rest of the costs wasn’t there. I gritted my teeth, swallowed hard, and applied to Miami Dade Community College. I was sure that I wasn’t going to waste my time there.
I finished my all my credits for my AA degree in a year and a half and won several scholarships to attend the University of Miami. I was going to leave the stigma of going to community college behind me forever. What I hadn’t counted on, however, was catching the attention of several professors who urged me to work as a peer tutor in College Prep., and to help other students who were struggling with their English classes. Of course, I jumped at the idea and continued to work at Miami Dade Community College during my undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Miami.
My relationship with Miami Dade Community College continued even after I completed my MA at the University of Miami. I worked with Dade County Public Schools and once the hiring freeze ended at Miami Dade Community College, I took a pay cut and taught everything from remedial English to creative writing. I did this for sixteen years and through our official name change to Miami Dade College until I became the chairperson of College Prep.
My story is unique in the details, but the arc of the narrative has been multiplied 1.5 million times in a city with a population of 2.4 million. Miami Dade College has helped to change so many lives for the better. And especially the lives of women. 58% of our currently enrolled students (160,000) are female. Many of them are the heads of households, have two jobs, at least one dependent, and are sending money “back home.” And yet they find the time and money to take at least three or six credits at one of our 8 campuses and outreach centers. Miami Dade College as the largest community college in the nation has been doing what community colleges around the nation have been doing: breaking the cycle of poverty.
I’ve seen it. Students who were homeless or lived in shelters have graduated and become homeowners and tax paying citizens. Many of my students who have come from the Caribbean and South America with even less than my family had, now greet me in the supermarket, and drive away in BMWs and Saabs filled with groceries.
Yet despite all the good that community colleges and Miami Dade College, in particular, have done, there is opposition to Amendment 8. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “it's the state's -- not local authorities' -- job to support them.” I agree with the sentiment, but the legislature has not been funding community colleges at the same level as the state universities. In fact, MDC receives one-third of state funding per student than is provided for other state educational institutions. And at time when many of the state universities have been closing their doors to students and laying off faculty, Miami Dade College continues its open door policy and is hiring new faculty.
But all of this is beside the point. Amendment 8 is about choice and opportunity—two things at which Miami Dade College has excelled for the past forty years. We have lived up to our motto: “Opportunity Changes Everything.” This is why I will be voting YES on Amendment 8.