Leading up to the interview with Oliver Gilbert I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, I knew that there would be some type of connection because we’re both born and raised In the sunshine state, Florida and apparently love the sound of jazz. But, when you’re invited to the fashion capital of the world, New York, you tend to put your best looks forward— that’s just what Oliver Gilbert, Mayor of Miami Gardens did! By that I mean, wearing a checkered trench coat long enough to compliment his physique— with carefully chosen buttons— one being a yellow waving hand, a floral bowtie, and impressive patent leather loafers. Whether you like it or not, his style is a true reflection of his pursuit of braving limitations with himself and the community he serves.
As someone appointed with an immeasurable amount of responsibilities, Gilbert has contributed to evolving Miami Gardens with one of the most cultures filled musical festival experiences ever, Jazz In The Gardens coming March. The artists, culture, and style can be seen here.
Aside from leaning in with the Mayor— harmonizing R&B group Jagged Edge tunes, who is a part of this year’s JITG musical lineup, he recounted his humble beginnings as a kid from Miami Gardens to becoming its Mayor. It’s moving, fascinating and all ahead.
First things first. How do you feel to be in New York City, the Capital of the world?
This is my second time to New York within three weeks— I was a keynote speaker on economic development. The song that goes through my head is Frank Sinatra “New York, New York”, Gilbert sings “Start spreading the news..” New York is amazing! You can see high-fashion in the same corner you see a fruit stand.
What have been some of your most profound moments as the Mayor of Miami Gardens?
I would say when we passed the 61 million General Obligation Bond to restore all the parks to incorporate science technology, mathematics, television production and martial arts— In doing that, it really inspired the community because it showed that we were willing to look forward to greater things. It was that moment I knew that the people of Miami Gardens can do anything if we work together. That stands out.
When I became a mayor, we didn’t have jurisdiction control over the stadium or Miami Dolphins, which is in Miami Gardens. I went in with the intentionality of not just becoming the mayor of part of the city, but the whole city. And, so, doubters said it would never happen— Now, I’m the mayor of the Miami Dolphins. And, the Miami Dolphins are building their football headquarters in Miami Gardens. So it’s all about building that relationship to help the people of the community understand that we need each other. Miami Beach has a beach and Miami Gardens has a stadium and a football team. We can develop around that. These things are what helps the community to thrive.
It’s also the little things. I was shopping in Wal-Mart and two girls stopped me and they reminded me that I gave them computers. I have a program where I donate computers to kids who graduate from high school and are off to college. Not all the time do I get to see the kids I’ve helped along the way. The little things that can be considered to be small actually make a big difference for somebody.
Gilbert says with gratitude, “When you marry your hometown, everything is personal. It’s been a ride.”
How exciting! You’ve done so much to enrich your community.
I don’t have a chance to be disconnected or removed. I’m in this with them. The feeling of accomplishments and achievements with new businesses opening and new developments are astounding. In 2020 Miami Gardens will be hosting Super Bowl. Not to mention, Jazz In The Gardens that’s coming up in March. We are truly making it happen! We lend our common voices to a common effort.
With your charisma people probably wouldn’t think your job isn’t as challenging as it is. How do you manage to keep it cool?
It is not easy. It is hard. One thing that I think keeps me going is combatting the limitations of myself and the people of the city. Depending on who you ask, statically, I should have died or in prison. I should have been homeless. That’s the message that I take when I speak to kids in the community. I have the benefit of looking at situations holistically and understanding to not just focus on the bad headline of a story. The story as the Mayor of Miami Gardens is the story of the kid who went to school in Miami Gardens, who studied at FAMU—came back and went to law school and graduated with honors and became the mayor of his home town. That work, that energy, that effort is undefeated. I get to see and experience, absolute sadness, an absolute joy. Having that type of balance is what keeps me moving forward.
JITG, Jazz In The Gardens is approaching. The talent is unmatched. What do you hope this year’s production will bring to the community?
It’s doing the most important thing right now and that is being in front of you. It gives me the opportunity to be in a place like this, New York, to talk about my hometown. JITG is our introduction. It started off as a very small concept for our residence to inviting thousands of people around the world. It’s symbolic of what we can do. That’s how innovative we are as a community. From a city that was created in 2003— not having the ability to distinguish itself from the greater South Florida and Miami area to define itself. We now have a very specific identity. JITG was created to introduce us to the world!
What’s next after serving your times as the Mayor of Miami Gardens?
I’m going to run for political office and county commissioner. I created something called the office of civic engagement. Its purpose is to encourage voters registration and education year-round without regard to the election. I want to create a community that votes. I want people to be scared by the number of people that vote in Miami Gardens. I want town hall meetings done here. I want to excite the community about that. I want them to know their power.
All images provided by Aman Lexidor Photography