A Cautionary Tale

I read an interview with Kenosha, Wisconsin Mayor John Antaramian that I found very interesting.

Mayor Antaramian has been in the national news lately after his city erupted in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, 29, a Black man, was left paralyzed after an encounter with local police.

In my experience—which I’ll get to in a minute—the level of unrest that cities experience in the wake of violence is directly correlated to the relationships and work that has been done years before.

If your police department and city government connects to the community,  your odds of finding a positive way forward increase exponentially.

Former Delray Beach Police Chief Rick Overman—who was a remarkable chief—used to say that in his line of work trouble was inevitable. You did all you could to avoid it—you train your officers, you create rigorous standards for hiring, you embrace community policing—but at some point something bad was bound to happen. You will face a challenge, it’s the nature of the profession.

Policing is dangerous and important work.

While I can’t pretend to know what it’s really like, I’ve had a glimpse by spending lots of hours in the back of cruisers as a journalist and a policymaker. I’ve met and gotten to know scores of officers over the years.

I’ve had many late night conversations with officers who confided in me about what it’s like to put on a gun and a vest and head out to work not knowing what you are going to encounter. Those conversations have deepened my appreciation for the special people who choose that profession.

Chief Overman used to talk about something he called the “reservoir of goodwill.” Overman knew that there would come a day when something tragic would happen—he felt it was inevitable in his line of work—and his department would have to draw on that reservoir. So he and his officers worked every day to fill the reservoir by building trust and relationships citywide. Community policing was not a PR stunt or a photo op, it was a governing philosophy. Officers were urged to get out of their cruisers and to find ways to get to know the people and businesses in their zones.

We have seen incredible examples of this—officers past and present—who have connected in truly wonderful ways with the communities they serve. It makes all the difference in the world.

But police departments—as important and essential as they are—cannot do it all.

Again, Chief Overman recognized this fact. He needed the community to volunteer. He needed the community to tell his officers what was really happening on the street and he needed city government to care about all parts of our city.

Now many cities talk the talk.

They issue proclamations and mouth the words about investing in underserved communities. But too few cities walk the walk.

And those cities get in trouble when something happens and they realize that the reservoir has run dry or doesn’t exist at all.

Which leads me back to Mayor Antaramian in Kenosha.

He has been mayor of that town off and on for 20 years. When he was asked what he regrets the most, one mistake sticks out in his mind.

In 2000, the mayor formed a committee to address what he described as “racial issues.”

In Kenosha, the committee focused on housing and homeownership and according to the mayor they developed policies to address the issues identified.

“We spent about a year working on different issues,” he told USA Today. “We actually came to some solutions on those issues. My mistake was I didn’t keep that committee together. I’m refusing to make that mistake a second time. I’m getting too old to make too many mistakes. We thought we solved the problem and we didn’t.”

The last sentence is a key one.

A mistake many cities and mayors make is they think that once they address something it’s done.

The truth is, in this line of work—community building—you are never done. Never.

You must constantly be working to strengthen what you’ve built and you must be constantly be thinking about what’s not working and why.

Delray Beach has made this common mistake.

We think our downtown is done—it’s not.

We think our beach has been re-nourished and is safe, but we better maintain our dunes or they will wash away.

When I was mayor, the commission identified race relations as an issue we wanted to work on.

So we did.

We had study circles that encouraged people from different backgrounds to share their stories and learn from each other. We had neighborhood dinners in which people from different neighborhoods would gather to meet and share their hopes and dreams and we did our best to invest in neighborhoods that were neglected.

There were successes and there were disappointments. But there were no failures because making the effort yields dividends.

You learn.

You grow and you adjust—as a community. You do the work together.

Was it enough?
Unquestionably, the answer is no.

But the effort was never meant to end. It was designed to be an ongoing discussion and effort—long after me and my crew left.

Sadly, politics got in the way—as it often does. Personalities clash. Grudges develop and if not addressed—and they weren’t—they fester and eventually those feuds crowd out just about every initiative.

