“Homegrown” is the first word Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Reggie Leon uses to describe himself. The word is not only a testament to the fact he was born and raised in the predominantly Black city, but also to his commitment to improving his community.
Now in his third year in office, Leon has recently worked on creating programs to help aspiring homeowners achieve their residential dreams.
“It’s for people in my generation who actually grew up here, but can’t afford to live here,” he said of the work. “You have teachers, postal workers and police officers who are being priced out on purchasing homes. We want to make sure that they have the resources to purchase here.”
Leon also spearheaded an effort to provide more COVID-19 testing for residents and, in time, vaccination sites.
He explained that at the beginning of the pandemic, the county placed the first testing site at Miami Gardens’ Hard Rock Stadium, but what officials didn’t realize was that many area residents do not own cars.
The 41-year-old knows that solutions to public health issues aren’t one size fits all. Establishing the testing facility in Miami Gardens, one of the first sites in the state aimed at Black Americans, helped dispel the myth that people of color weren’t getting tested for COVID-19.
Furthermore, Leon contributed to the testing effort by busing senior citizens to vaccination sites himself. He attributes his resourcefulness as vice mayor to his familiarity with the city.
Leon’s undying support for the community is reflected by each project he takes on. One of his biggest achievements was establishing a trolley system on the east side of the city. The endeavor had a simple goal – to help take kids to and from school, as well as help senior citizens get to their local pharmacy.
“It’s the small things. Right now is the time to really focus on the quality of life. We want to keep enhancing that,” he said.
Leon says he was inspired to pursue politics by several elected officials.
“Since I grew up in a single parent home, I had to – and I teach kids this all of the time – find a father figure in my own neighborhood,” said Leon, who’s raising daughters Raegan and Ivy.
Former Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III, now a Miami-Dade County commissioner, “took me under his wing and I shadowed him for many years to see what government was like,” he said.
Leon went on to study criminal justice at Florida Memorial University, South Florida’s only HBCU. During his student years, he participated in the NAACP Youth Council, where he was recruited to work on a campaign for Audrey King, one of the first councilmembers in the city of Miami Gardens when it was incorporated in 2003. Assisting King during her campaign pushed him to run for office.
“Different community-based organizations would help shape me to be a leader,” he said. “I don’t call myself a politician. But I am a first-generation leader in my family.”
Taylor Gutierrez is an NBCU fellow at Florida International University.