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SHAME: City of Miami failed to make good on a promised $1 million in federal funds for black-led nonprofit

The Circle of Brotherhood’s social media bio says, “Black Men Solving Their Own Community Problems.” This seems like a good motto, since the City of Miami didn’t give the black-led nonprofit the $1 million in federal money it was supposed to get from the city.

In October 2021, Mayor Francis Suarez held a press conference and gave the Circle of Brotherhood a $1 million check in the shape of a giant check. He did this to show how dedicated the group was to helping the Black community. The nonprofit was started in 2013 to deal with problems caused by more crime in Miami’s fifth district.

Since it was started, the Circle of Brotherhood has run programs in the city’s Black neighborhoods to help with community service, crime prevention, youth mentoring, and economic growth.

After putting it off for more than a year, the city commission voted on Jan. 26 to give the money. In the end, the resolution failed by a vote of 3-1, with Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla being the only one to vote against it. This was because Commissioner Joe Carollo’s line of questions, which went in circles, made him worry about how much money the nonprofit had in the bank.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes wanted to vote in the morning, but Chairwoman Christine King said they had to wait until the afternoon to give Mr. Carollo and Mr. Diaz de la Portilla more time to talk about the issue. To pass, the resolution needed four-fifths of the votes. Since the seat for district two was open, all of the other commissioners had to agree.

When the commissioners came to the afternoon meeting an hour and a half late, Mr. Carollo asked for more information about how the money would be split up. The American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, gave the city a grant of $137 million, which is where the money is coming from. The money would be given out as reimbursements if the Circle of Brotherhood could show that it spent the money correctly.

This made Mr. Carollo and Mr. Diaz de la Portilla wonder about the group’s portfolio of investments. “How do we know that they have the money in the bank that we’re going to give them back?” Mr. Carollo was curious.

This led to a back-and-forth between the two commissioners and a staff member from the Office of Management and Budget, who reminded them that the group has to give detailed information about what it has spent before it can be paid back.

Even though Mr. Carollo and Mr. Diaz de la Portilla knew that the money would only be paid out as a reimbursement, they kept asking if the Circle of Brotherhood had enough money.

The executive director of the Circle of Brotherhood, Lyle Muhammad, said, “I find that question pretty insulting because we have more than enough money in our bank account right now to cover any possible reimbursement from the city.”

Mr. Muhammad said that no other group’s finances were looked at as closely as the Circle of Brotherhood’s were because of the 2021 ARPA rules. Earlier that day, the commission agreed unanimously to give $500,000 from ARPA to another nonprofit without talking about its finances.

In the resolution’s background information, it says that the city’s ARPA consultant looked at the Circle of Brotherhood’s request for funding and decided that it is eligible to get ARPA funds.

The city won’t give the Circle of Brotherhood the $1 million it said it would because the group said the commission didn’t do enough to help the Black community. In the past few months, the brotherhood has been very upset with the commission. This is because the commission got rid of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust and took over its management, getting rid of the majority-Black leadership.

Kathy Parks Suarez, a candidate for District Two commissioner, asked the commission to think again and support the Circle of Brotherhood.

“I have worked with these people, and what they do is amazing. They only want to go to the first step. “They have to fill out so much paperwork before they can move on,” Ms. Parks Suarez said. “We have given money to the West Grove for ARPA projects that are questionable and will go on to the federal level. I would love to get together with you all.”

Even though Mayor Suarez didn’t give them the money he said he would, the Circle of Brotherhood told city commissioners that they would continue to help Miami’s Black community with or without city help.

Alfred Duncan

Alfred Duncan is a senior editor at The South Florida Daily, where he oversees our coverage of politics, misinformation, health and economics. Alfred is a former reporter and editor for BuzzFeed News, National Geographic and USA Today.

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