Building On A Rich Tennis Legacy

Coco Gauff plays on her “home” court at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.

I saw the future of women’s tennis Saturday night and her name is Coco.

At age 15, Coco Gauff has become a global sensation. But she’s also a native of Delray Beach and seeing her on the stadium court in her hometown was something special.

In its 23 year history, the Delray Open never featured a woman’s match. So history was made when Coco took on NCAA singles champ Estela Perez-Somarriba of the University of Miami Saturday night before a packed house.

It was a spirited match. Coco won in straight sets and the crowd was loud, large and thrilled to be seeing a local prodigy.

We saw many of our neighbors and friends.  Delray came out to support their hometown hero and it was a moment of civic pride in a city sorely needing one at the moment.

I’ve been watching tennis since I was 8 or 9 years old and every year we used to go to the U.S. Open. So I’ve seen them all from Billie Jean and Chrissie to Steffi and the Williams sisters.

Coco has the chops.

She moved beautifully, has a powerful serve, a deft drop shot, is not afraid to to rush the net and has crisp and powerful ground strokes. She’s the real deal.

But what distinguishes her is her competitive spirit. You can see it, you can feel it, she’s not afraid of the spotlight. She knows she belongs.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her family for years and they are lovely people. Based on her interviews, Coco seems grounded, humble and gracious. She reminds me of her grandmother Yvonne Odom, who is also a local historical figure. Mrs. Odom was the first African American to attend Atlantic High School and has been a civic leader for decades.

In her post match comments, Coco praised her opponent, talked glowingly about her hometown and was self deprecating— noting she lost a first round junior match a few years back at the Delray Tennis Center. She shows abundant signs of maturity, far, far, beyond her 15 years. That’s going to be important as she progresses in her career.

While Coco is the latest great tennis story in Delray, she’s not the first.

Delray has a rich tennis history.

In addition to the Delray Open and Coco, the city once hosted the event that became the Miami Open, is home to many touring pro’s and saw prodigies such as the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick cut their teeth on local courts.

Visionary Ian Laver created the Laver’s Resort off of Linton Boulevard, a project built around tennis. We once were home to the Sunshine and Continental Cups, hosted Fed and Davis Cup ties, senior events, national junior championships and more.

Center court at the stadium has seen the likes of Chris Evert (who hosts her Pro-Celebrity Classic there every year)  Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Lindsay Davenport, the Bryan Brothers, James Blake as well as locals Vince Spadea, Aaron Krickstein and Kevin Anderson who liked the town so much he bought a place here.

And the list goes on.

We should celebrate our tennis heritage. It’s special.

And it brings excitement, publicity and dollars to Delray.

The Tennis Channel is airing the tournament all week, junior events bring “heads in beds” during off peak months and the branding opportunities are endless and global. It is worth our investment and it’s worth it for us to nurture the sport too by giving some thought to how it fits into the bigger picture.

Coco is the latest and may yet end up the greatest of Delray tennis stories.

She’s part of a rich legacy. And a source of hometown pride.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: oh the places she will go. And oh the places tennis can take us.

President’s Day Special: Time With Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest  is a History Channel special about George Washington

I absolutely adore Doris Kearns Goodwin.

And who better to talk about on President’s Day than one of our nation’s foremost presidential historians?

My admiration for Doris Kearns Goodwin goes way back, I love her books, enjoy her TV appearances and anxiously await her next work—which now includes film making (Check out “Washington” on The History Channel).

So when she came to FAU, we gobbled up tickets, got lucky and ended up in the front row in what was a sold out house. At age 77, after a Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal and several best-selling books, Doris Kearns Goodwin is a rock star. That alone ought to make you optimistic about America.

Ms. Goodwin was in Boca to talk about her new book “Leadership in Turbulent Times.”
While the book is not about our current turbulent time, the great thing about history is that if we care to look, the past holds lessons for our present and our future.

“Leadership in Turbulent Times” is about Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson—presidents who Goodwin calls her “guys.”

When writing about her subjects, Goodwin “lives” with them so to speak; reading their letters, speeches and diaries and any relevant document that has to do with their lives and times. It does make one wonder how future historians will navigate our digital times. Goodwin muses that perhaps they will comb through emails (if they are kept) and tweets. It is an interesting question.

