In one of the myriad student walkouts following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, a Broward high school student was threatened with suspension. Upon learning of the trouble, his mentor, Opa-locka Commissioner Matthew Pigatt, called the school’s principal. He also had fellow mentor in Broward speak with the school. Because of the intervention, the student did not face a sanction.
Friends such as attorney Stephen Hunter Johnson aren’t surprised. “That’s Matthew. He’s tireless, and he’s willing to advocate for the community and constituents,” said Johnson, president of the 100 Black Men of South Florida. “And he’s tireless for being an advocate for our boys.”
For Pigatt, it was a way of helping a young Black male the way someone helped him 15 years earlier when he faced much more serious problems as a wayward teenager.
“I was a young Black man like everyone else. I got caught up in the streets of South Florida,” said Pigatt. He doesn’t specify what he did; that’s in the past, he said.
But whatever it was caused him to catch a felony charge in a Miami-Dade County Courtroom. Somehow fate intervened, and his mother, Valerie, enrolled him in a leadership program with the 100 Black Men of South Florida. That experience connected him with professional Black males — people he said he rarely saw.
Through his involvement with that organization, Pigatt caught a break and got a conditional admission into Morehouse College in Atlanta. That bit of good fortune was the spark he needed.
“I had a 2.7 GPA and all loans the first two years. I was on academic probation, so I had to pass every class, or I would be sent home,” he said. The Morehouse experience taught him leadership that would later inspire him to run for political office. “Morehouse says we must be candles in the dark,” said Pigatt. After graduation, he lived in Washington, D.C., and worked as a researcher, before returning to South Florida. He eventually settled in Opa-locka.
But his introduction to the City Commission in late 2014 was rocky. He peppered the commissioners with questions about the late Terence Pinder, who was re-elected to the commission, after being removed in 2006 on public corruption charges. His victory came with conditions from the state attorney’s office that Pinder could not vote on any ordinances or resolutions involving finances.
That didn’t sit well with Pigatt. “How did we elect someone who can’t do their job?” Pigatt asked. That question caused an uproar that nearly led to an altercation with another audience member.
“I went to three meetings, and two of them I was threatened with going to jail,” said Pigatt. “I was asking questions and I guess I ruffled feathers.”
Now Pigatt is the youngest member of the Opa-locka dais. He brands himself as a new breed of lawmaker. Some constituents agree. “He’s doing an amazing job,” said Natasha English-Erving, a longtime resident. “We could use people with a vision for the city. What I love most is his eagerness to teach. He educates people on what’s on the agenda, how to understand the agenda, and how to understand politics.”
Pigatt is in his second year with the commission. The road is sometimes still rocky. He has been on the losing side of some issues. A recent attempt by him to replace the city manager failed 4-1. English-Erving has noticed. “He’s the most-disrespected person who sits on that panel,” she said.
Pigatt seems undaunted. Once a month, he visits a different spot in the city and talks with residents about their issues and also upcoming legislation. He hopes to encourage them to get involved as constituents or possible commission candidates.
“We need more people engaged in office, and we need more people to run for office,” he said. “We need a new generation of leadership desperately in Opa-locka.