MLK: Creating The Beloved Community

MLK

 

I find this an especially poignant and an especially important Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

My guess is that I am not alone.

MLK has been a lifelong hero of mine—if you are a leadership junkie like I am, you can’t help but be fascinated by Dr. King’s immense leadership skills.

If you’ve ever spoken publicly, you marvel at MLK’s off the charts oratorical skills and if you’ve been involved in any kind of community work you stand in awe of his vision, relevance and achievements.

We throw around the word giant too easily in this strange age we live in—but if you are looking for a true example of an icon, look no further than Dr. King.

I was honored to be asked to share some thoughts on one of my heroes with young student/leaders from our community last week on a streaming TV show called “Community Conversations.” The program is produced by the Boca Raton Tribune and streams on Facebook and Youtube. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYtp-hjvURY

 

It is a unique privilege to talk to young people these days, particularly because of the moment we are in.

America feels fragile today, our Democracy vulnerable. I just cannot shake the searing images of our Capitol being defiled by insurrectionists.

So the show was an opportunity to connect to tomorrow’s leaders–the people who will work toward a more perfect union if we are able to keep our Democracy.

Because it is only in a Democracy that we can have an advancement of civil rights. It is only in a Democracy that we can address poverty, inequality, division and racism—the life work of Dr. King.

Before I came on the program, the student hosts heard from my friend Bill Nix, a Delray resident and student of history. Mr. Nix shared a series of slides and gave a wonderful talk on MLK’s life—how he met Coretta Scott who would become his wife and how there was a divine plan for Dr. King to lead the civil rights movement.

It was a beautiful oral history given by a man who went to the same school as Dr. King—Morehouse College—and has clearly studied his history.

Watching his talk, I was reminded how important it is to share history and the stories that shape our world with the next generation. History not only repeats itself, it informs and guides us. Bill Nix is a great guide.

When it was my turn to appear on the show, the hosts —Darrel Creary and Dina Bazou (remember those names they are amazing) –asked me about why Dr. King was either loved or hated during his era, whether he was more important today or during his lifetime and about where we might go from here.

The show is wonderful and I’d like to give a shout out to another friend C. Ron Allen and his Knights of Pythagoras Mentoring Network for his role in helping to produce the show. Mr. C. Ron empowers our young people and I am endlessly impressed with the quality of our youth in this community.

I thought it was important to tell the students listening on the show that they were doing a good job and that they are well equipped to lead us into a better future.

We would be wise to follow the principles employed by MLK.

Dr. King talked about the  “Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community.”

And in 2021, there is no better nor more important mission.

The Beloved Community, as described by Dr. King, is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.

Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

As I watched the violence engulf our Capitol and I see troops deployed in Washington as we get ready to inaugurate a new president and vice president it is plain that we are far from achieving Dr. King’s vision of beloved community.

Right here at home, I see division in our city. People feel estranged from their neighbors, not heard by their leaders and put on a shelf by the powers that be. It is unsustainable and should not be ignored.

Dr. King gives us all a roadmap for effective leadership.

Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people.

We should seek to win friendship and understanding. Division does not work.

Love and empathy does work.

The end result is reconciliation. That reconciliation redeems us all.

Dr. King’s enduring lesson is to choose love instead of hate.

In 2021, we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

This Cannot Be America

This is not America….

A little piece of you,

the little peace in me,

will die. For this is not America.

Snowman melting from the inside

Falcon spirals to,

the ground

(this could be the biggest sky)

So bloody red, tomorrow’s clouds—David Bowie

 

In my heart, America has always represented a glorious destination.

America was the land of milk and honey. The place/ideal where my grandparents risked it all to come so that my parents and their children and grandchildren could have an limitless future—free from violence and hatred.

Free….that was the operative word.

Free to be safe.

Free to pursue dreams.

But not free of obligations.

In my heart, Americans are called to build community.

We have an obligation to take care of our own.

We have to pay our civic rent.

It cannot be all about us and our needs and beliefs or we will cease to exist.

Last week, we saw visual evidence of what many of us have long suspected. The Promised Land is breaking. The dream that is America is slipping through our hands.

We need to wake up because we are coming apart at the seams.

Here’s the state of our union.

–The pandemic is raging.

Real people are dying and our health care system is buckling under the weight of cases.

—We are struggling to distribute a vaccine—and people are suffering and dying as a result.

–We couldn’t secure our own seat of government.

—It took us half a year to pass a stimulus bill (that both sides wanted) while people suffered, businesses closed, families were evicted etc.

The bill our feckless Congress finally passed is deeply flawed. I know people who got $600 who don’t need it and I know people who need more help. You would think we’d be able to figure out how to target aid so that ‘we the people’ get the most for our buck. Or in this case–$900 billion.

–We can’t agree on election results—the very table stakes of Democracy.

We can’t even have an orderly or peaceful transfer of power after an election that wasn’t particularly close as Mitch McConnell noted on the Senate floor.

A significant number of us deny climate change even as we see the seas rise, wildfires rage and 100 hundred year storms batter us multiple times every year.

