Boca Lead Is A Revelation

Pastor Bill Mitchell traded a successful career in real estate for a spiritual mission. Boca is benefitting from his wisdom.

I’ve become a huge fan of Boca Lead, the monthly speaker series hosted by Pastor Bill Mitchell at Boca Raton Community Church.

Every month, 400 plus people gather to hear a positive message designed to help them live a better life, run a better business and build a better Boca. The demand is so strong that Boca Lead added a dinner series with a debut last week that attracted more than 200 people.

It’s an inclusive group—all faiths are made to feel welcome—and the message is not only smart it’s extremely relevant. My good friend Karen Granger turned me onto the series when she invited me to sit with her colleagues at 4 Kids. I owe her a debt of gratitude, because Boca Lead has become an important part of my month.

As a result of Karen’s intro, our company is buying a table most months so we can be inspired to lead, mentor and build a better community. We all have a role in making that happen.

In its 5 year existence, Boca Lead has attracted over 5,500 different people to the monthly talks and now with dinner sessions the audience is sure to grow and deservedly so, because in a word it’s awesome. And we desperately need to apply the lessons being taught every month.

I’ve gotten to know Pastor Mitchell since attending my first Boca Lead and I’m incredibly impressed by his insights, devotion to the community and his work across the globe. He and his wife, Elizabeth, are remarkable people and talented communicators. The ability to command a room month after month—to inspire, motivate and get us to stop our busy lives so that we may focus on what’s really important is truly something special to witness.

Every month, I don’t think he can top the prior month, but he seems to do so.

This month was no exception.

The title of the talk was “Drifting” which will soon be an e-book. I just finished “Shifting” another e-book by Pastor Mitchell that I found riveting. Again, the message is universal and this Jewish guy from New York can relate to the insights and better yet, can apply the principles to my life and business.

Drifting talked about how distractions, a lack of integrity and another assorted noise lead us astray.

The talk ended with four suggestions for building community—a subject I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember. A sense of community attracted me to Delray Beach, pushed me into a stint in public service and has kept me engaged since moving to Florida in 1987.

Pastor Mitchell posited that in order to build community you need four elements:

Proximity—you can’t build community from afar, people need to be brought together. But that’s just a start. We can all live in the same neighborhood, work at the same company or attend the same school but if we don’t mix we can’t build community. So proximity is a must, but it’s just a start.

Hospitality—is necessary to build community. We need to break bread with people, extend them courtesies, and invite them into our homes and lives if we are to grow close.

Relationship—we need to work on building relationships with our neighbors in order to build community. It’s not enough to just wave hello, we need to work on forging real relationships.

Peacemaking—this one fascinating. It’s not peacekeeping, it’s the ability to make peace not the ability to keep people from hurting each other. This is so important in a community. It struck me that we are lacking peacemakers in our world today and in our local communities too.

As Pastor Mitchell walked us through the list, a thought crossed my mind.

Social media—which pretends to build community does not possess any of the four community building blocks.

It’s not proximate, you can sit in your pajamas and spew venom on Twitter without ever having to face the target of your wrath, there’s no means of providing real hospitality other than maybe sending an emoji, social media doesn’t really foster real relationships beyond a post here and a reply there and finally social media does not seem to have any mechanism for peacemaking. People start a lot of wars on Facebook, but I have yet to see them make peace.

Now admittedly, I am a social media user. I enjoy Facebook for allowing me to share photos of my dogs and stay in touch with old friends and classmates. But I don’t enjoy seeing the posts about my town that seek to divide, label and malign. There are a whole lot of them, entire pages devoted to ripping the town apart.

Truth be told, I think it has harmed our sense of community and nearly destroyed civic pride. That’s a lot of damage to overcome.

We are not the only city that has suffered this fate and the fact is America is incredibly and maybe hopelessly divided at this point in our history. It’s a sad time, it really is.

I don’t see how this ends or how we can magically unwind some of the abhorrent behavior we’ve all witnessed.

But there was a time, it now seems so long ago, when I and many others viewed Delray Beach as an oasis in a desert. A place where you always felt the best was yet to come and that every problem could be solved.

Please don’t tell me it didn’t exist, because I experienced it and so have others. I have witnesses and these days most of them shake their heads when you mention the current state of affairs.

That doesn’t mean that we were conflict free, we surely weren’t.

Worthing Place, Atlantic Plaza part 1, the Jerrod Miller shooting—and on and on the list goes. There was a time when African Americans could not safely cross Swinton and couldn’t use the public beach but….despite those serious challenges there was this feeling that we could work things out, that we could and would somehow find a way forward even in the face of tragedy.

When I think back on how past controversies resolved themselves, I see Pastor Mitchell’s four pillars of community building come to life. Differences were solved because people got together, built relationships, extended hospitality and made peace.

