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- 1997-2012 (Creation)
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Power U for Social Change was founded in 1999 by renowned activists Denise Perry and Sheila O’Farrell. Perry has been a dedicated international labor and community organizer for over twenty-five years; she has organized health care workers into labor unions in the east and southeastern U.S. and worked throughout Africa and the Caribbean to train and work with women labor activists as a part of the Women’s Global Equity Project. Power U was originally based in the historic Black community of Miami, Overtown (1896), as the organization formed in order to fight for solutions to threats being faced by this area specifically, such as poor-quality, unaffordable housing, and gentrification. However, in latter years Power U has placed additional focus on working with schools to advocate for young students of color, as well as continuing to address issues of environmental justice and emerging challenges faced by vulnerable communities.
Being a historically Black neighborhood, Overtown – named “Colored” town in the Jim Crow Era – has been variously subject to state neglect and, in recent years, an excess of attention; however, the continuity between the discrepancies in how Overtown has been (dis)engaged with lie in the fact that at no point has the county championed the interests of the residents. Once a bustling center of Black industry, Overtown has been in decline since the early 1960s when the construction of the highway I-95 decimated the business district and led to the removal of 10,000 people¹. In the years leading up to the founding of Power U, Overtown became under threat again but for different reasons. Samara and Chang narrate, “Long neglected, the Overtown neighborhood has in recent years become an area of interest to the city and to developers. The ‘revitalization’ of Miami has made Overtown suddenly valuable again, but the proximity of a poor, Black neighborhood to downtown stands as a glaring obstacle to urban renewal. This combination of ‘bad’ people and good land could only mean one thing in the new Miami: the neighborhood had to be redeveloped” (14). The notion that Overtown is “suddenly valuable again” is a story that is having yet another revival in context of Black neighborhoods in Miami such as Little Haiti and parts of Allapattah where the pressures of rising sea levels have galvanized interest in these elevated areas². Therefore, both Power U’s initial and continued work in Overtown has proven to be vital in an area that is under consistent threat; for example, in 2003 they stopped the expansion of an I-95 ramp that would cause further destruction in addition to the initial damage wreaked by the highway. In addition, in 2008 Power U created the Renter Majority Project in response to the growing epidemic of substandard living conditions and illegal evictions in Overtown, the renters being at the mercy of “slumlords³.” With the assistance of the Community Justice Project and DataCenter, they undertook a huge survey of individual people in the neighborhoods of Liberty City, Little Haiti, Wynwood, Allapattah, Overtown, Coconut Grove, and Little Havana which evaluated housing costs, quality, and renter rights⁴. The report, “State of Miami Renters,” was subsequently published in June 2012⁵.
In 2007, in response to the violent repression of a peaceful student demonstration in a predominantly Black high school in Miami’s urban core, Power U became actively involved in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and promote restorative justice practices in schools. Their development of restorative justice practices, including the anti-criminalization of school children, was a focused extension of work they had already begun to revitalize Miami’s school system, such as obtaining one million dollars in funding for school improvements. In 2003, they provided certified graduation for more than one hundred and forty students who had met all graduation requirements but failed to graduate on the basis of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which has already attracted huge criticism on the basis that the State set achievement goals on the basis of race and ethnicity, and set far higher and harder to achieve goals for Black and Hispanic students, for example, than it did for white and Asian students⁶. In the same year, they also established the People of Color Alliance for Public Schools. Throughout Power U’s various endeavors, the voices of the children actually affected by racist practices that have compromised their educational pathways are consistently centralized. In 2012 in association with Advancement Project⁷, Power U released a video documentary in which students of color discussed their personal experiences of the school discipline crisis in South Florida, explaining how they felt pushed out of the classroom and racially targeted by school staff through harsh disciplinary practices that were not commensurate with the codes of conduct they had supposedly broken⁸. Their efforts seemed to have paid off when, in 2015, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) announced that they would no longer suspend students from school, but rather send them to “Student Success Centers,” which would offer additional support to struggling students. However, as detailed in Power U’s 2017 report, Miami-Dade County Public Schools: The Hidden Truth, which was a result of interviews and surveys of over five hundred young people, these success centers are anything but successful and are actually serving to mask continuing systemic discriminatory practices in Miami’s schools.