An old friend asked me recently whether it was possible to succeed if your government is dysfunctional or downright wacky.

My guess is—it’s not really possible.

Oh, there will be bright spots—non-profits doing good work and people who shine.

But think about how much more success you’d have if government was engaged and rowing in the same direction as the people they are supposed to serve.

Today, I worry about my city.

I fear that the reservoir is dangerously low.

Our Police Department is terrific and enjoys a great reputation. It remains an amazing asset.

But I sense anger and frustration out there—a lot of people are feeling marginalized and there is a huge concern over the poor treatment of several high ranking Black city employees whose careers were derailed in Delray.

I could be wrong.

I’m no barometer and I live behind a gate (when it’s working) in a lovely (mostly white) neighborhood. But I see stuff on social media and I still talk to a range of neighborhood leaders and I hear, see and feel the frustration out there.

We ignore it our peril.

We have got to get back to the work. We can’t make the mistake Kenosha did.

 

 

 

The Dream Is Local

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Local government can play a big role in improving race relations. It’s a choice.

Local government can play a big role in race relations. It’s a choice.

We got a nice email from the Delray Beach Historical Society last week.

The Historical Society is planning to take a deep dive into the history of race relations in Delray Beach. Working with the Spady Museum, the Historical Society plans to review a study they did with FAU in 2004.
At that time, more  than 100 people gave oral histories on their experiences in our town.
The effort was part of a race relations effort that the City of Delray Beach was doing at the time.
I was Mayor back then and along with Conmissioner Alberta McCarthy, we spearheaded an effort to explore race relations with a goal of building community unity and talking about some thorny issues that have impacted our city for decades.

Delray Beach is a diverse city but we are also a segregated one, with a line —Swinton Avenue—separating East from West, black from white.
As a native New Yorker, it was the first thing I noticed when I discovered Delray in 1987.
I rarely saw African American people “downtown” or at the beach. And I rarely saw people who looked like me on West Atlantic Avenue. I always found that odd. And while people mostly got along, there would be periodic flashpoints that would remind everyone that race was very much an issue in Delray Beach as it is throughout America.

As a young journalist assigned to cover Delray, I caught the eye of C. Spencer Pompey and his wife H. Ruth Pompey.
They were community giants; civil rights leaders, educators and held in immense esteem by everyone in town.
They invited me into their home adjacent to Pompey Park, a place named in their honor.
I felt at home with the Pompey’s and visited on many occasions. We would sit in the living room of their comfy home and they would tell me stories about Delray for hours.
I couldn’t get enough.
The Pompey’s generosity helped my reporting at the time and later would inform my tenure on the City Commission.
Soon after, I met Elizabeth Wesley, another community icon who founded the Roots Cultural Festival. There is a plaza named in Libby’s honor on West Atlantic. She would go on to play a big role in my life as she did for countless others. Around this time, I also got to know and cover the career of Commissioner David Randolph, who to this day as known as “the commissioner”.
In later years, I would be invited to breakfasts hosted by community elders where I would listen to people like Yvonne Odom, who integrated Atlantic High School, neighborhood leader Ernestine Holliday and Alfred “Zack” Straghn, a civil rights, civic and business leader. And there were more special people that I would come to know and cherish.
Every relationship was a learning experience. Every interaction helped me to understand Delray Beach.
I mention these experiences because I think it’s important for aspiring leaders to spend time learning from people who have given back to the community.
There’s just no substitute for listening to the stories and experiences of those who came before us.
It also important to spend time with people who bring a different perspective as a result of their unique experiences.
I’m not sure this is happening as much anymore.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but I still talk to a wide range of people in our community and one of their complaints is that they don’t feel as connected to leadership as they once did.
That’s a mistake but also an opportunity because the answers to many complicated issues can be found by reaching out to the community.
Back in 2001,  when we announced our intent to make improved race relations
a central piece of our goals and aspirations as a city government we got mostly positive feedback.
Many people appreciated the effort. Because we had relationships the effort was viewed by most—as sincere and needed. Others thought we were rocking the boat.
“Why bring up these sensitive issues” they would ask?
Because we need too. If we aspire to being a close knit community we need to be able to talk about everything—especially the uncomfortable subjects.
And we did. For awhile at least, we moved the needle. Not enough but we moved it. But times change. Commissioners and mayors come and go and so did our race relations effort.