Nearly 400,000 people have died from Covid and yet when I scroll through my Facebook feed people I know are calling it a hoax, a bad flu, a government conspiracy and a plot to take our freedoms away.

This lunacy takes a toll on those of us who respect scientists, respect election officials (my goodness Wendy Sartory Link did a great job in Palm Beach County), feel deeply for families who have lost loved ones to a deadly virus and revere those front line health care workers who are true heroes.

Our beautiful country is in peril.

Russian hackers looted our computer systems, put bounties on the heads of our soldiers and have bullied our allies.

China is run by an autocratic dictator who is brutalizing Hong Kong, stealing our intellectual property, locking up dissidents and loaning money to needy countries in an effort to make them beholden to Beijing.

Iran and North Korea are threats to Americans and our allies. And the list goes on.

Here at home, Florida is a Covid tinderbox.

Small businesses have been ravaged—each empty store front comes with a story of a dream dashed, livelihoods lost and a part of the fabric of our community lost.

It takes a toll. The death and division weighs heavy on us all.

Crises—whether they affect families, businesses, communities or nations– can either bind you together or drive you apart.

In the wake of the assault on the Capitol, a friend reminded me that on 9/12—a day after we were attacked by terrorists— we were all Patriots united in our resolve to love and protect each other. Sadly, over time that feeling dissipated.

The events of January 6 could have a similar galvanizing impact or the moment could be lost. But so far, we have retreated to our respective “sides.” It’s shameful.

The real challenge will be maintaining these United States. The real challenge will be finding a way to live together and serve our nation’s needs of which there are many.

To date, a productive way forward is eluding us and if we don’t figure this out, we will pay the heaviest of prices—we already are.

It’s time to wake up America.

We don’t have to agree. Let’s face it, we will never agree. But we do have to agree to live together peacefully and mind the guardrails or we will lose it all.

Disagreement over philosophy is one thing, but what is most worrisome is we are walking around with our own set of facts. I don’t see how that works.

As Daniel Moynihan once said: “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Somehow we have to find our way through this fog.

We have to get to work on rebuilding the broken Promised Land.

The issues loom large.

Racism remains a sickening and very real problem.

You may not think Covid is real, great have at it.

But if there was some kind of conspiracy nobody told me about it as I was confined to a hospital bed for 39 days so sick that I was unable to lift my head. And I’m doubtful that 370K Americans agreed to die to make a hoax look real. Come on.

As kids, when we played sports, occasionally we thought the refs blew a call and we lost the game. Our parents told us to question the refs and protest respectfully. But if the referee stood by the call we were also taught to shake our opponents hands, congratulate them and wish them well. We’ll compete in the next contest. “We’ll get you next time” sure beats burning down the stadium.

As for the election…Mitch was right it wasn’t all that close. In our system, the states call the shots and if you don’t like the verdict you can go to court. But you better have evidence—allegations aren’t enough.  If you fail in court, that’s it.

We don’t want Congress overturning elections. We don’t want to insurrectionists storming the seat of government. This is not America, because if it is, we’re done.

Two thoughts went through my mind as I watched through tears the scenes from Washington D.C. last week.

I thought of 9/11 and I thought of when Jerrod Miller was shot and killed in Delray.

As many of you know, many of the 9/11 terrorists were living and training in Delray. It was a stunning revelation that added to the shock of the tragedy.

I was a City Commissioner at the time and I remember hearing from neighbors who were stunned and hurt that these monsters lived among us. I remember how we gathered as a community at Old School Square and the Community Center to pray, grieve and console one another. We were unified.

When Jerrod Miller, a 15 year-old, was killed in February 2005, we experienced anger and a level of sadness I could never adequately describe. But we came together, we tried to heal. We consciously fought our emotions to save what was good about our community and resolve to work on what was broken.

The truth is we were hard at work on race relations before the shooting—people were engaged and involved. After the shooting, we doubled down on those efforts. We went to church—together. We met in living rooms and held each other’s hands. That’s impossible in a pandemic, but we should be able to figure out how to draw each other closer—especially now.

We must find a way at every level of our society to re-engage, re-connect and remember who we are.

We remain a glorious destination. Now we have to find a way to get there together.

A Prayer For The New Year: May ’21 Be A Year Of Reconciliation

Happy New Year!

I’m so happy to be turning the page on 2020 that I may be saying that for a while. I hope you indulge me.

As we’ve just learned, years can have “personalities”—themes that can define the 12 months.

2020 was chaotic, scary, divisive and harsh. It was a hard year.

I’m hoping that the dynamics of 2020 will spur a backlash and unleash a strong desire to right the ship so to speak. Wouldn’t be nice if 2021 was a year of healing? Healing from the virus, healing the economy and healing from divisive politics that has divided our nation and our city. Yes, we need to get well again.

The word that keeps entering my mind is reconciliation; the restoration of friendly relations.

So let’s dream a bit.

What does reconciliation look like? What would it feel like to heal?