Regardless, in writing about FDR, TR, LBJ and Lincoln we as Americans can learn what it takes to be an effective leader. Not a perfect leader or a mistake free leader—they simply don’t exist, but a leader who makes an impact.

What makes Goodwin’s writing and speaking so interesting is she shares the “warts” (as she calls them) that all leaders have.

Lincoln lost several elections. He was almost comfortable with failure, but never gave up on winning.

FDR dealt with a Great Depression, a World War and a debilitating bout with polio. He built his upper body strength by crawling around for hours on the floor dragging his body.

LBJ’s legacy includes Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights and voting rights but also Vietnam. He told great tales, had boundless energy, won countless political fights but was broken by Vietnam, which inflicted untold damage on countless people.

Yes, all great leaders have warts. But they also have strengths that enable them to handle difficult times and leave a mark on the world.

Goodwin outlines six traits of great leaders. It’s a great list and very important to review as we vote in a few weeks for national and local candidates.

Here they are:

Empathy-–a feel for other people and an ability to identify with other points of view. Empathy is an essential trait of any successful leader and any successful human being, she added.

Resilience—an ability to learn and persevere when difficulties arise. In public life, in any leadership role, you are bound to get hit with a hay maker punch or two (maybe even more) but great leaders get up, dust themselves off and find a way forward. They are resilient and they get better as a result.

Communication—a leader’s ability to communicate can make all the difference. Leaders frame issues, raise important questions and are able to articulate controversial positions and why they must make some difficult decisions to benefit the greater good.

Openness to growth—an ability to evolve as you learn and as you gain experience. If you already think you know it all or are the smartest guy or gal in the room, you are off track. And you will fail as a leader. Leadership is a growth experience, but only if you are open to learning.

Impulse control- Sometimes knowing what not to say is as important as what a leader does say. Strong leaders know when to bite their tongue—and are better for it.

Relaxation—Our most iconic presidents knew that getting away from The White House could help them become better leaders. We need to balance our lives and find time to renew.

Pretty solid advice.

To these amazing traits,  I would add integrity, which is the basis for all leadership. Vision doesn’t hurt either.

What to watch for?
Narcissism, egomania, bullying, meanness and a need to win every argument. Leaders need to be able to let go—you win some, you lose some that’s the nature of life.

We can do worse than listen to our historians when we choose our present day leaders; that goes for the White House to City Hall.

I’ll stick with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wisdom any day.

 

15 Years…

Jerrod Miller

Fifteen years is a long time.

Fifteen years is the blink of an eye.

Fifteen years ago this month, Jerrod Miller lost his life at the age of 15 outside a school dance at the Delray Full Service Center.

Just like my daughter, Jerrod would be 30 years old today if not for a bullet fired on a crisp February night by a rookie Delray police officer.

Jerrod Miller died exactly 7 years to the day before Trayvon Martin, 17, lost his life after an encounter with a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.

People remember Trayvon. I’m afraid that Jerrod might be fading from memory in the consciousness of the larger Delray Beach community.

Oh, I’m sure his friends, family, neighbors, congregants at his church and his teachers still grieve his loss as I do. But the lessons we were supposed to learn, the strides we were supposed to make are at risk on this somber anniversary of a tragedy which also happens to dovetail with Black History Month.

Delray like so much of America wrestles with race. We have a fraught history in this community. We have a dividing line at Swinton. We are diverse but segregated at the same time. Sometimes it makes for a combustible mix.

In a little more than a month, we will head to the polls to choose from among a slew of candidates for two city commission seats. If we are Democrats, we will also vote for a challenger to take on President Trump.

Ironically, I was at Mar A Lago, the night Jerrod Miller was shot while driving his uncle’s Cadillac in our southwest neighborhood, a place now known as The Set. I saw the future president that night as he whisked by and never dreamed he would be president. I was not at his gold leafed resort for a political function that night but rather a charitable event. My phone would ring in the early morning hours with the news of the fatal shooting. I knew immediately that life would not be the same.

When police shootings occur, a dynamic occurs—a tornado of media, lawyers, union reps, police investigators, prosecutors, media, activists, hate mail, threats, anger, anxiety and crushing sadness.