Today, the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd has got many of us thinking anew about all of these issues.
Racism. Social justice. Policing. Inequality. And for me anti-semitism which is also on the rise.
I’ll end this piece with a short story.
It was 2000 and I was campaigning for a seat on the City Commission, my first bid for public office.
I held a candidate ‘meet and greet’ at the Marriott on A1A.
It was a nice event, your typical have a drink and a bite while you mingle.
I remember saying hello to a pleasant looking elderly woman I had never seen before.
We talked for a few seconds while she ate chicken wings and drank wine.
When I said that I hoped I could count on her vote, she smiled and said.
“Oh, I won’t be voting for you,” she said. “We already have one of you on the commission.”
She smiled and walked away.
It took me a minute, but then I got it. I was Jewish and so was Commissioner Bill Schwartz who was serving at the time.
And so it goes…I suppose.
As a realist, if I let myself go there I can get pretty down on our flawed human condition. There’s so much hatred in our world.
But as an idealistic optimist, I remain hopeful that the pain we are experiencing will lead us to a better outcome for all…someday.
A world of love, compassion and understanding.
That world can start right here at home. But it won’t happen magically. We need to want it and we need to work for it.
It begins with getting to know and love thy neighbors. All of them.

When The Reservoir Runs Dry

“Generations of pain are manifesting itself in front of the world.” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

Like the rest of America, I watched with horror as George Floyd died beneath the knee of a police officer last week as three other now former officers looked on ignoring Mr. Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
It saddened me. But sadly, the tragedy didn’t shock me because we have seen this scene play out time and time again across our country.
I watched, like the rest of the country, the scenes of violence and unrest that the murder of George Floyd sparked, in cities ranging from Minneapolis and Detroit to New York, Denver and Atlanta.
We watched as incendiary devices were hurled at police officers guarding the CNN headquarters and we were saddened by the scenes of looting and destruction.
It’s no small thing when the National Guard deploys in a major American city. And it’s no small thing when a man’s life is snuffed out under the knee of another man sworn to serve and protect.
The footage made me sick. Physically sick.
America is struggling right now.
Struggling with a virus. Struggling with racism. Struggling with anti-semitism and struggling with deep economic wounds caused by the pandemic.
But as daunting as those issues are—our biggest challenge is division.
It seems like half this country doesn’t like the other half very much.
We are seeing and experiencing hatred between Americans. One side sees the other as an existential threat to their way of life and a danger to the country and the world.
It’s hard to remember a time of such deep seated division.
It’s hard to remember a time when we’ve written each other off and when there doesn’t even seem to be an attempt to bring us together.  In fact, our so-called leaders seem to enjoy throwing gas on the fire.
We  each  seem to have our own set of facts and beliefs. You have your experts and I have mine.
We can’t seem to tolerate each other, so working together and compromise  seems impossible.
At the core of this division is race—America’s original sin.
We seem to make strides only to fall back again and again.
While racism manifests itself in so many ways the biggest flash points seem to happen when officers take the lives of black men.
Whenever this happens,—all to frequently I’m afraid—I’m reminded of what happened right here in Delray when Jerrod Miller lost his life outside the Delray Full Service Center.
If you weren’t around  15 years ago , Jerrod, 15, was shot by an off-duty officer outside a school dance. You can google the details.
I was mayor of Delray back then and Jerrod’s death tested this community in ways I’ve not seen before or since and I’ve lived here since 1987.