At some point, we will probably have to fix the cesspool that is Washington or at least make it nominally functional. But we are a hyper local blog so we will leave the national politics to someone else for now and concentrate on the hot mess that is Delray.

Yes, it’s a hot mess my friends. It doesn’t give me joy to diagnose this but if we love Delray—and we do—we owe ourselves an accurate diagnosis so that we may get about the urgent business of fixing things.

Right now, we are a divided town.

There are “teams” in town that absolutely despise and mistrust each other.

This is a horrible development because we are also neighbors and even in a pandemic we can’t avoid bumping into each other try as we might to pretend that the others don’t exist.

Now to be sure, most people are living blissfully happy lives in the village by the sea, enjoying wonderful weather and dreaming of a post-pandemic Delray when we will be able to move about without worries.

But for those involved in the politics of this town, the tension is palatable.

Reconciliation would simply mean we could hold different views without burning each other’s houses down. We have to learn how to disagree with each other and still remember that we live in the same country and town and that we still have common goals, dreams and wishes. I have a feeling that would feel pretty good. I have a belief that such a culture would lead to progress and solutions.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (thanks John Lennon).

The New Year means that we are about to hit warp speed on another election cycle.

This one is important with three seats on the commission up for grabs.

In a dream world, the political process should be exciting because we get to debate the future of a town we love.  Instead our politics have become brutal.

It’s not about problem solving or building community; instead it’s become about tearing people down.

Yuck.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think candidates records are fair game and frankly so is their character. So if you have been occupying a seat you should be prepared to defend your votes, leadership style and track record. Ideally, you should be proud of that record and able to share a long list of civic accomplishments.

And if you are a challenger you ought to be prepared to make a case about why you should be hired. And it’s not just about ideas and vision, it’s about your ability to work with others and get things done.

If you are a bully you ought to be held to account. If you have failed to deliver on promises, people ought to know it. Once again, it’s about getting things done.

Being an elected official is a job to do, not to have.

Which brings us back to the word reconciliation.

We live in a complex world. The craziness and complexity is dizzying and at times scary.

To cope and move forward, I find it makes sense to boil down issues and disputes to their simplest elements. And the plain truth is if we want to move forward as people, a community or a country we need to reconcile. We need to find reconciliation.

In the Bible, reconciliation is the end of estrangement—we are called to forgive.

Lincoln said a house divided cannot stand. It’s true. He was called Honest Abe for a reason.

It is important to let things go. Our ability to move forward depends on our ability to let things go.

The Roman philosopher Seneca—who is all the rage these days—once said “don’t stumble over something behind you,” which means we cannot seize the bounty of a new year if we are consumed by the past.

We begin 2021 with a raging hangover from the past year, which was horrible. It will take a while for that hangover to fade but we have 12 months to make things better. I believe we can.

Editor’s note: We begin the new year with sad news. Our friend Martin Tencer, a long time, devoted Delray Beach Police Department volunteer passed away on New Year’s Day. Marty spent 25 years as a volunteer and won an International Chiefs of Police Association Award for his work in 2008. In a word, he was wonderful. He will be remembered and missed. Marty loved the department and the city and he was loved in return.

 

A Trip Around The Sun

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure? Measure a year?

In daylights,

In sunsets,

In midnights,

In cups of coffee,

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year in a life?

“Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent.

2020…oh my goodness.

We sure have been through a whole lot together.

Covid.

Social unrest.

Division.

So much division.

Before we say goodbye to a year I think we all yearn to see in the rear view, let’s pause for a few moments and reflect on what we’ve experienced.

This is the deadliest year in US history with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months but preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year or at least 400,000 more than 2019.

That’s a staggering number.

It’s almost too much to comprehend.

But we need to try because we end the year with so many families in pain, hungry and lost. Friends, our world needs a lot more empathy if we are to create a better world for our children.

U.S. deaths increase most years so some increase in fatalities is to be expected but the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15 percent and could go higher. That would mark the largest single year percentage leap since 1918 when tens of thousands of US soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the flu pandemic.

Yes, this has been a helluva year.

We won’t ever forget 2020 but while we are anxious to turn the page and resume our lives, I’m hoping we don’t blindly rush forward. I’m hoping we drive slow and consciously think about how we can make this world a better place. I know that’s kind of a sappy sentiment, but sometimes the world can use a little sappiness.

We are at a crossroads. Down one path is more fighting, down another is a chance at healing and progress. We can’t have both. It’s one or the other.

I happen to think that we are very weary of fighting each other. So many people I talk to are tired of the callousness, the meanness and the insensitivity of our discourse.

I sense that we long for kindness, community, purpose, meaning, love and empathy.

We need to carve out a space for gentle hearts to thrive in this world.

How do we do that?

By standing up to bullies.

By rewarding kindness.

By extending a hand to those who need a lift up.

By setting the record straight– if we can.

By doing what we can to help others.

Simple things make a big difference.

While 2020 was brutal, it did force us to slow down. That’s a good and valuable thing.