Absolute crushing sadness.

As a mayor, you become isolated—from your colleagues on the commission and from everyone really. It’s a lonely place and there is no playbook to reference.

I think of that lonely place whenever I hear of bad things happening. I know there’s hurting families, anxious policymakers and sad police officers in whatever community bears the byline of tragedy.

For 15 years now, I have had recurring dreams about a young man I never knew in life. I saw him only once—in a casket, at his funeral—at the 7th Day Adventist Church in our northwest neighborhood. I met and admired his pastor. I knew his father—not the biological opportunist who showed up after the shooting–but the man who Jerrod knew as his dad.  And I met his grandmother who sat quietly with us in a room at Old School Square during our race relations workshops.

Over the years, I have met his friends, a cousin and his twin brother Sherrod, a young man deeply haunted by the loss of his brother. We had a tearful meeting a few years back along with several police officers who were on the scene that fateful evening. We tried to reach Sherrod. I think he wanted to be reached. But we failed….he failed too. For now anyway…maybe someday.

Sometimes that’s what happens, but it is so very hard to accept.

In a month or so we will choose elected officials and who we choose matters. Yes these people will be tasked with the usual—how to manage growth, how to keep the millage rate from spiking and how to keep up with the needs and controversies of a bustling city/village.

But they might also find themselves dealing with something wholly unexpected—an act of violence, a natural disaster or in the case of Mayor Dave Schmidt who I sat next to for three years on the dais, the presence of terrorists in little old Delray. Stuff happens, as they say.

Me…I’m concerned about race relations in our community. I have been for a long time now.

There are real issues out there: equity issues, housing issues, the need for jobs and opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

There are social issues too—abuse and neglect, poverty and addiction that touch every part of this city.

And there are political issues too—feuds and splits wrapped up in race that have stoked anger, resentment and sadness.

When you ignore a toxic brew of emotions they tend not to dissipate but to fester. That’s dangerous.

Powering ahead does not solve anything—there will be a reckoning and often times reckonings are ugly.

Here’s hoping that whoever is elected or re-elected in March that they stop and consider the important work of community building and improved race relations. We might not be able to heal our divided nation but we can make a difference right here in our community. We can set an example.

If we don’t try we will continue to fray at the seams—ever so slowly…until one day we break.

 

 

 

 

The Innovator’s Dilemma Applies to Cities Too

 Clayton Christensen, was a Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

Clayton Christensen died on January 23 and it’s a big deal and a really big loss for all of us who love business and entrepreneurship.

He was only 67 years old when he died of complications after a long battle with leukemia.

Back in 1997, Christensen wrote a classic book called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” It has been called the most influential business book of the last 30 years.

Since the book came out, I’ve lost count of how many times I have been in an entrepreneur’s office and seen “The Innovators Dilemma” on a shelf.

I smile when I see the book because it tells me a lot about the entrepreneur I am meeting. It shows me that he or she is not overconfident. It tells me they are wrestling with the great questions that creating anything of value requires us to answer.

Last week, Christensen’s last interview was published in the MIT Sloan Management Review and it’s a good one. Here’s the link: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/an-interview-with-clayton-m-christensen/?utm_source=El1&utm_medium=pr&utm_campaign=Chris0220

The theory of the Innovators Dilemma addresses the issue of disruption. The dynamics that allowed Netflix to obliterate Blockbuster Video or the iPhone to render the Blackberry obsolete. In his last interview, Christensen says companies still haven’t solved the Innovator’s Dilemma 23 years after his book made us aware and gave us some tools to address the issue.

“Companies certainly know more about disruption than they did in 1995, but I still speak and write to executives who haven’t grasped the implications of the theory. The forces that combine to cause disruption are like gravity…they are constant and always at work within and around them. It takes very skilled and very astute leaders to be navigating disruption on a daily basis.

In my experience, it seems that it’s often easier for executives to spot disruptions occurring in someone else’s industry rather than their own, where their deep and nuanced knowledge can sometimes distract them from seeing the writing on the wall.”

Indeed.

