The Miami’s Wealth Gap Collection at Florida International University
These oral histories were conducted by FIU students in collaboration with Catalyst Miami and include interviews documenting the experiences of Miami-Dade residents facing the county’s persistent economic inequality. Participants include community advocates, members of Catalyst Miami programs, and a local public official. The narrators describe the interconnection between the wealth gap and issues of housing, business ownership, and the digital divide.
Florida International University students conducted these oral histories during the Fall 2022 semester for the ENC4331 course Writing, Rhetoric, and Community, taught by Dr. Marta Gierczyk. The project focused on oral history as a research method to explore the concepts of narrative, authorship, voice, and justice.
This project was completed with support from Catalyst Miami and FIU’s Digital Collections Center and the Digital Scholar Studio.Catalyst Miami
Cristina Livingston and Juan Vasquez
Oral history interview of Cristina Livingston by Juan Vasquez
In this interview, Cristina Livingston talks about coming to Miami at a young age, her first impression, and where she grew up. Ms. Livingston describes how she had been laid off due to COVID-19 shutdown, which eventually led to her eviction. She describes the process of fining and applying for help with temporary housing. She expressed her frustration with how things had been handled and the struggles that followed due to the lingering eviction record. Ms. Livingston also explained how eventually she was able to get a new place for her and her children to live in. She speaks about how educating people about housing resources, issues, and solutions is necessary to see positive change. She provides an example of how Catalyst Miami and the Miami Workers Center helped to educate her on these issues.
David Ebanks and Elijah Pestana
Oral history interview of David Ebanks by Elijah Pestana
In this interview, David Ebanks explains his backstory of coming to the United States as a child and the struggles that came with making a life in Miami as an immigrant. He explains his experience with homeownership, describes the different types of barriers to housing in Miami, and recounts his take on the connection between homeownership and generational wealth. David also tells us about his passion for helping others, and describes his community involvement as a social worker.
Eva Silot Bravo and Tom Matityahu
Oral history interview of Eva Silot Bravo by Tom Matityahu
Dr. Eva Silot Bravo spoke about her experience as a former diplomat, international negotiator, and representative in Cuba. She discusses her journey to the United States starting in 2003 after she defected from the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York to Mexico and ending in California. The bulk of the interview focused on her experiences in Miami where she started her business Alafia Creative Entertainment. Despite having various connections with people within her community, Dr. Eva was unable to successfully launch her business. She struggled under the brunt of financial costs needed to start her business. Dr. Eva mentions that she sought financial support from various organizations over the years but had been turned down several times. She discusses her Afro-Cuban descent and her position as a former Cuban diplomat as potential reasons businesses declined her request for support. The lack of support from organizations and her experience with unemployment were issues that spawned from the wealth gap, causing Dr. Bravo to leave Miami.
Ebani Thomas and Leor Koubi
Oral History of Ebani Thomas Conducted By Leor Koubi
In the interview, Ebani Thomas describes the early stages of her life in Liberty City, Miami, and how she still lives there today with her family. She also discusses her experience with college as a returning student, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, she recounts the challenges of online learning and having to digitally access all school materials for the first time in her life. In addition to the struggles with online learning, Ms. Thomas had to also navigate challenging transitions at work during the quarantine. Specifically, she was expected to complete all her work remotely, but was not provided the necessary equipment by her employer. She speaks about the challenges of balancing school, work, advocacy, and family life during that time. She believes that her purpose is to serve those in need in her community, and she discusses how difficult it became for her to do just that during a Pandemic.
Francoise Cham and Juan Vasquez
Oral history interview of Francois Cham by Juan Vasquez
In this interview, Francoise Cham describes her experience with Miami’s wealth gap as a resident and housing advocate with Catalyst Miami and other organizations. She speaks of the contrasts between Miami’s paradise-like landscapes and luxury high-rises and the city’s housing affordability crisis. She discusses how young people and professionals like teachers or nurses cannot afford to buy a home in Miami. From her personal experience, she discusses how extreme spikes in insurance premiums have brought her financial hardships and had detrimental effects on her experience with homeownership. She also discusses the dangers of unchecked gentrification, which leads to displacement of long-term residents and negative change to the character of the neighborhood. Specifically, she talks about unrestricted commerce like Airbnbs taking up her neighborhood, and how they can leave the place in bad condition and make it feel less like a neighborhood and more like a shopping center. Much of her interview focuses on solutions. For example, Francoise states that change is made on the policy level, and mentions the need for people to vote in local elections; she says that people that want change need to actively seek change. She also notes that many of the problems we face have simple solutions. But these solutions are too often obstructed by corruption and mismanagement of funds.