If we were lucky enough to take the time to reflect, we realize that life is both fragile and precious.

Last holiday season, nobody knew the word Covid and yet the virus upended our lives and almost took mine; proof that we are vulnerable and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

While we know that intellectually, it’s easy to lose sight of our mortality and fail to prioritize what’s truly important. In 2020, gliding through life became harder and for many of us impossible.

So as we close in on another trip around the sun for some reason the words to a Jimmy Buffett song are swimming around my head.

“Yes I’ll make a resolution, that I’ll never make another one.

Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun. Just enjoy this ride.”

To my friends, I hope you enjoy the ride. Please stay safe and let’s do what we can to make 2021 a better year for everyone. That’s my prayer for the New Year.

Delray Memories….

Over 1,000 images from Delray’s rich history adorn the grounds of the Historical Society.

If you want to give yourself a safe holiday treat, head on over to the Delray Beach Historical Society, 111 N. Swinton Avenue, and lose yourself in 100 years of history.

The “Delray Memories” exhibit is a must-see and it’s outside so it’s safe and socially distant.

We went on Friday afternoon and quickly got immersed in over 1,000 photographs on display from the Society’s archives and family submissions. In a word, it’s great.

If you’ve lived in Delray Beach for any length of time you’ll be reminded of the ties you feel to this community. If you are new to town or just visiting, the exhibit is a fascinating trip through time that will increase your understanding of this special place.

For us,  30 plus year residents, it was just wonderful to stroll the grounds of the Historical Society and lose ourselves in photos of people we’ve known and loved. It was also a chance to see a glimpse of people we’ve heard of but never had the chance to meet. You come away with a deep appreciation of community and the journey we’ve all been on.

With every step, Diane and I were transported back in time. You really felt like you were visiting with special people. There was my dear friend retired Fire Chief Kerry Koen standing outside a station looking confident and in command—as he always was. A few steps away were photos of my heroes H. Ruth and Spencer Pompey young and vibrant. There was the wonderful Ernie Simon and the lovely Lula Butler rehearsing their lines for a play celebrating Delray’s Centennial. There was a young Bob Currie and a vibrant Libby Wesley. There were photos of our beach, long ago parades and pioneers using a barge to cross the Intracoastal Waterway.

There were photos from the Delray Chamber and you are reminded that the organization has been around for more than 90 years and has played such an important role in our town.

We saw photos of a young Chamber Executive Ken Ellingsworth, football star Bobby Butler, the amazing Betty Diggans and the always friendly and kind Charlie Gwynn. Such special people. So many amazing contributors.

As a former mayor, I have a special interest in people who held that post in the past.

The exhibit has photos of Mayor Doak Campbell playing tennis, Leon Weekes riding in a parade and Tom Lynch in a top hat talking to Commissioner David Randolph, also in a tux and tails during what I think was an Easter Bonnet stroll. I had a chance to see Mr. Randolph later that evening at the viewing for the legendary Zack Straghn and you can’t help but feel that sense of connection and history. That’s community.

We are all tied together and while people come and go, their contributions live on and their work adds a distinct flavor to this place we call home.

When I see these kind of exhibits I’m always taken by the photos of Ethel Stirling Williams, a Delray pioneer whose name adorns the Society’s Learning Center and Archives. Ms. Williams, an early educator, businesswoman and community leader is radiant in every photo and I wonder what this young woman was thinking about life in Delray and where this town may go.

I have similar thoughts when I see photos of a dashing mayor named Jack Saunders.

If you’ve been to City Hall’s Commission Chambers you may have seen the walls adorned by the portraits of Delray’s mayors.

As a young reporter, I used to sit in those chambers covering mayors Campbell, Lynch and Jay Alperin and my eyes would always wander to those portraits of the past mayors. For some reason I was always drawn to the portrait of Mayor Saunders (maybe it was the hat he was wearing) and to Mayor Catherine Strong, our first female mayor.

The Delray Memories exhibit has lots of photos of a young and dapper Saunders and an always smiling Mayor Strong, who radiates confidence and kindness. I’ve always heard she was very special and I wish I had to chance to meet her and hear her stories, what she liked and what she struggled with during her time in office.

History is special. It can bind us together if we care enough to slow down long enough to look back. It can also light the way forward and it never fails to give us perspective and context.

The Delray Beach Historical Society, under the capable leadership of Winnie Edwards, has really done a great job of preserving, celebrating and sharing the history of our village.

Winnie’s love for Delray and its history is evident and shines through in these bleak times.

If you want to lift your spirits, enjoy the great outdoors and fill up on a big dose of civic pride stop by the Memories exhibit. You’ll be glad you did.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Stay safe and enjoy this special time of year.

Honoring The Covenant

I don’t like misinformation.

I don’t like bullies.

And I really do not like those who traffic in disrespect; which makes social media a minefield for me.

One of the worst things about platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is the ease by which we can easily step on the mines that are lies, bullying and disrespect.

Sigh….

The lies and negativity run rampant in our news feed, often spread, sadly by those we know. By those who ought to know better.

