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Catalyst to Community Collaboration and Change in Miami-Dade County

Prosperity Now

By Jalaycia Lewis

This articile originally appeared at Prosperity Now.

Note from Catalyst Miami: Applications are now open for Catalyst to the Capital 2023. Apply at by November 11th!

A group shot of one of Catalyst Miami's trips to the capital.

Reimagining economic justice for all does not start within our organization’s offices, buildings and video conferences. This conversation is shaped as we work to meet the needs of community members across the country. At the center of initiatives to create equitable access, investments and wealth-building opportunities for communities of color, are organizations like Catalyst Miami. Catalyst Miami is a non-profit organization in the heart of Miami-Dade County that is committed to creating impact from within through people-led strategies. To learn more about this organization’s work, we interviewed Zelalem Adefris, the Deputy CEO of Catalyst Miami.

Hello Zelalem, thank you for taking the time to speak with us, tell me a little bit about your organization in your own words. What do you do? Who do you serve? 

I am the Deputy CEO of Catalyst Miami, an economic justice organization based in Miami-Dade County, Florida. We do a lot, which includes direct services, policy and advocacy work, free grassroots education programs, community organizing, and then small business support. Additionally, we are incubating worker cooperatives here in Miami-Dade County. Our target population is low-wealth Miami County residents. 

What are some successes you would like to highlight from your work in the community? 

I've been on staff for almost seven years so there is so much to choose from. In my policy and advocacy work, I have been able to witness indicators of progress for long-term systems change. For example, policy work is really slow. The challenge lies in getting governments to change the way they do work and policy initiatives, however, over the years I've witnessed a culture shift. Most likely not fast enough, but there have been shifts in the way governments interact with and engage community members. Community members are demanding more, have built connections, and are forcing accessibility in order to have accountability. So, when I feel low, I think about what it was like when I got here and the fact that change can be slow, but you see the progress. 

What tools, resources, etc. have helped make your work a success? 

First and foremost, humility. When I first started at this organization, I did not feel like an expert. I turned to our community members, partners, and my colleagues to gather expertise. Early on I learned that we cannot build resources for people without their input—no success lies in such. I firmly believe that collaboration is a great tool for success. 

What was your favorite part of the Prosperity Now Summit*, any takeaways? 

I really liked the opening plenary, hearing from Manuel Pastor and Common, WOW! I appreciated the conversation and mention of “The Solidarity Economics” which I am currently reading. In the closing plenary, the speakers discussed the government as it relates to organizing, voting, and upcoming elections, which I found to be very useful. A speaker talked about organizing in a way that really resonated with me; organizing is like causing a crisis. This is not to literally mean we are igniting a crisis rather it is our duty to create urgency, because the issues we see are urgent. There is not a perfect time, nor should we wait for whatever disaster is on the brink (i.e., COVID-19). As an organizer, this has stuck with me over the past few weeks. 

* Editors  

What about you? What has led you to do this work? What drives you? 

So, I came to this work through public health. I was always interested in racial health disparities because my mom is a doctor and spoke a lot about cultural competency in her work. I pursued public health, then found my way into environmental health. I studied the impact that our land, air, and water have on the health of communities of color. Specifically, how Black communities are targeted for pollution and affected disproportionately. This work has allowed me to reflect on my upbringing and the racism I experienced, that my family experienced, to further my pursuit of addressing these issues at the root. 

In a plenary, a speaker mentioned, “...But you need to keep going”, after listing how hard this work is. I wasn't expecting them to end the sentence in that way and it was eye opening. The community members are my driving force. If I wasn't working with them, I do not know what I would be doing. They are the best partners. They allow me to wake up and know that what I am doing has a real impact on people. Through our conversations and learning, I have developed long-term relationships that I value so much. 

What’s next for Catalyst Miami? 

We are currently recruiting for our annual advocacy trip to Tallahassee. If you are in Miami-Dade County or South Florida, we would love to have you. Please apply! 

Catalyst to the Capital - Catalyst Miami 


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