So what did we learn?
We learned that when violence occurs leaders need to de-escalate tensions not throw gas on the fire.
We learned that you have to amplify communications, admit mistakes and share your humanity.
We learned that you have to show up—in church halls, living rooms, community meetings etc.
We learned that you can’t begin to care after the fact, you have to build a reservoir of goodwill before bad things happen. You have to do the hard work of community building, you have to invest in relationships and you have to be in it for the right reasons and for the long haul not just to make friends before an election only to disappear until the next one.
You have to want it and you have to mean it.
If you’re a leader you can’t introduce yourself to the community after tragedy strikes. They better know who you are before hand and that relationship better be a good one.

America’s issues will not be solved by the feds or the tweeter in chief. If problems are to be solved and opportunity to be seized it will happen on the local level with neighborhood leaders working with their local elected officials to build better towns and cities.
It starts at the neighborhood level. You have to be on the ground every day.  You have to share your heart and your soul and you have to listen before you can help. You have to listen and learn before you can lead.

I have to say, we used to do that kind of stuff pretty well here in Delray. Oh we were never perfect and we never quite got there but here’s the secret: you never do. You have to keep at it.
In my opinion, based on 33 years of observation from inside and outside, I think we’ve stopped.
Sure there are some great initiatives and programs, but at one point our whole local government was built around engagement and community building. Somewhere along the way we got off track. One step up, two steps back……

Alongside George Floyd, social media was in the news last week.
And while I love sharing pictures of pets, movie and restaurant reviews on Facebook, I think the platform has driven wedges in our community.
For years now, I’ve seen fights break out between neighbors over development, community driven transformation plans, other important stuff and some nonsense too.
And I wonder where it all leads. I worry about a spark. I worry about the anger I see and sense.
People don’t react well when they feel marginalized and when they feel they aren’t heard.
You can only poke at people so long before you risk an eruption.
That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything or that elected officials have to compromise their values. It does mean that we have to find a way to disagree respectfully.
I’ve seen people marginalized, organizations bullied or ignored, long time employees thrown out with the trash and denied benefits they’ve earned. I’ve seen people and groups targeted too.
This kind of culture erodes community. It drains the reservoir of goodwill.
We saw last week what can happen when people feel that our societal contract doesn’t work for them.
It seems to me we have two choices: ignore it or address it.
Ignorance is dangerous; addressing it is hard work but it’s the only way forward. Failure to do so means we all fail.
And we can’t afford that can we?

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.

 

 

 

 

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.”

Can Mayors Be Good Presidents? Yes, But One Job At A Time Please

Mayor Quimby is NOT the best example.

There was a fascinating profile last week in the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine about Mayor Pete of South Bend, Indiana.

Pete Buttigieg, 37, is running for president and as of today is considered a “top-tier” Democratic contender in a large field of candidates.

I’m drawn to the Mayor Pete story for several reasons but mostly because he’s a mayor, having been elected to the top office in Indiana’s fourth largest city while still in his 20s.

I can relate –somewhat– to the story having also been a mayor albeit in my late 30s of a city that toggled between the third and fourth largest in Palm Beach County at the time.

That’s kind of where the similarities end.

Mayor Pete went to Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar who speaks 8 languages. I went to SUNY Oswego (the Harvard of Central New York) took Spanish in junior high school and studied Hebrew for my Bar Mitzvah but never really could master either language.

But we do have something else in common.

Mayor Pete, while running for president, is trying to heal a city in the wake of a police shooting of an African American resident. I had a similar experience in 2005.

What I don’t understand is how you can do two jobs at once—run for president and serve effectively as a mayor.

Perhaps you might be able to slide by if you’re in Congress if you miss a few votes, but serving as a mayor is the political equivalent of a hands-on, 24-7 job.

As someone is quoted in the Times story—when you are a mayor “every turd tends to land on your doorstep and everyone knows where your doorstep is”.

Not the most elegant description but apt nonetheless.