Last week, I saw a thread that really bothered me. By that I mean get under your skin and make you scream kind of bother.

Oh, I’ve gotten used to the garden variety poop we see these days: the insensitivity, the lack of empathy, the political drivel that for some reason people feel compelled to share.

But my skin crawls when people make sweeping pronouncements that discount, write off and outright lie about our recent  history here in Delray Beach.

I get irked when particular misinformation finds its way into the digital realm because I fear that the old adage is true: a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on.

I used to think that the truth would prevail. I believed that the truth was a stubborn thing and it would refuse to go away.

Not anymore.

We now live in an age where there are no objective facts. That’s a helluva thing. Orwellian, dangerous and deadly.

Have mercy on us, because this kind of magical thinking is not only hurtful its potentially ruinous.

We have enabled this kind of culture. And if left alone, this destructive paradigm will bite us. It will bite us hard. It already has.

From masks to vaccines. From climate change to the integrity of our elections, we are seeing how divisive it can be when each of us is entitled to “alternative facts”—whatever that is.

But what chafed me recently was not the tired debate over something important like whether Covid is deadly but rather an inane argument over whether prior mayors, CRA staff and city staff were committed to helping our neediest neighborhoods and people.

As a former mayor married to a former CRA Director with close friends who were city staffers, mayors, Commissioners  and CRA staff, the assertion that nothing was done until the city commission took over the CRA is not only wrong, it’s insulting.

It’s dismissive and disrespectful to generations of staff, elected leaders and volunteers who devoted years of their lives to public service and rightly take pride in that service.

So I won’t let it pass.

I can’t let it pass.

It is not about claiming credit.

It’s about telling the truth.

And the truth is this.

For a generation, there has been a sincere effort to direct public and private investment to neglected neighborhoods.

Has it been enough?

No.

Nobody ever said it was. More investment is needed. Much more.

We need better schools, more opportunities and more thinking about how we can all work together to lift up everyone who lives in our city.

But to say that nothing has been done is wrong.

It’s a lie.

And it disrespects years of work by scores of community leaders, including a slew of “Elders” who worked closely with elected leaders and dedicated staff—or at least those who were smart enough to listen. And many were.

Truth is, we’ve seen a fraying of these efforts in recent years.

In Delray, we once talked about a “covenant.”

We once asked/hoped and expected that leaders would honor that covenant.

My understanding of the covenant is that when you sought a leadership position in Delray Beach, you were expected to listen, collaborate, learn, respect and do whatever you could to help those in our community who needed it most.

As an elected official, you did not get to claim that you honored the covenant; that was an honor given to you by the people. But only if you earned it. Only if you delivered real results not election year spin.

As a reporter, elected official and citizen I stood in awe of people like Libby Wesley, Vera Farrington, the Pompey’s, David Randolph, the Gholston’s, the Ramirez’s, Zack Straghn, legendary pastors and public employees who devoted their lives to the neighborhood we now call The Set.

Some won’t call the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods  that name.

Why not?

As we approach the holiday season, the end of a brutal year, we ought to take stock.

As we lay one of our community heroes Alfred “Zack” Straghn to rest this weekend we ought to take a deep breath and assess where we are–as people and as a community.

Mr. Zack wasn’t satisfied nor should he have been with the state of our city. That’s not a criticism, but an acknowledgement that when you love and care about a community your work is never done. You are not allowed to rest on your laurels and you are not allowed let problems go unaddressed–they must be met with answers and careful attention. No Zack was not satisfied, nor was Mr. and Mrs. Pompey or the wonderful Miss Libby. But they also would have told you that they were proud of the progress that had been made and appreciative of all those rowing in the right direction.

Why can’t we respect the hard work done in the past, knowing the task is incomplete and that the promise of Delray is unfulfilled?

Why is it so easy to dismiss the work done by people who have devoted their lives and careers to this town?

Successful cities build brick by brick, inch by inch, year after year. Real leaders look forward, they don’t seek to rewrite history they seek to make history.

Try A Little Tenderness

The Delray Chamber gave the community a hug last week. We needed it.

Sometimes a simple act of kindness can make all the difference.
Last week, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce gave the community a big hug and it felt amazing.

The hug was needed.

The hug was appreciated.

The hug showed us the immense power of kindness and community.

I hope it triggers more goodwill because we can all use an explosion of kindness as we end 2020 and look forward to a new year.

Ahh, yes a new year.
2020 has been brutal; we need to turn the page. We need a reason to believe.

2021 sits there–just over the horizon– an oasis after a long slog through a desert of despair.

Hundreds of thousands of families have lost loved ones.
Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to overcome the lingering affects of a virus that has upended our lives and our world.

Businesses are really hurting.

Our social lives have been upended and community life has been interrupted. The best parts of our lives—human contact and interaction– have been put on hold.
There is fear and division throughout the country and right here at home. We sure need something to lift our spirits.