Fred Christian and Alyssa Vargas
Oral history interview of Fred Christian by Alyssa Vargas
In this interview, Fred Christian describes his experience being diagnosed with with Autism at age 43 and the struggles of living with undiagnosed disability and without healthcare for years.
He speaks about his activism for disability rights, healthcare, gun control, and housing. From this intersection of personal experience and advocacy work, Fred talks about barriers disabled people face with transportation and access to housing in Miami-Dade County. Fred’s describes the dire situation with housing unaffordability for the young generation in South Florida. He also discusses solutions, which would have to involve federal government.
Janielle Murphy and Sebastian Munoz
Oral history interview of Janielle Murphy by Sebastian Munoz
In the interview, Janielle Murphy describes how her work with the Miami-Dade County Head Start program has revealed to her students’ struggles with the digital divide. She elaborates on how helping children obtain the digital access they desperately need to succeed in the 21st century has become one of the most important aspects of her job. She also speaks about her family’s struggles with digital access during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laurie Scop and Leor Koubi
Oral History interview of Laurie Scop by Leor Koubi
In the interview, Laurie Scop discusses her experience as a state of Florida social worker providing digital resources to folks in need. She implores the need for digital access to those who have the least opportunities, particularly the homeless. She also discussed how children need access to technology in order to excel in school. Mrs. Scop focused how these digital divides are caused by South Florida's wealth and opportunity gaps. Additionally, she recounts her personal struggles with health and lacking a supporting network to rely on. She also pressed her own experience with someone trying to traffic her.
She mentioned putting these experiences into her memoir.
Lesline McKenzie and Martin Rago
Oral history interview of Lesline McKenzie by Martin Rago
In this interview, Lesline Mckenzie discusses her advocacy for digital access in Miami. Specifically, she describes the Broadband for Good program at the Frontier cruise-line where she works. Her employer provides equipment for schools and fosters care facilities as a part of community outreach. The interview describes the need for digital equity and provides overview of potential solutions. Mckenzie also describes Miami’s culture during the 1980s, and the change she witnesses returning over twenty years later. She describes how development and boon in restaurant and real estate business has made the city more appealing. But she also recognizes the potential risks of gentrification.
Linda Julien and Elijah Pestana
Oral history interview of Councilwoman Linda Julien by Elijah Pestana
In this interview, councilwoman Linda Julien explains how she became involved in public service and advocacy for the Miami Gardens community. She tells her backstory as a child of Haitian immigrants in South Florida, her background in real estate, and her experience with homeownership in Miami Gardens. She also describes the housing affordability crisis in Miami from both the renting and ownership perspective: from evictions and spiking rents to barriers like low inventory and high interest rates. She also emphasizes the importance of systemic change (including federal and local policies regarding housing) as a necessary solution to the dire situation of Miami’s unaffordability and wealth inequality.
Lynn Purcell and Martin Rago
Oral history interview of Lynn Purcell by Martin Rago
In this interview, Lynn Purcell speaks of her personal struggles with digital access and digital technology, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. She describes her difficulties an older student at Miami Dade College who didn’t have access to a computer and lacked the necessary knowledge regarding using a computer for schoolwork. She spoke at length about how in 2022 the access to technology and training in digital literacy is necessary to succeed at school, work, and any other aspect of life. A large part of her point is also about community uplift how those less fortunate should be helped; and once they are in a better position they will be able to uplift others.
Paul Jackson II and Cristina Baker
Oral history interview of Paul Jackson II by Cristina Baker
Mr. Jackson describes his experience growing up in an active and tight-knit community with strong family support and a heavy emphasis on education. He goes on to talk about attending different schools to have access to better resources such as extracurricular and athletic opportunities, as well as exposure to diverse social environments. He then describes how his teaching career began, what it was like creating a business during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his early experiences with entrepreneurship. Mr. Jackson concludes by stating that the wealth gap is a major issue in Miami. He believes that the size of the black population, in relation to their financial position, suggests there are concerning affairs at play. However, Jackson believes that building businesses based on solutions to community challenges has the potential to shrink this wealth gap.