C. Spencer Pompey was a peacemaker extraordinaire.

He knew the power of relationships and hospitality and so he got people together and eventually we opened up our beaches.

We were bitterly divided over development after Worthing Place so we got together and worked on a Downtown Master Plan.

When a developer wanted to put 10 pounds of you know what in a five pound bag on Atlantic Plaza, the city commission brought in designers and the community to try and find a plan that everyone could embrace.

Sometimes the efforts produce solutions (Mr. Pompey succeeded) and sometimes they fall short (the developer walked away from the plan the designers and community produced) but the effort always seemed to matter. You were extended credit for trying. You built relationships by coming to the table and working on issues large and small.

This kind of peacemaking doesn’t seem to be happening online and it’s destroying us—rapidly.

I’ve been going through old files in a sometimes futile effort to de-clutter my life.

I recently stumbled across a flier called the Atlantic Gazette that absolutely ripped me and some of my friends to shreds. It was anonymous and really ugly. You get these things when you are in public life or even if you just venture an opinion or an idea. I guess it comes with the territory.

When I was young and new to the game, I would cringe at this stuff. But I learned that despite the best efforts of critics, most people never saw the fliers, email blasts or in one case the banner flown over the beach.

Life went on, the people who know you laugh it off, the critics tell their friends “see, I told you so” and soon it’s on to the next subject.

But today, social media is ubiquitous. It’s hard to avoid the toxicity.

Joni Mitchell urged us to get “back to the garden” in her classic song Woodstock.

Pastor Mitchell reminds us that we need to get back to proximity, relationships, hospitality and peacemaking before it is too late.

Can we?
Will we?
What if we don’t?

For more information on Boca Lead. To view past talks (highly recommended) and for ticket information please visit http://www.bocalead.com

In Pursuit Of Equal Justice

Bryan Stevenson

Sometimes you see someone so special that it literally takes your breath away.

Someone so brilliant and emotionally intelligent that their words stop you in their tracks and you are left changed by the experience.

That’s how I felt when I heard Bryan Stevenson speak recently at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida in Orlando.

Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative which is the subject of a new HBO documentary.

His work focuses on race and criminal justice reform and how we can inch our way toward a more perfect union.

We live in a society in which 1 in 3 African American males and 1 in 6 Latino men will end up incarcerated; a disturbing statistic that we somehow seem to accept. As if those lives are disposable. As if our nation can afford to throw these people away.

Stevenson wants us to chafe at these statistics.

It’s not that he wants us to feel bad or guilty.

In fact, he wants us to heal and feels that the only path to healing is facing what ails us as Americans.

Stevenson is a founder of the only museum dedicated to the history of lynching in America. It’s located in Montgomery, Alabama.

In fact, he was in Orlando to dedicate a marker at the site of a lynching in that city right here in our state.

By putting the issues front and center, Stevenson is hoping to spark a dialogue and a process that will ultimately lead to the airing of truths and a national reconciliation.

He fears what will happen to us if we don’t discuss these painful issues—slavery, bigotry, racism, violence. He believes it is keeping us apart.

Regardless of how you feel, it’s hard to deny that we have a racial divide in this country and in our own community.
Delray has a fraught relationship with race—Swinton has been a dividing line, we wrestle with issues of equity, trust, inequality and how to communicate.
I see it every day in Delray.

I feel it too.
I know I am not alone.

But I also know that many people  don’t feel the tension or have no interest in engaging.

But those who care about making a lasting difference should care. Because the divide holds us back and we are forever at risk of volatility if we ignore or pretend that these issues aren’t real or don’t exist. We will never reach our potential until we face up to what separates us.
So what we can do?

Stevenson suggests that we put ourselves where we typically refuse to venture.

The best part of Stevenson’s powerful message was his plea for people, especially those who seek to lead to get “proximate” to the issues in their communities.

Stevenson urges all of us to get close to the issues and get to know the most troubled parts of our community.

Proximity enables us to understand, empathize and eventually help.

Distance keeps us apart and does not allow for solutions to take root. It may even be wasteful since often we will prescribe the wrong solutions to community problems because we haven’t taken the time to get close to the suffering.

It may seem easier to turn away, but it’s not says Stevenson. The price we pay is too high—estrangement, anger, violence, division and a host of other ills.

As I watched Stevenson mesmerize a large crowd of experienced leaders, I couldn’t help but think that this is the kind of leadership we are missing in our cities and  inour country.
We need leaders who share, empathize and truly care to get close enough to understand, grow and evolve.

It takes an investment of time and heart. It takes a willingness to set aside preconceptions and open ourselves to possibilities and healing.
This not us versus them politics designed to keep us angry and apart. This is true inclusiveness, idealistic and human. It summons our better angels.

We can choose to remain angry, divided and sure of our positions from the safety of our couches and echo chambers or we can be “proximate” and learn to love thy neighbor.

It’s a simple choice. And an obvious one.