The Chamber of Commerce dove into that breach with a socially distant awards ceremony recognizing hometown heroes.
Teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, business owners and non-profit executives were honored for going above and beyond to get us through this crazy and tragic year. And it felt great.

It was needed. It was appreciated and it reminds us of the possibilities that exist in Delray Beach if we just can find a way to be kind and work together. It’s not rocket science folks, but yet that simple concept of being kind and having empathy seems elusive these days.

The Chamber showed remarkable leadership at a critical time—the tail end of a year in which we have all suffered perhaps more than we can fully comprehend in the moment.

It reminded me and others of the “old days” when we made it a point to celebrate success and to come together during hard times.

But as much as it reminded us of happier times, the Hometown Heroes event showed us a path forward. We can do this again. And again.
There is much to be grateful for in America and in Delray Beach.
The winners and nominees are examples of our strength and resilience. We become a happier place when we stop and think about how much we have to be thankful for.

Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson, Marcus Darrisaw and the EJS Project were honored for the non-profit’s stellar work with young people. They are developing our future leaders while exhibiting grace in these trying times.
The Chamber honored the nursing staffs at Bethesda Hospital and Delray Medical Center who are busy saving lives and giving comfort to those battling a deadly virus. There are 900 nurses at Delray Medical alone, 900 heroes staying strong during the worst medical crisis of our lives.

We saw several educators honored as well: the principal of Village Academy, the founder of Space of Mind and a young teacher at Plumosa Elementary School finding creative ways to connect with students during the pandemic. Bless you La Toya Dixon, Ali Kaufman and Cassidee Boylston.

First responders were honored as well. Can you imagine an already stressful and dangerous job that has gotten even more dangerous? What does it take to suit up every day and risk it all to protect and serve? Thank goodness for our police officers and firefighter/paramedics.

The Chamber honored small business owners all of whom have had to dig deep to try and survive a crisis nobody saw coming or had any experience with.

The immensely talented Amanda Perna of The House of Perna, was recognized for donating thousands of masks to first responders and for giving jobs to seamstresses who were furloughed. They worked days and nights to help protect the community. Isn’t that beautiful?

A plaque doesn’t pay the bills or heal someone infected with Covid, but it’s important nonetheless.
It’s important to recognize, honor and appreciate each other. That simple act is healing.

So the Chamber  performed a very valuable service.

The organization itself has been tested by the pandemic. Largely event driven, the Chamber has had to re-invent itself on the fly.
In the capable hands of President Stephanie Immelman and Chair Noreen Payne– two extraordinarily gifted leaders–the chamber has stayed relevant, visible and has showed us once again why we need a strong chamber.

It’s important for business to have a voice but when the Delray Chamber is hitting on all cylinders it is much more than an advocate for commerce. It is an advocate for the entire community.
Through virtual events, webinars and round tables, the Chamber has made it through a brutal year.

They have reached out to members in need and urged us to stay connected and informed. That’s leadership . And a template for a bright future.

I am excited to see where the Chamber will go as my former commission colleague Dave Schmidt takes the chairman’s role.
Mayor Dave is a proven leader. We are in great hands.

So here’s to 2021.
Thank you Delray Chamber for shining the light of positivity at the end of a dark year.

Bookends: The Healing Power Of Old Friends

A little scruffier, a little balder, but the bond endures.

The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words spontaneously tendered. (Thanks Dewey)

— Jim Collins

It’s December.