And it doesn’t matter if you a so-called “strong mayor” like Mayor Pete or if you serve in a council-manager form of government like we have in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

The buck stops with you on everything that happens in your city. Some of it you can exert some measure of control over—zoning, budgets, capital projects—but some you just can’t control—such as shootings, natural disasters or when the principal of your local high school decides to question the validity of The Holocaust. In Florida, schools are the purview of the School Board, but you can be assured that my friend Boca Mayor Scott Singer was deeply involved in that recent controversy as he should have been.

When a shooting occurs in a city the mayor needs to be present.

The NYT story quotes Buttigieg as saying that mayors serve as their community’s pastors and commanders in chief—an interesting and accurate description.

When tragedy strikes and anger, sadness and emotions swell, mayors are there to absorb the pain.

It’s hard to do that when you are campaigning in Iowa or pressing the flesh at a fish fry in New Hampshire.

That said, I’m not of the school that mayors can’t be good presidents, even though none have ever made the leap directly from City Hall to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In fact, mayors may be uniquely qualified to serve in this moment of division and gridlock. After all, when you are mayor you are compelled to solve problems, tend to look for non-partisan solutions and are always reminded that policies at their core effect real people, something that every elected official ought to remember.

Mayors serve in a fish bowl, everybody sees you. There’s no hiding behind a party and no voting in distant places like Washington orTallahassee.

That proximity keeps the best mayors grounded in reality—they have to live close to the impacts both positive and negative– of their decisions.

I like that—it leads to accountability but only if your constituency is paying attention as we should always do.

So yes, I think mayors could be good presidents. But I don’t think they can or should run at the same time they are serving their cities.

We’d all be better off if the people we elect concentrate on the jobs we elected them to do. That goes for the Mayor of NYC as well, who was out of town when his city suffered a large blackout earlier this month.

Yes, you can fly back as Mayor DeBlasio and Mayor Pete did when crises occurred. But then they have to fly out again—which leaves their cities rudderless.

That’s never a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

My Hometown

The iconic Stony Brook Post Office.

Happy New Year!

There’s a funny segment on the new Netflix special “Springsteen on Broadway” when Bruce talks about his love hate relationship with his hometown, Freehold N.J.

The legendary singer-songwriter talks about wanting to get out of Freehold—after all he was “born to run.”

On the one hand, the town was boring, stifling, depressing, and full of pain and sorrow. But it also was full of life, family, friends, adventures, memories and dreams of a better future.

After busting out of New Jersey to find fame and fortune, Bruce could have lived in any exotic locale in the world, but he ended up living….wait for it…. ten minutes from his hometown. It’s a laugh line in the show—and illustrates the ties that bind. (As an aside, we visited Freehold this summer and we thought the town was lovely.)

I felt some of the same emotions about my hometown of Stony Brook, N.Y.

It was a wonderful place to grow up but by the time I was in college I wanted to see and experience other places. And after four years of snow and biting cold in Oswego, N.Y. I wanted to live in sunshine bathed in palm trees with dolphins nearby. I found that place in Delray Beach.

Still, I miss my hometown. I think about it every day, and sometimes I’ll dream I’m still there.

I visited this summer for the first time in 14 years and it was emotional for me to be there. It’s amazing how much has changed and how much still looks the same. It’s also interesting to note that  you never forget your way around the backstreets.

I was greeted on every corner by a memory—most positive but some a little painful.  On Caterham Lane I saw the house that my mother loved—and she’s gone now— 20 plus years. This was the baseball field my grandfather –who was a hero of mine— stood and watched me pitch and he’s been gone over 30 years.

Truth be told, like Bruce, I could see myself living 10 minutes from where I grew up—but I doubt it’s in the cards. I found a new home here in Delray Beach and despite the complex emotions I have about this place—it seems like we all do— it’s become home.

We have a history here, we’ve raised kids here, we made friends, got involved, and then got very involved and over 31 years made a life for ourselves.