Founded by feminist activists, unsurprisingly Power U has consistently advocated and developed programming specifically for women and Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) youth. In 2009, they launched their first reproductive justice project, Powerful Women and Families (PWF). PWF worked towards developing Black mothers’ consciousness and organizing skills to increase their agency over their own birthing experiences. Through a variety of workshops, training, and campaigns Power U aimed to demystify the medicalization of birthing, expose community members to the tradition of midwifery, and extolled the benefits of breastfeeding. Because of resource constraints, Power U unfortunately had to discontinue the PWF program but stays committed to maintaining reproductive justice as a crucial element of their work. For example, Power U runs programs at a local alternative high school for young parents, which combines birth and political education to develop participants’ awareness of reproductive justice, criminalization, and restorative justice. More so, in The Hidden Truth Power U dedicated substantial space to specifically analyze Miami-Dade County public schools in terms of the experiences of young Black femmes and Transgender and Gender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) students. In the report they argued, “If our schools continue to be environments where girls’ bodies, sexualities and identities are preyed upon and objectified, our schools will continue to be unsafe” (10).
Aside from their continued projects and advocacy, key to Power U as an organization is the sustained recruitment of new generations of Black and Brown working-class activists, who through social media and on-the-ground organizing, continue to safeguard Power U’s presence as a resource for some of the most vulnerable populations in Miami.
UGrow Fellow for the Department of Manuscripts and Archives Management, 2019-2020
¹ See also N. B. D. Connolly. “Colored, Caribbean, and Condemned: Miami's Overtown District and the Cultural Expense Progress, 1940-1970.” Caribbean Studies, vol. 34, no. 1, 2006, pp. 3–60.
² See Jesse M. Keenan, Thomas Hill, and Anurag Gumber. “Climate gentrification: from theory to empiricism in Miami-Dade County, Florida.” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 13, no. 5, 2018, iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aabb32.
³ See Roshan Nebhrajani. “Smashing the Slumlords in Liberty City.” The New Tropic, 26 Jan. 2017, thenewtropic.com/smashing
slumlords-liberty-city/. Also, see website for the organization Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH), www.smash.miami/.
⁴ For more information about the Community Justice Project see: Community Justice Project Records, Special Collections, University of Miami Libraries.
⁵ Power U for Social Change, Community Justice Project, and DataCenter. “State of Miami Renters.” June 2012, pp. 1-23, static1.squarespace.com/static/54179ca4e4b0b0c7bc710d3d/t/54225611e4b097e05f75b895/1411536401877/State+of+Renter+Report.pdf
⁶ See John O’ Connor. “Explaining Florida’s New Race-Based Achievement Goals.” State Impact: NPR, 15 Oct. 2012, stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2012/10/15/explaining-floridas-new-race-based-achievement-goals/.
⁷ See advancementproject.org/ for details about the Advancement Project.
⁸ See video here: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=159&v=sbkfdg84g8U&feature=emb_title.
Power U and Advancement Project. Miami-Dade County Public Schools: The Hidden Truth. October 2017.
Samara, Tony Roshan, and Grace Chang. “Gentrifying Downtown Miami.” Race, Poverty & the Environment, vol. 15, no. 1, 2008, pp. 14–16.
System of arrangement
The collection has been organized into 9 series:
Series 1: Workshop and Training Materials
Series 2: Campaign Materials
Series 3: Administrative Files
Series 4: Photographs
Series 5: Publications
Series 6: Subject Files
Series 7: Audio/Visual Materials
Series 8: Oversized Materials
Series 9: Power U for Social Change Web Collection
The series are described in more detail in the container list portion of the finding aid.
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Power U Center for Social Change Website
Information about related materials is available at http://poweru.org/about-us/
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- Power U Center for Social Change (Creator)