$1M mystery: Miami commissioners grill nonprofit before voting not to provide promised funds

Money allocated for wellness and violence prevention

MIAMI – In 2021, the city of Miami promised the nonprofit Circle of Brotherhood $1 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for a “Public Housing and Community Wellness Initiative,” but the nonprofit’s executives say the city never delivered.

On Thursday, city commissioners grilled Circle of Brotherhood’s executive director, Lyle Muhammad over its finances, as they decided whether to allocate the funds to the nonprofit.

That included a tense exchange between Muhammad and Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla.

“I didn’t know we had to come here and divest our financial portfolio,” Muhammad said.

“Of course, if you’re asking for money, you always have to divest your financial portfolio,” Diaz de la Portilla replied.

“For the record: No other organization under the 2021 (American Rescue Plan Act) allocations has been put through this. Not one,” Muhammad said.

“It’s federal law,” Diaz de la Portilla interjected.

Muhammad believes Commissioner Christine King stripped them of the funding allocation.

He and other members of the nonprofit had already posed for a photo with Mayor Francis Suarez and a $1 million giant check.

“In respect to the mayor, I think he was blindsided by that,” Muhammad said. “I can’t think of one logical, ethical or moral reason for keeping $1 million from going to the Black community to deal with wellness and violence prevention -- not one.”

On Jan. 12, just before King joined the mayor for a news conference about STEM grants, Local 10 News raised the organization’s concerns with her, extending an invitation to schedule an interview to address the claims.

That never happened.

King, who said during the meeting that the funding promise was made prior to her time in office, also did not respond to Local 10 News reporter Christina Vazquez’s questions during a break in the meeting.

King later sent a statement to Local 10 News.

“In today’s Commission meeting, I expressed support for the Circle of Brotherhood and the Mayor’s funding commitment which took place before I was in office,” she said. “As Commissioner of District Five and prior CEO & President of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation, I know how valuable this organization is to our community. We look forward to their continued work.”

Ultimately, King voted with the majority of commissioners to give Circle of Brotherhood the funds — but a mere majority wasn’t enough.

The allocation required a unanimous vote. Diaz de la Portilla was the lone dissenter among the four commissioners, but that was sufficient to cause the funding allocation to fail.

Following the defeat, Muhammad said the organization intends to continue its work serving the community.

Outline of initiative:

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.