A Dream to Watch: 2 Black Entrepreneurs Consider New Residential / Mixed-Use Community | Notice
It does me good to learn from black people who want to make changes in our community for the good of all. Melvin Bratton and Audrey James are those kinds of people. Together they imagined a dream so big and beautiful that for some it would seem almost impossible.
Their dream is called the Poinciana Project – a new community where there will be housing, jobs, a market with an upscale indoor food court with foods from different cultures – Bahamian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, black soul food and Haitian cuisine. There will also be a business school, various shops and beauty salons, hair salons, a supermarket and gas stations, to name a few.
And Bratton and James say their dream is within reach.
“It’s doable,” said Bratton, founder of the Zenith Developers Group, because we have the finances in place – $ 300 million – and I have formed a partnership with Ms. James, founder of the Luther James Cox Community Development Corporation. . , a 501c3 domestic CDC, which will allow it to be a lender to all the companies that will be part of the project. She is one of five people in Florida and the only minority woman to hold a 501c3 domestic CDC, ”Bratton said.
Unlikely business partners
Bratton and James both come from humble backgrounds. Both grew up in the Liberty Square Housing project at different times and both graduated from Northwestern High School – James in 1977 and Bratton in 1983. Yet these are the two most unlikely business partners you can meet.
Audrey Cox James was born in Lois, South Carolina, to Luther James Cox and Irene Drayton. They moved to Miami during World War II in search of a better life and settled in the Liberty Square housing project. His father was one of the brave soldiers who invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944.
After graduating from Miami Northwestern High School, James went to work for the Department of Child and Family Services in 1978. She retired in 2005 as a Supervisory Behavior Specialist II. Upon retirement, James became a lawyer for black World War II veterans. She said it was her way of wanting to keep her father’s legacy alive and also a way to help black WWII veterans who seemed overlooked by the country they served.
“I put food in my car and go to the vets to make sure they have food,” James said. “That’s what my dad wanted me to do.
It was through James’ efforts that his father was posthumously awarded the Gold Seal in 2008 by President George Bush.
One of the veterans she served was the late Charles Adderley, who at his death was Miami’s longest-serving World War II veteran. It was raining the day she stopped to bring him a package of food. “As I stood in the doorway, I detected a musty smell. When I looked inside, it was actually raining in his house. I promised him that I would help him.
And she did. Eventually, the entire Adderley house was renovated and he became something of a celebrity, appearing on several national TV shows before his death in 2019.
Bratton, who teamed up with James about nine months ago, was a star athlete at Miami Northwestern High School where he was a running back and state champion in 120 hurdles. He is part of the Florida High School Track Hall of Fame and the University of Miami Football Hall of Fame.
At the University of Miami, Bratton was injured in the last college game of the season, which was the 1988 national championship game against Oklahoma. Despite that, the Miami Dolphins took a chance on him and drafted him in the sixth round, even with his knee injured.
“I didn’t sign with the Dolphins, but I came back to the draft the following year and was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round. In 1989, Bratton started with the Broncos as a rookie in the Super Bowl. He played for two years with the Broncos before retiring in 1991 due to his knee injury.
Since retiring from the NFL, Bratton has made his home in Miami and Atlanta. The divorced father of three said he had no time to waste.
“Whenever I hear about young black boys being on the wrong side of the law, I think, ‘They’re me.’ I lived in the Liberty Square Housing Project, but spent a lot of time at the James E. Scott Project in the Poinciana area, where my father Melvin L. Bratton, a former Miami Garden Commissioner, grew up. I had a lot of parents there and my uncle Moses (Pee Wee) Bratton taught me how to play football. At the time, my uncle Pee Wee started a project league and we played against kids in various projects, ”Bratton said.
“I remember starting my sports career at Poinciana / Gwen Cherry Park. At the time, various college recruiters came to the park to watch me train and run. I’ve always been so grateful for what I learned and received at the park, that right after being drafted by the Broncos, I came back to the park and held my first NFL football camp there. Church’s Chicken Restaurant was our sponsor, and I had celebrities like Barry Sanders and Steve Atwater, who are both now Football Hall of Famers, come in to help me cheer on the kids.
“It was a hell of a time. It looks like I nurtured the whole project that day, ”he said with a laugh. “My goal was to show the kids in the neighborhood that if I could do something on my own, they could too. “
Challenges ahead for the plan
Bratton, a graduate in business administration from the University of Miami, is also an NFL / NBA sports agent. He launched the Zenith Developers Group in 2020, with the mission of developing the Poinciana park area.
“It’s very important to me because Poinciana / Gwen Cherry Park is where I started my career in sport,” he said. “The Poinciana project is estimated at $ 300 million and we have the funding in place. I’ve partnered with Ms. James and Luther James Cox’s CDC, and if we’re lucky enough to grow this project, not only will we provide 1,500 jobs, but we will donate 20% of all income to Miami-Dade County.
“We just want to have the opportunity to present our full plan to the mayor and the Miami-Dade County commission. I want them to see that a person who grew up in Poinciana Park can come back and make a difference – build a better neighborhood. It’s wonderful to be in the University of Miami Football Hall, but for me, it would be much better to be in the Hall of Fame in my neighborhood.
Bratton said he and James hope to be on the Commission’s agenda in the coming months to present their full plan for the Poinciana project.
It is a plan that deserves to be considered.