I’ve referenced Christensen’s work in the businesses I’ve been involved in and I also put his theory to the test in reference to cities. The best way to avoid being disrupted and put out of business is to foster a culture of innovation. Christensen talks about innovation in relation to prosperity and growth in America in his last interview.

“In…The Prosperity Paradox, we describe three types of innovation…’sustaining innovations,’ which… is the process of making good products better…’efficiency innovation,’ which is when a company tries to do more with less…and ‘market-creating innovations,’ meaning they build a new market for new customers.’ [The last category] are the source of growth in any economy… My sense is that we in the United States, like many other developed countries, are investing far too much energy in efficiency and sustaining innovations, and not enough in market-creating innovations.”

Interesting especially if you run this through the lens of fostering a great city.

Yes, we can take what’s already working and make it better and we can strive to do more with less but the key is to open up new markets. The secret to lasting success is to be open to new ideas, to resist complacency and to try some stuff.

Better an ‘oops’, than an ‘if’.

On the municipal level, most mistakes aren’t fatal. You will never bat 1.000 but you may learn some things that help you figure it out down the road.

In cities, you always try to make what works even better—so Boca keep your pristine parks and Delray don’t mess too much with Atlantic Avenue or the beach—you can always be more efficient but in order to stay on top you need to keep innovating.

Boca can re-invent Federal Highway and Delray can and should transform and improve Congress Avenue and The Set. Create new markets, Professor Christensen advised us, and you won’t be disrupted by that city next door who will steal your jobs, commerce, residents and talent if you are smug, complacent or dysfunctional.

We’ll miss the good professor. When asked how he wanted to be remembered. Here’s what he said:

“I want to be remembered for my faith in God and my belief that he wants all of mankind to be successful. The only way to make this happen is to help individual people become better people, and innovation is the key to unlocking evermore opportunities to do that.”

Amen.

 

 

 

Trying (Desperately) To Live A Well Read Life

Highly recommend this gem of a book.

Before the internet became so encompassing I was a voracious reader of books.

Physical books. You know the kind: with paper, glue and binding.

I always had two and sometimes three books going at the same time—to fit different moods or different geographies in my house and car. There was always a nightstand book to fall asleep with, a book for the den and sometimes a book for the car so I could read a few pages if I got to a meeting early (and I’m always early).

Then the smart phone arrived and my reading habits changed. Now instead of reading at night, I find myself catching up on email, surfing the web or trying to beat Scott Porten in Words with Friends. And instead of reading in my car waiting for a meeting to begin, I find myself returning calls or sending texts.

Oh, I never stopped reading books but now it seems like it takes forever to get through them. I think my attention span has been shortened; retrained by internet videos and memes for the short hit and not the long term commitment a great book demands.

But I still love to read and I know it’s good for me, so I am determined to absorb as many good books as I can. And I am talking the physical kind, not the Kindle versions. I want to make notes, fold pages, underline passages and carry them with me on trips. I want to hold on to the physical experience—too much of our lives are digital these days.

Still, it’s a challenge to balance the demands of the constant barrage of emails, texts, notifications, beeps, buzzes and birthday notices.

So somewhere along the line you have to prioritize and you have to come up with a strategy.

I was reminded of a good one over the holidays when I ran into Steve Leveen, an old friend, fellow book lover and co-founder of Levenger, a company dedicated to serving the needs of readers.

Years ago, Steve wrote his own book, “The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life” and in that book he let us  in on a secret. It’s OK to put down a book you are not enjoying in order to make room for one you might enjoy.

Now that’s a pretty simple concept. But for me it was profound, because typically once I’ve made the investment of time and money, I’m going finish the book even if…well even if the book was boring me to tears.

I’ve slogged through tomes as a result. And guess what, it’s not a badge of honor and it’s not smart either.

It just means I will never get to a book I will love which means that I might miss that insight that could help me or someone else in my life.

So Steve Leveen liberated me. Because if he—a true book lover—can put down a book that doesn’t resonate— well then so could I.

Seeing him over the holidays reminded me of that wonderful lesson. And so I quit a book I was laboring over and opened a great new book which I can’t put down.

I read recently (in the Harvard Business Review no less) that the independent bookstore is making a comeback after years of being devastated by chains and Amazon.