But watching “Springsteen on Broadway” which covers topics as diverse as fathers and sons, hometowns, the pull of the church, love, marriage, brotherhood and music I couldn’t help but wonder what kids growing up here think about their community.

Do they want to bust out of Boca and Delray and head to parts unexplored? Do they want to go off to college and then return and build lives here? What do they think of this place?

Last week, some of our kids were around for the holidays—one’s still at home, one is living in Tallahassee, one up the road in West Palm Beach and one recently moved to Cary, North Carolina.

It’s always fun to see their reactions when the now out of towners come back to Delray—where do they want to go, what places do they like, what do they miss?

I think they enjoyed growing up here. At least that’s what they tell me.

For selfish reasons, I wish those who left would have stuck around. But I also know that it’s important for people to find their own way in life and sometimes their own places.

But I also believe that it’s important to build places that make people want to stay. Or at the very least miss the place a little bit…..

Passings….

On a sad note, I wanted to mark the passing of a friend, Patsy Westall in December.

Patsy was an active Delray Beach resident serving on the board of the Beach Property Owners Association, working as a guardian ad litem among other civic endeavors.

I met Patsy when I served on the Delray city commission. She became deeply involved in our race relations initiative helping to lead one of our most active and effective study circles. Study circles are a diverse group of people who meet to discuss issues of importance and sensitivity. In Patsy’s case, her study circle embarked on community projects in an effort to unify the community.

When I left office after being termed out in 2007, Patsy came to my last meeting and read a poem into the record. It touched on race relations. I will share it below, but first I am happy to say we stayed in touch all these years, met for lunch and breakfast here and there and continued our discourse on issues great and small via email. I tell elected officials that the joy of service is the relationships you develop with a cross section of people if you care enough to make those connections. Some officials glide through their terms without those connections. I feel sorry for them, because they are missing out what’s most important and they are depriving themselves of what helps you become a better representative and a better person.

Patsy and I didn’t always agree on the issues of the day—although there was significant common ground and mutual respect. But we cared for each other and never allowed the disagreements to mar the bigger picture which was the betterment of our community and our friendship.

Patsy was also a connector and she introduced me to several other people who have become friends and touchstones over the years.

I will miss her. Delray will too.

Here’s the poem she wrote. In it, she gives me a hand. I’d like to return the favor.

“Race relations as a topic these days?

That can’t be an issue – not in Delray

We get along fine, all colors and creeds

For work in that area – is there really a need?

But Jeff saw a need, he’s really astute

Knew that our future was at the root

We must come together, share our deep thoughts

And ask whether we’re actually acting the “oughts”

Study circles emerged, a forum for “yak”

Where those who are “not me” can give me feedback

We talked of our pasts and where they have brought us

Our sharing was civil – there was seldom a fuss

But it became clear there was still work to do

Old patterns die hard in both me and you

There was fun in the talk – maybe Alan’s dredlocks

Or why the white men never wore socks

Susan, our scribe, not hip in black lingo

Studied her notes, on a test now she could “bingo”

There was always food and mostly good cheer

We did tire of subways and wished we’d had beer

But faithful we were to the challenge for new

Through both fun and pain, all of us grew

At the end of 8 weeks when the circle did end

We found ourselves asking, “What’s round the bend?”

There’s work to be done – are we not the ones?

To continue the struggle – to keep up the run?

So history we picked as a subject to tackle

On the surface it seemed not one to hackle

But as we dug deeper in the history of Delray

It was clear there was stuff we needed to say

Exclusion, omissions and plain faulty data

Who cares” you might say – but to us it did matta

Lori, our guru, who knew all the websites

Railed us with info so we could get it right

Susan, the scribe, she did rewrite

A task I assure you that was not labeled light

 

We continued our circles – the e-mails they flew

We gathered in homes – a good thing to do

And out of all this a changed history grew

Honoring some whose status is new

This may be a small step in the life of Delray

Who knows its impact – only history will say

But our study circle – Zion we’re named

Stepped up to the plate and stayed in the game

Ancestors long gone – we did this for you

And hope that our history reflects what is true

Then our sister Sharon, a pastor who cares

Was recently “dissed”, caught in crosshairs

Our circle we rallied and went to her church

Support we provide for those in a lurch

Can we fix the world – probably not

But impact Delray – we’ll give what we’ve got

So we come before you tonite as a group

To present what we think should go in the loop

Hat’s off to you Jeff, for taking a stand

As you leave here tonight we give you a hand.

