Miami’s biggest challenges are merely new calls to leadership: Ibargüen

Photo: Lilly WeinbergKnight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen addresses community leaders after accepting the Beacon Council Jay Malina Leadership Award on June 26, 2019. The text of his remarks is below.

When Susana and I arrived in Miami in 1995, one of the first people I met was this skinny, black-haired guy with glasses and a smile that was all teeth. He wanted me to feel welcome, to get me settled, to get me engaged. “Hello, my friend,” he’d say. “How are you, my friend?” Always, “my friend.”

Miami had previously gone through riots, Mariel, and Elian González. It was trying to absorb a wave of new immigrants from Latin America, in the wake of many thousands who moved north after Hurricane Andrew. The city was going west to the Everglades for locals, and up from the ground and against the ocean for New Yorkers, Latin Americans, and Europeans.

We were poised to split apart or to soar — and we soared because some of the people here tonight saw opportunity where others only mayhem. We had people with vision, courage, skill and tenacity. Local talent developed a vibrant downtown, significantly raised the level of our universities and medical centers, and made Miami a cultural destination, a hub of tech entrepreneurship and a beacon of freedom in the Hemisphere. 

When I see this town come together, I remember that guy with the glasses and the ever-ready smile, who thought everything was possible and for whom everyone was “my friend.” That guy was Jay Malina, a hard-numbers, business guy, determined and tenacious in his drive to make our city great.

I’m honored to receive the Jay Malina Leadership Award in the presence of so many of this community’s leaders. I accept it with respect for all of your contributions, and with pride and appreciation for my Knight Foundation, Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald colleagues, who deserve their fair share of credit for the development of journalism, arts and tech entrepreneurship in Miami.

I’m thrilled that Janá Sigars-Malina, is here. And most of all, I’m happy to receive this award because it gives me a chance, in front of Jay and Janá’s daughters, Brezlan and Makenna, to remind myself of some lessons from their father.

My friend Jay saw the possibility and power of one community, sharing one goal. But to have one community meant diversity and inclusion, and that meant some people would have to share power. And to share one goal meant giving up self-interest. Those were problems that Jay poked and prodded. He was both a part of and a pain in the side of the establishment. He played hardball and he sometimes lost. Some of you may remember he was pushed out of the Chamber of Commerce. But he was tenacious and One Community/One Goal moved to the Beacon Council, where it’s been sustained ever since.

If he were here, Jay would be thrilled to know the winners of tonight’s Beacon Awards. And he’d be impatient that we have so much work still to do as a community.

If he were here, Jay might share a vision of Miami as a hub of entrepreneurship and high growth enterprise that turns our geographic location at the center of the Americas — and our diversity into a defining advantage. He might also uncomfortably remind us that no civilization ever succeeded when it accepted transparently vast wealth inequality. He might point out, too, that we can’t succeed in a democracy if we don’t properly evolve our public schools, and that we’re Ground Zero for climate change. 

And he might say, with a grin, that these are not threats or warnings, but calls to leadership.

If you think these things are too big for us to tackle, Jay might point to our totally transformed skyline, our ability to hold the line on development into the Everglades, the evolution of Miami International Airport or to the amazing transformation of arts and culture in our town. He might also point out that 20 years ago, most of us wouldn’t have known what “early childhood readiness” was, but today, our Children’s Movement is a national example. And he’d take pride in the way this business community came together on the Amazon bid and say, “Hey, focus on the fact that we proved we can come together as one community with one goal. So, what’s our next objective?” 

He’d be exhilarated by the fact that we’re in the middle of a major, generational change of leadership in key businesses, in government and in civic institutions.  That will be a game changer.

Not long ago, in this county where most of us were born someplace else, we allowed ourselves to be defined by our differences and by our allegiance to where we came from. Today, we celebrate our diversity and our commitment to *this* community. 

I can feel the change and it fills me with hope. 

Thank you for this honor. And thank you for all you do to build our one community.