That’s good news. Because there’s a whole world to discover in books and a whole world outside of our phones.

On Being A Citizen

Armand Mouw

Ernie Simon

Last week, author/blogger/marketing guru Seth Godin wrote about “choosing” to be a citizen.

It was a short piece, but impactful.

Check it out:

“Citizens aren’t profit-seeking agents who are simply constrained by rules. Citizens behave even if there isn’t a rule about it.

 

Citizens aren’t craven partisans, voting for party over fact. Citizens do the right thing because they can, even if the short-term cost is high.

 

Citizens live by the rule of community: If everyone did what I’m about to do, would it lead to a useful outcome?

 

Sometimes we call citizens heroes, which is a shame, because their actions should be commonplace, not rare. The myth of success based on short-term self-interest has been disproven again and again. It seems obvious that leaving things better than you found them is a powerful step forward, because you’ll probably be back this way again one day soon.

 

Every successful community, every organization, every family has citizens. It’s the citizens who define the future, because their commitment to the long-term matters.”

 

I loved this piece, because in recent weeks we lost two amazing “citizens” who embodied that word and were devoted long term players who made a tremendous positive difference over a long period of time.

Armand Mouw was a city commissioner in the 90s, a critical time in Delray’s history. He brought gravitas and business acumen to the dais. He was a military veteran, a construction executive who founded Mouw Associates, a terrific local firm and spoke with a no nonsense common sense rationality that seems so rare today. He passed recently and although I hadn’t seen him around town lately, he was a fixture for decades and left a lasting impact. He was a really good citizen.

Same for our friend Ernie Simon, who passed last week.

Ernie was a pillar of the community for decades, a member of a pioneer family, a judge, an attorney, a devoted Rotarian and someone who deeply loved the Delray Playhouse, which is an unsung jewel in our community.

Ernie always wore a smile. He loved Delray Beach and the people in his community loved him back. He was very special.

Mr. Simon was a citizen who was rooted here, dedicated to this place and someone who made a lasting impact as a result of that dedication.

 

A frequent topic of this little blog is this concept of what it really means to be a village; what it takes to build a community, to put down roots, make friends, give something back, invest yourself in a place.

There are many ways to describe this concept but it can be boiled down to a single word. And that word is love.

Making a decision to serve, truly serve is an act of love. Giving your heart to a place for decades is a labor of love. Mr. Mouw did it. Mr. Simon did it and thankfully we have many examples to guide us, inspire us and if we choose— inform us too.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the concept of statesmanship which is defined as “skill in managing public affairs.”

It seems so rare these days.

To paraphrase a song: Where have all the lions and lionesses gone?

The great ones know how to lead, serve, compromise, take the long term view and commit to a cause. They don’t take their ball and go home if things don’t go their way. They understand that in life we win some and we lose some. They are good at building consensus and very good at explaining why sometimes tough decisions—not necessarily popular in the moment—need to be made.

They are grounded. They are future focused willing to build for a tomorrow they may not see. They are the adults in the room.

We’ve had a slew of those types of people in our community: Libby Wesley, H. Ruth and C. Spencer Pompey, Nancy Hurd, Frances Bourque, Barbara Smith, Bob Costin, Bob Currie, Bob Victorin, Kerry Koen, Bob Barcinski, Rick Overman, Vera Farrington, Chip Stokes, Bump Mitchell, Dorothy Ellington, Lula Butler, Joe Gillie, Susan Ruby, Bill Wood and a woman I have gotten to know and love with all my heart Diane Colonna. This list can go on and on and on—mayors, commissioners, police officers, firefighters, city staff, volunteers, business leaders, religious leaders and non-profit directors etc. etc.

Please don’t be offended if you weren’t mentioned on this list—I’m far from finished telling local stories.

I see more than a few bright young leaders coming up who are making some noise on a grassroots level. So I have hope for our future.

We need more citizens and it is something we choose to be; because it is the Armand Mouw’s and Ernie Simon’s who have made this a special place—unlike any other place. Progress is not accidental—sometimes you get lucky but it never lasts. Real, sustainable progress requires citizens—check that Citizens—with a capital C. It’s the Citizens who move the needle and change the game.