More Passings…

Over the holidays we lost a few other very special people.

Fred Sergio, a legendary long time Delray Parks employee, passed just before his 102nd birthday.

Fred was a pillar at Miller Field, a wonderful gentleman and a touchstone for generations of Delray children. He’s a legend, pure and simple.

We also lost Bill McDonough, another long time resident and wonderful man. If you knew “Mac” you loved him. It’s just that simple. His wife Mable too….just nice people.

We got to know each other at various city events over the years. He used to attend the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts and could always be counted on for a positive word and a big smile. He will be deeply missed.

 

 

 

 

One Shoe: Nailed To The Floor

Actor John David Washington gives a stunning performance in Spike Lee’s new film.

We went to see “Blackkklansman” at Cinemark in Boca on the one year anniversary of the unite the right rally in Charlottesville.
It was not an easy movie to watch.

Blackkklansman is a Spike Lee movie that tells the true story of two Colorado Springs undercover police officers who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 70s. One of the officers was black. The other Jewish.
It’s a remarkable film that touches on issues of race, anti-semitism, violence and hate. Unfortunately it’s more than relevant in 2018.
When the movie ends–with news footage of Charlottesville– many in the audience were in tears.

It’s hard to watch a movie in which the characters spew unspeakable insults and vitriol at other human beings; simply because of the color of their skin or their religion.
It’s especially dispiriting because this kind of thinking/behavior is antithetical to what America is supposed to be.

And yet…

And yet we struggle with race, religion and a host of other “differences.”
And it breaks my heart.
We are stuck and I don’t know why.
If we think this is some esoteric issue being waged in places like Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore we are blind to the struggle in our own backyards. It’s right here folks. Until we deal with it we will have a society in which one foot is nailed to the floor.
Go see Blackkklansman. If you tear up at the end– as many do– there’s hope. If you’re able to walk out and just go about your life well…
Regardless, it’s not just about getting choked up it’s about work. About making a conscious change. We have a whole lot of work to do.

13 Years

Jerrod Miller

Thirteen years ago today, Jerrod Miller, 16, was shot and killed outside of the Delray Full Service Center by a rookie Delray Beach police officer.

Jerrod was killed exactly 7 years to the day before Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida sparking a national conversation that still boils.

In the ensuing years, we’ve read about Freddie Gray, Ferguson, Missouri and a whole slew of incidents that have engulfed young men of color, police departments, communities, schools and our nation’s soul.

I’m not sure how many people are thinking of Jerrod Miller today in Delray Beach where we seem to be focused on gutter politics and whether this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a 50 year tradition will be the last because of a few myopic elected officials who don’t understand what it means to be a steward.

All of those things are important—who serves in office and whether community traditions continue or are shooed way.

But they also pale when viewed through the prism of a basic question; whether we are a good place for children and families to live.

Jerrod was my daughter’s age in 2005. I think of that often, every time I see my first born and marvel at the young woman she has become. She’s a teacher now, but back then she was a student at Atlantic High School and the kids were shaken about what happened the night Jerrod was shot. Samantha was given the opportunity to grow up, go to college and launch a career. Jerrod didn’t have that opportunity. And I think about him all the time.

For 13 years, 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 an 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.

Ironically, I was at Mar-a-Lago, at a charity fundraiser the night of the shooting. I had no clue that life would change for so many with a middle of the night phone call that informed me of the news.