Thank goodness.
We find ourselves in the home stretch of a brutal year and at last there is hope that 2021 will treat us better.
Like miners stuck below the surface of the Earth trapped in a dark cocoon of gloomy news— anger, divisiveness, disease and death —those of us still fortunate to be here can find solace that next year will be brighter. It has to be, right?
With any luck, we can resurface and reclaim our lives.
I, for one, can’t wait.
In the years to come, if I am given years to come because I realize that’s not a given, I will look back on 2020 with a mixture of awe, gratitude and dread. I know that’s an odd combination of emotions. But this has been a very odd year.
But despite wave after wave of brutal news, many of us still found some light.
I found my light in the usual place: family and friends.
Close readers of this blog have heard me mention my twice a month Zoom calls with childhood friends.
I write about those calls because they have been a lifeline to me in an extraordinarily challenging year.
It’s been hard to be quarantined.
It was hard to work remotely—because I like the interaction and the kibitzing you get in an office with people you can see right in front of you.
I miss being able to gather with my friends.
I miss happy hours and dinners with a bunch of people.
I miss the movies.
I miss the meetings in coffee shops (and I’ve never even had a cup of coffee).
But the next best thing to being there is Zoom.
To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with the technology but when I think about it, Zoom has been a life raft that has kept me from drowning. Zoom made it possible to see my oldest and dearest friends—if only on a screen.  Those boxes, that contain those familiar faces, have meant the world to me this year.
I hope you have had a similar story of connection during this year of Covid.
Here’s mine.
I grew up in the 70s and early 80s in Stony Brook, located on the north shore of  Eastern Long Island.
From the age of six (not a typo) I was fortunate enough to build a small cadre of friends that have remained in my life for 50 years.
The bond we share is both special and rare.
We’re spread out these days—California, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Arizona, Vermont and Florida.
We went all through school together and stayed close through high school and college.
In our early 30s, we had some reunion weekends and then life took over.
But the pandemic has somehow brought us back together again over Zoom and I couldn’t be happier about it.
While we never drifted apart totally (well a few of us maybe) our communication became spotty and we were never all together anymore. These Zoom meet-ups have changed all that.
Our calls—which usually last about 90 minutes—cover a range of subjects and I always come away energized by the interaction.
When I was asked recently by my dad what it’s been like to “hang out” again with all these guys I told him the one feeling that comes up is pride.
I’m proud that our friendships have lasted.
I’m proud of the men they have become.
I’m blown away by their intelligence, humor, life experience, professional success and by who they are.
They are all interesting. And they are all interested in the world.
So I’m proud of them.
Someday, maybe soon, we will be able to get together in person.
That would be great.
Over the summer, I learned that life can be very fragile. I think we are all learning that lesson these days.
It’s the rapport, the kindness, the playful ribbing and the fact that we serve as the gaps in each other’s fading memories that make for lasting and special friendships.
One of the crazy things about this year is that it has forced us to  take stock of what really matters.
We no longer can take the simple joys of our lives  for granted.
Whether it’s the joy of meeting a friend for dinner, taking a weekend trip or having family over for the holidays—Covid has made sure we will appreciate moments large and small.
For me, when I look back on 2020 I will be forever grateful that every other Wednesday I can find my buddies on a screen if not in person. That’s more than good enough–for now anyway.
I’m just glad to still be around to laugh and share with them.
 Here’s to what comes next guys.

Remembering A Lion: Alfred “Zack” Straghn

A civic giant.

When the history of Delray Beach is written, the name Alfred “Zack” Straghn is going to loom large.

He was a giant.

We lost Mr. Zack this week. He was 92 and still active, still vibrant, still finding what John Lewis called “good trouble.”

People were drawn to Zack Straghn because he told great stories, was enormously charismatic and possessed a hard-earned wisdom that came from a lifetime of living and working in Delray Beach.

He was born in Delray and told those of us who knew and loved him that the best decision he ever made was to never leave the city—even though at times he said it felt like a prison.

I’ve long believed that Delray is America in 16 square miles, but if you were African American in the 1950s and beyond the city was four square miles because you were not welcome east of Swinton and you couldn’t go to the beach.

Zack helped to desegregate our beach—it took eight years of protests to get it done. But it got done on April 29, 1962. Prior to that date, the city’s answer was to send Black people to an area of beach five miles away. That didn’t sit well with Zack and others and they decided to speak up.

“They sent us to another city to swim with a man with a shotgun watching us while we swam,” he told Channel 5 last year. “We are going to swim in the three miles of beach here and nobody is going to stop us because this belongs to us, we pay tax in this city and this is where we are going to swim,” he said.

 

I heard Zack tell that same story to a group of “young” lions a little while back at Donnie’s Golden Spoon restaurant on Northwest 5th Avenue. The young men sat and listened to every word. Zack and others held court at “Elders” breakfasts that I’ve been privileged to have been invited too on occasion over the years. It’s always an honor to be included; over eggs and bacon you are also served wisdom, history and spirited conversation about the future.

These tables and conversations are few and far between, but they are important. It’s where knowledge is shared, experience is relayed and subjects are debated with love, passion, wit and wisdom.

Alfred “Zack” Straghn saw it all in his 92 years in Delray. He saw heartache and discrimination. He saw births and as a funeral home owner he was there to usher people into “glory.”

He also saw progress in fits and starts. The beach he couldn’t visit until 1962 became a favorite place for him to reflect.

He would walk often with former City Commissioner David Randolph. I saw them a few times and I always wondered what they talked about on those early morning walks around town. So one day I asked Zack and in his distinctive voice—a voice so special and unique that once you heard it you never forgot it—he said they talked about everything: city politics, national politics, family, religion and life itself.

The great icons in our community were great because they share themselves.

They are visible.

They are available.

They teach. And if we are wise—we will listen.

If we want to succeed and build a better future we need to listen to those who came before us.

Zack is an icon and because he never went away and because he invested in the next generation of lions and lionesses he will be forever remembered and honored by those who will step forward to lead us in the future.

He was active in civil rights organizations, served briefly on the CRA, was a long time businessman, fed the needy on Thanksgiving, was involved in the Downtown Master Plan, counseled scores of elected officials and saw his children grow up to serve Delray too. One son, Randy, served with distinction with our Fire Department.

He was a voice, a steady presence, a leader and an inspiration.

When I was a rookie on the City Commission, Mr. Zack was presented with a key to the city by Mayor David Schmidt.

The headline that ran with the story in the Sun-Sentinel was “Activist Gets Key to The City He Unlocked.”
I thought that said it all. It was brilliant.