We should embrace them, celebrate them and build around them. We have so much more to do.

Thanks Armand and thanks Ernie for a job well done.

It’s our turn now.

Things We Loved And People We Lost in January

CC Teneal and the Soul Kamotion Band rocked the Arts Garage. If you can, make sure to see them on the next visit to town.

Things we Loved in January

Lunch at Granger’s. It’s always good.
The cool weather.  This is why we live here.
The grand opening of the  new Whole Foods on Linton Boulevard. 
Welcome aboard Jessica Steinweg, the new director of marketing at Old School Square.
Ms. Steinweg comes to OSS from Brandstar, a brand marketing agency. We wish her well.
Sitting outside at the Seagate Hotel on a beautiful evening enjoying happy hour and great conversation. Just perfect. The hummus is awfully good too, just saying.
Dinner at J Alexander’s after a movie. Just a great combo.
A day on the Avenue with friends and family. Lunch at City Oyster and a stroll. Such a nice way to spend a beautiful winter day.
The wings and margaritas at Driftwood in Boynton Beach are as good as these things get.
The stagiano salad at Renzo’s is also as good as a salad gets. Which is pretty good.
The kale salad at Rex Baron in Boca is not too shabby either.
Don’t miss the Linda Ronstadt documentary on CNN on Demand. It’s amazing. She’s amazing. What a wonderful talent and beautiful soul. A true American treasure.
Other recommendations: Knives Out, The Two Popes and Mrs. Maisel season three. Marriage Story for the great acting and Once upon a Time in Hollywood for the great chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Don’t miss Bombshell either.
Nice to see WBO Middleweight Champion Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade train at the Delray Beach Boxing Club.
Andrade will fight Jan. 30 in Miami. He’s a former Olympian and undefeated as a pro.
Good to see City Commissioner Ryan Boylston and County Commissioner Bob Weinroth serve as judges at the High School Ethics Bowl at FAU. 
We love dogs. And we love Tri-County Rescue.
So it was cool to see that 30 of the 80 dogs rescued from the Puerto Rican earthquake are ready for adoption now. Visit Tri County Animal Rescue on Boca Rio Road and rescue your new best friend.
A good time was had by all at the sold out annual Arts Garage Gala last weekend. 
Great music courtesy of Ce CE Teneal and the Soul Kamotion Band, great food by Chez Gourmet and a lively crowd made for a wonderful night. 
Another great run at the Australian Open for Delray’s own Coco Gauff. She also made the U.S. Fed Cup team. A grand slam is in her future. Also, great to see her grand mother Yvonne get some props in the Washington Post. She would have made a great City Conmissioner.
We mourn the loss of two Delray icons and civic giants.

We lost former city commissioner Armand Mouw a few weeks back.
He was a nice man and a good elected official too. Why? Because he wasn’t political. He called it like he saw it. He brought a lot of common sense, civility (there’s that word again) and business acumen to the dais in the early 90s when he served.
I was a young reporter back then and Mr. Mouw was always kind and always accessible.
He brought a lot of knowledge as a construction executive to the city at a time when the Decade of Excellence was getting under way. He will be deeply missed,  a true gentleman.

Mr. Mouw had an amazing career as CEO of Mouw Associates and was very influential in his field and in the business community.  He was just a wonderful man.
We also mourn the loss of Ernie Simon.
You can write a book about Mr. Simon who was deeply involved in the Delray Playhouse, ran for mayor in 1990, was a dedicated Rotarian, a city judge (back when they had those), a business leader and a terrific attorney.
He was always so kind to me and was the law partner of my predecessor as mayor, Dave Schmidt.
I remember our chats, his sense of humor, his kindness and the twinkle in his eye.
They just don’t make em like that anymore. Ernie loved Delray and Delray loved Ernie Simon.
 
 

Celebrating A Champion

5X NBA Champion

 

Kobe Bryant was once  asked how he dealt with the everyday criticism and hatred of others, by a fan who added the hashtag “#QuestionforGOAT.”

His answer?

“I don’t.”

You have to love that answer.

It speaks to a champion’s heart.

“Haters are a good problem to have,” Kobe once said. ” Nobody hates the good ones. They hate the great ones.”

