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‘Her leadership and foundation are still moving to this day’: Remembering Shirley Gibson

Woman speaks in front of a microphone with pen in her hand
Allison Diaz
The Miami Herald
Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson died on Oct. 16, 2023.

The late Shirley Gibson, the first mayor of Miami Gardens and a chief driver of its founding, has been remembered for her public service and vision following her passing earlier this month.

This year Miami Gardens is celebrating its 20th anniversary — a milestone that is due largely to the tenacity of Gibson, who died Oct. 16 at the age of 79.

Speaking on The South Florida Roundup, Democratic state Senator Shevrin Jones said Gibson's leadership was valued because she wasn’t a politician, but, rather, a public servant.

“She did not want power. She wanted to ensure that people had access. She wanted to ensure that the community where she lived and where her children were being raised, was the same type of community that other people and their children had experienced,” he said.

Gibson helped create the city back in 2003. Back then, she faced a host of forces that wanted to block its incorporation. But today it’s the largest predominantly Black city in Florida and the third largest city in Miami-Dade County.

Miami Gardens has experienced a challenging 20 years, socially and economically. But these days the city’s crime and poverty rates, for example, are lower than Miami-Dade’s as a whole.

Democratic state Representative Felicia Robinson knew Gibson well — she served as a Miami Gardens city council member at one point when Gibson was mayor. Apart from Gibson’s vision, Robinson says Miami Gardens has been able to push forward because of her drive to build a community.

“She really wanted to point out [that] we have a community of excellence. So we didn't just want to be a city,” Robinson told SFR. She said that the Miami Gardens she grew up in her was made up of hard-working, working-class people.

“Although we were making sure we had the infrastructure, it was also important for us to really build that community amongst our residents, [to] bring us in together and to show that we really care and that if we work together and we believe that, we can have it.”

Putting Miami Gardens on the map

The late mayor was a major part of putting the city of Miami Gardens on the map. She ensured that it had its own police force, insisted it be the home of Hard Rock Stadium and the Miami Dolphins, and introduced events like Jazz in the Gardens.

“Mayor Gibson and the commission at that time wanted to show that that Miami Gardens was more than just what people thought it was," said Senator Jones. "And they wanted to show the culture. [Miami Gardens is] the next Atlanta. It’s thriving."

He added, "The leadership and foundation that she set [are] still moving to this day. The council, they are moving in the spirit of Shirley Gibson and that same spirit will linger for years to come."

You can listen to their full conversation above.

Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
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