Over the summer, Zack was interviewed by a student for an initiative called the “Front Porch Project” sponsored by the nonprofit EJS Project.

In that interview, Mr. Straghn said “the best decision I ever made was to stay in Delray.”

Indeed.

It was a decision that paid dividends for all of us blessed to have known that fine man. He will be deeply missed.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Zack, your hometown is so grateful.

The Best Leaders Deliver Happiness

Tony Hsieh’s philosophy was summed up in the book “Delivering Happiness.” Zappos’ legendary customer service made Zappos a $1.2 billion company.

There was shocking news over the Thanksgiving weekend for those of us who are fans of great entrepreneurs.

Tony Hsieh, (pronounced shay) the visionary founder of Zappos and the driving force behind The Downtown Project in Las Vegas, was dead at the young age of 46. Mr. Hsieh succumbed to injuries suffered in a house fire.

Zappos was an early e-commerce success story selling shoes by the truckloads until Amazon came along and scooped up the company for $1.2 billion in 2009.

Hsieh took his fortune and wrote one of the best business books ever “Delivering Happiness” which preached the Zappos philosophy of exceptional customer service. His book and business model influenced scores of entrepreneurs then he pivoted to Las Vegas where he bought a slew of real estate in the old moribund downtown and set about trying to transform the place.

I’ve been following those efforts for years and while the results have met with mixed reviews I deeply admired his vision and audacity.

Transformation is a risky venture. Efforts often fall short but without these special people willing to take risks and buck conventional wisdom change won’t happen.

Within reason, we ought to be encouraging and where possible helping these pioneers who see potential where others see blight.

Hsieh took a boring category (shoes) and created a culture that revolutionized customer service and how to buy a product.

When it came to downtown revitalization, he spent his money and time trying to lure talent and enterprise to a part of Las Vegas long ago written off.  The Downtown Project is a $350 million investment: $200 million for real estate, $50 million for tech startups, $50 million for small businesses and $50 million for education, arts and culture.

Noted urban journalist Aaron Renn was a fan of the ambitious effort.

“While I had some critiques of the downtown project, his vision to remake the unbelievably bleak downtown Las Vegas into a hub of creativity was audacity on steroids,” Renn wrote.  “ Again, most cities could only dream of having someone with that kind of vision and willingness to attempt the impossible.”

Those “someone’s” are developer/entrepreneurs and I think we make a big mistake when we paint with a broad brush and write them all off as rapacious enemies we must instinctively fight.

As has been noted many times in this space, there are good developers and there are bad ones. We benefit when we can distinguish between the two.

Good developers transform communities. They create places and jobs and they generate vibrancy while growing the tax base.

If we engage them early, we can shape development and make sure projects respect the style and aesthetics of the community. It can be done. But only if we elevate the conversation and work with people not on them.

 

Attracting good developers to your city is critical of you want to succeed. Avoiding bad ones is equally important.

As for Hsieh, his model called for investing in tech companies in exchange for their promise to relocate to Las Vegas.

He also recruited restaurants, coffee shops and other cool businesses to downtown Las Vegas so that the tech workers who moved there would enjoy a good quality of life.

I thought his approach was fascinating because it tried to be holistic.

He didn’t just build, lease to anyone who showed up and then abandon the place. He curated and stayed around.

He took a long term view and did a huge amount of marketing to promote the vision. He was an evangelist for an old part of Vegas that had been written off as the focus shifted to The Strip.

In more than 30 years of watching local development trends I’ve seen a wide range of development philosophies.

There were those who settled in and did multiple projects while making it a point to give back to the community through service and philanthropy and there were those who acted like strip miners extracting value with little regard to giving back. We make a mistake if we conflate the two types. The former is what you want to attract and nurture, the latter is what you want to avoid.

It’s easy to distinguish who’s who.

Tony Hsieh was the kind of investor you want to attract. Losing him at a young age is tragic.

But he sets an example for those of us who care about our local communities and economies.

There is an opportunity to find and or encourage developers to act as curators to bring desirable uses to our cities.

There is also an opportunity to elevate the conversation around development. The current discourse doesn’t serve anyone and will chase away the visionaries we need to keep our cities vibrant and healthy.

 

Notes: 

Delray Beach lost two community leaders in recent days who will be long remembered for their contributions.

Nadine Hart was a long time community leader, educator and former chair of the TED Center, a local business incubator. She was a guiding light for generations of Delray residents. She was also known for having mentored hundreds of young women in Delray.  She will be greatly missed.

John Ingles was a legendary local tennis coach who quietly added immense value to Delray’s  tennis community. “Jingles” as he was affectionately known, was a kind man and a trusted advisor for anyone interested in learning about tennis’ potential in Delray. Rest In Peace my friend.

On a happier note, congratulations to Jeffrey Costello who left for the U.S. Marine Corps over the weekend. Jeffrey grew up next store to us in Delray Lakes and has always been a great young man. He was in Junior ROTC at Atlantic High School and has been focused on a military career for quite some time. He’s the pride of our neighborhood and we will be praying for his safety and success.