Isn’t that the truth. Sad as it may be.

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter crash yesterday prompted a worldwide outpouring of shock and sadness.

Bryant, only 41, was soaring in his post basketball career, an inspiration not only to sports fans but also to mid and late career professionals who admired his entrepreneurial endeavors and his ability to reinvent himself after a legendary career with the Lakers.

Many athletes can’t make the transition after their sports careers end.

They miss the cheers and adulation and live in the past chasing the glory days.

Not Kobe.

He became an investor, entrepreneur, creator, artist and reportedly a very devoted dad.

He understood that his relentless will to win would also lead to success in business.

Based on some recent articles, it seems he was fulfilled and excited about the future. There’s no doubt that his second act was shaping up to be legendary as well.

It’s a shame that we will never get to see the next chapter.

I enjoy reading about successful people. What makes them tick? What keeps them going once they succeed? What enables them to keep trying when they fail?

The great ones are truly different. They are truly special.

They inspire us, energize us, challenge us and take us to new places.

Kobe was one of those people.

He was some kind of basketball player. Just a next level talent and competitor.

He was doing some special things as an entrepreneur too.

What a loss.

Indescribable.

Keep your loved ones close. It’s all so fragile. And can be taken away in an instant.

It Takes Leadership to Keep A Village

Last February, journalist Timothy P. Carney published a provocative book entitled “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse.”

It’s a hard hitting book that examines whether the American dream is alive, on life support, or dead.

The conclusion: it’s alive in places like Chevy Chase Village, Maryland where the author lives and dead in places across America where the jobs have disappeared along with the social ties that bind us as Americans.

I’m reading the book and it’s riveting.

Mr. Carney is a well-known conservative writer and I’m decidedly not conservative—still it’s good to expose your mind to other perspectives, especially intelligent ones.

Carney’s hypothesis is that the American dream dies in places that lose their sense of community. When the ties that bind no longer apply—be they church, service organizations, sports leagues, book clubs, neighborhood associations etc.—pretty soon the dream dies with it.

Humans are not meant to be unmoored.

We are social creatures and we are fragile.

Things happen to us.

Accidents, job losses, debt, fires, violence, addiction.

Cancer.

We are vulnerable beings. We grow old and frail, or we are young and unable to fend for ourselves. Sometimes we get sick and sometimes we lose our jobs and fall on hard times.

That’s when we rely on our family, friends, jobs, church, synagogue, service club and neighbors to step in and cushion the pain.

But, Carney argues, those things are fraying in America these days– at least in many places hard hit by economic hardship.

I saw a recent stat that floored me—1 in 7 children in America are growing up in households where one or more parents suffer from addiction. That piece of information was part of a story on what social scientists are now calling “deaths from despair.” There’s actually a category describing those who die from suicide, opioid abuse and alcohol poisoning.

Despair sets in when you lose hope; when there does not seem to be a viable alternative to the pain that engulfs your life.

There are whole towns and regions in America that feel this way. Hence, the divide in this country.

Sometimes I feel like we don’t live in the real world here in South Florida.

Nobody blinks when a Ferrari roars past, nobody thinks it’s odd to see homes in the Lake Ida neighborhood sell for $2 million plus, we take investment for granted as if its business as usual that someone can drop $40 million for the Sundy House and $28 million for a few old buildings on Atlantic Avenue.

We ring our hands over the silliest things but you don’t have to travel very far in our All America City to see poverty. There are families who can’t afford school lunches for their kids. We are no strangers to substance abuse and the ravages of the opioid epidemic. We have homelessness and plenty of despair in our community.

Still, I wonder about our focus and priorities.

Sometimes, at the end of a long day I will sit back on my couch mindlessly watching some reality show trying to quiet my brain until 9 p.m. comes and I can crawl up to bed only to get up at 5 a.m. and do it all over again.

I have a good life, so that’s not a complaint. I’ve been fortunate, lucky even. And for that I am grateful.

But there are times when I take a look at social media and watch the armchair trolls duke it out on all things Delray and it makes me aware of how far we’ve strayed from the place I discovered by happenstance in 1987.