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

Absolutely 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 when I see things happen—in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and yes Parkland because I know there’s hurting families, anxious policymakers and sad police officers.

In my case, I was walled off from the officer because of the investigation but I felt for him and his family. I tried not to pass judgment, I tried to think of him as a 23 year-old man. And when my son hit that age, I realized just how young that is. Jerrod was shot while allegedly driving erratically near a school dance. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

I’ve always been a fan of the Delray Beach Police Department and public safety professionals in general. I rode with them as a young reporter, got to know them as people and marveled at the complexity of their jobs and how well they performed. There is no Delray Beach as we know it, without their stellar work. They made it safe to live, work and play here but that challenge is ongoing and we must strive to be the kind of city that protects those who protect and serve us. So when the narrative emerged after the shooting of a rogue police department, I knew from personal experience that it wasn’t true. Of course, there was a fraught history–and that matters. Like America itself, Delray has struggled with race. But we were hard at work on the issue. We may have been imperfect, slow at times, blind to things but there were sincere efforts in our city to bridge the divide–to talk, engage and work together. Bridges had been built, relationships had formed and they were real and we would rely on them in the tough days ahead.

I also felt deeply for the family, friends and teachers who were shocked by the shooting.

We were isolated from the family as a result of the investigation, the inevitable litigation and other factors including an inquest, a rare event that was ordered in the case. I did spend time with several of Jerrod’s teachers who came to see me racked with emotion. We also spent a lot of time in the community answering questions, listening and praying.

But all during this time I was also thinking about another young man—Sherrod, Jerrod’s twin brother.

I asked  officers and community members for any information on him. I was told he was devastated and angry. Who could fault him. I’m sure there was confusion too.

I never did get to connect with Sherrod at the time. But I never stopped thinking about him.

I was saddened to read newspaper headlines a few years later detailing trouble that he had found.

He ended up doing time.

But a few years ago, he re-emerged. I got a call from an officer/friend who said Sherrod wanted to meet me and a few other  police officers including the chief. He wanted to see us. He had something to say.

And so we met, quietly in an office at City Hall. I was nervous about the meeting but anxious to see him too.

I’ve never written about this part of the story before but it’s important to share.

When Sherrod walked in the first thing you noticed was his size—6’5” and strong.

He was heavily tattooed and clearly someone who had seen a lot in his short life.  And yet there was something about him too that I just can’t describe–maybe the word is vulnerable.

When he saw us, the emotions were raw. He shook hands with all of us but it quickly fell into an embrace and a few tears.

It was very powerful.

For all of us.

Seasoned police officers who have seen it all and then some. Officers who had been called to the scene 13 years ago and were  very moved by what they saw.

We talked and talked some more. A lot poured out. Prison. Anger. Anger at Delray police. The searing pain of losing a brother. A twin; someone who feels a part of you. And a realization that the cycle has to stop. If at all possible, the anger had to be let go. Sherrod wanted to apologize to us, for things he had said and done. We told him it was OK and not necessary. We just wanted him to live a decent life. We were sorry that we didn’t help him and he needed a lot of help.

We vowed to help Sherrod get started again.  And we did. A job. Support. Advice.

I’d like to say that we all grew close. For awhile we texted, his preferred method of communication– with me anyway. Then the texts bounced back. His number must have changed.

And we lost touch.

He got arrested again. You can look up the details.

I keep tabs via the Internet.

On this, a sad anniversary, I pray he finds peace. I pray we all do.

I share these stories on the anniversary because I believe that it’s important that others know what happened on Feb. 26, 2005 in the village by the sea.

At the time, many felt Delray would never be the same. That’s how big this was. But I find we move on, maybe not the families, maybe not the direct participants, but society moves on.

There have been other violent deaths in Delray since. There have been young people gunned down by other young people right here in our community. And life goes on, as I suppose it should and must.

But my hope is that with every loss we would learn something that makes us better people and a better, closer community.

Until that happens, we will continue to fray–inch by inch– until  eventually we break.