We were a poor city back then, with no reserves, a weak tax base, high crime, dangerous racial divisions, a dead downtown, distressed neighborhoods and……a ton of potential.

Rather than succumb to despair, the community worked together and put in place a plan to revitalize the city. We were circling the drain but we would not be flushed away.

It was something to watch and thrilling to write about and experience.

Reading Tim Carney’s book and his description of Chevy Chase Village reminded me of that long ago Delray.

Chevy Chase has a senior committee, a speaker series, neighborhood parties, a strong volunteer base and a resilient network of organizations that bind the community together. It’s hard to get tickets to the annual school Christmas concert because the whole town wants to go to see “their kids.”

The African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” is a truism.

We talk often about being a village but I wonder if we truly know what it takes to act like one. Just what we are doing to make this a kinder, more inclusive place?

Usually discussions about being “village like” focuses on development and yes the quality, design and scale of development is very important.

But….

But there is more.

A whole lot more.

Building and maintaining a sense of community requires commitment and a constant effort to engage stakeholders and seek ways to bring people together.

What does that look like?

It means we have strong faith communities, town hall meetings, charrettes, engaged non-profits, a vibrant arts scene, involvement in our schools, community projects we take pride in, active neighborhood associations and events that draw the community. We have public spaces that are inviting and a wide variety of activities. We also take care of our own when bad things happen—as they inevitably do.

It also means that when we disagree we can do so civilly. We can let go if we lose a vote or if things don’t go our way. We don’t beat people up because we can. We don’t disparage their character or question their motives just because we disagree on one or a hundred issues.

None of this of course is rocket science. But all of it takes an effort. It requires leadership—true leadership which is not a position or a title but how you treat people and how you serve.

It requires dedication and a rock solid commitment to be there for the long haul.

There was a time when local government led these community building efforts.

We had a Community Improvement Department that helped to form and strengthen neighborhood associations. That amazing department conducted Citizen Academies, sponsored neighborhood leaders to attend national conferences so they could come back and help Delray and worked with local schools.

The Commission hosted community pot luck dinners and city government worked closely with non-profits.

And it made a difference.

It felt like a village.

To break bread with neighbors, to literally draw the future at a visioning session, to volunteer for a favorite non-profit, to enjoy seeing friends and neighbors at a festival builds community. And the list of community building/trust building activities goes on and on.

It feel like home.

Kind of the opposite of Facebook.

To be sure, there are plenty of great efforts happening now—the Delray Beach Initiative, EJS Project, Old School Square, Roots and Wings, Knights of Pythagoras,  the wonderful work being done at the library, Historic Society and Milagro Center, the hard work being done by our Chamber of Commerce and much more.

But, I don’t know too many people who would argue that the public square isn’t more toxic than it used to be.

The impact of that toxicity limits the pool of people willing to serve in public office. Oh, they may serve on a board or two, but they stop short of running.

Not that the public square has ever been safe.  It has always required thick skin—I can show you more than a few bruises myself. But this looks and feels different.

It has become more personal.

If I were running today—I’d make this election about culture.

What kind of village do we want to live in?
It’s a fundamental and important choice and it goes way, way beyond the latest development project.

And more important than any other decision we can make. If we choose right, we can meet any challenge and seize any opportunity. Choose wrong and it will be a long, ugly slide. I’d argue that we’ve been on that slide for a long time now. It is time for a reset. Before we squander the lead that we worked so hard to achieve.

MLK Day 2020

Today is MLK Day.
It’s a special day.
A day to reflect. A day to take stock. A day to look back and a day to think about our future.
We are challenged by this holiday and by the legacy of Dr. King to do more, be more, love more and envision a more perfect union.
We have come a long way but we also have a long way to go. We see that there are forces in our society that would take us backward. We cannot let that happen. Not as Americans and not as residents of our local communities.
I worry about race relations in our country. But I also worry about race relations in our city. I see the fissures. I see the cracks. I can sense the anger and the frustration.
We would be foolish to ignore it.
Division doesn’t just go away. It takes an effort to build bridges and to mend fences.  It takes both love and strength. One cannot exist without the other.
Below are ten of my favorite MLK quotes.
I hope you find as much inspiration in these words as I have throughout my life.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”
“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”