Shining A Light On Old School Square

Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

I’m surrounded by angels.

If my old city editor Tom Sawyer (yes, that was his real name) saw that sentence I would have been sent home for the day to think about my future in journalism.

But what if that sentence is true? What if we have people in our lives who appear at just the right time with just the right message?

I will argue that they are heaven sent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s working for me.

I’ve been upset lately about the fate of Old School Square.

The organization and the place it birthed holds a special place in my heart. I’m not alone. Many of us love Old School Square.

Along with a slew of people (10,000 plus petitioners) I’m dismayed by the 3-2 City Commission vote to evict Old School Square from the home they created 32 years ago when the site was surrounded by a rusted chain link fence.

The non-profit is far more than a “management company” as some have labeled it—the people involved in the organization are the heart and soul of the place and I would argue are also the heart and soul of modern-day Delray Beach.

When they hurt, many of us hurt.

The people involved in this organization over the years are a ‘who’s who’ of Delray Beach.

But they are not self-appointed keyboard patriots, they are the people who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They are the people who give their time, talent and treasure to the community. They are the best people I know and the type of people who make a city go. They give us the gift of community. They are the secret sauce.

Elected officials come and go—and they certainly matter. Good ones can help you move mountains, bad ones can set you back decades. But successful cities cultivate, treasure and nurture their volunteers.

We removed their hearts with this decision.

When you remove the heart of something you better know what you’re doing. You better know what you’ve done.

Flaws in an organization can be cured, especially if you create a collaborative environment, which we currently don’t have.

But lost among the blizzard of accusations and misinformation is the human side of this decision. That’s where the magic lies. And the hurt too.

Ignore the people equation and that will surely bite you, sometimes in ways that aren’t immediately clear.

Maybe you can get a management company to come in and make sure the place is operationally sound. But where are you going to get a donor like Margaret Blume who just saw her generous multimillion dollar gift not only ignored but lambasted? Where are you going to find another Elise Johnson who gave OSS her all during a pandemic? And where do you find a Joe Gillie who ran the place so well and in his “spare” time helped the city win three All America City Awards?

The truth is you don’t find people like this on a shelf.

We were blessed in this town when special people showed up and decided to devote their lives and careers to this town. There was a time when they were appreciated, respected and adored. They didn’t do what they did for adoration, they gave and gave and gave some more out of an old-fashioned sense of civic duty and love. Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

That’s why this decision hurts and why the hurt lingers. Because the people we should be thankful for have been tossed out on their rear ends for no good reason, without a real conversation and without an attempt to fix this situation.

Until that hurt is addressed, until it is acknowledged and fixed, we won’t really move forward.

Those buildings will go dark— for the time being. And that’s not a good thing. But some group will turn the lights on again. The property will not be developed. But the hurt and the stain of this harsh decision will linger.

Our hearts ache for Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square. She is a remarkable woman.

When Frances envisioned Old School Square, Delray Beach’s downtown was a far cry from the bustling place it is today.

One businessman that I know put it succinctly and graphically: “this town was circling the bowl.”

He was right.

But that’s been forgotten.

In the “new” Delray, history began yesterday and everything that was accomplished in the past has been discarded, disrespected and dumped on by critics and Monday Morning quarterbacks who wouldn’t know Frances Bourque from Robert Bork.

So Old School Square was labeled a failing organization—despite finding a way to operate in a pandemic.

Despite presenting a slew of national acts in recent months and landing its biggest ever private donation.

Despite a rich history of achievement and a long legacy of enriching lives through the arts.

Thirty years of hard work dismissed…without a conversation and without giving the community a chance to talk.

Wow.

But political spin is really something.

If you listen to the city’s party line, the non-profit didn’t earn grants—it required “subsidies” — there’s a loaded word used by the brand- new City Manager who really ought to sign up for a history lesson before putting pen to paper. But he better hurry, because the local historians are fading fast and when they are gone nobody will be able to tell the story of how this town came back from a very rough patch. Lose your history and you lose your soul.

 

I was told by a sitting commissioner to cut the guy a break, after all, he’s been here 20 minutes and he’s the ninth manager we’ve had in just a few years’ time. And I will. So will others. There are still compassionate people in this town.

I sincerely hope the new City Manager succeeds. We need him to succeed. But I can tell you how he might fail—be seen as a partisan in a sharply divided town. Because when the worm turns— and it always does—your toast.

 

So Mr. CM you’ve got your mulligan.

Here’s hoping you get both sides of every story from here on out, because rest assured there’s another side to every story in this town.

I also understand that a CM must carry out the will of the majority of their bosses, but sometimes the majority will need some coaching when they stray off the reservation. We are counting on you to speak truth to power.

But let’s go back to Old School Square for a second. They deserve a better epitaph than the current narrative.

We are told to ignore that public funds are only 20-25 percent of the Old School Square budget with the rest earned through donations, sponsorships and ticket sales to things like a Jimmy Buffett concert, which was labeled a failure because not everyone who wanted a ticket got one.

Shame on the organization, we are told.

And shame on Jimmy too for thinking that Old School Square’s “pod” seating was an innovative way to keep people healthy during a pandemic. He could have made his concert return anywhere—but he chose the OSS Pavilion. In most rational places that would elicit civic pride. But not here. You have to ask, why?

Old School Square owned its mistakes and pleaded for a conversation. Their magnanimous behavior got them nowhere. And when the organization pushed back, they were blamed by some for failing to fall on the sword by meekly accepting their fate. I suppose they should have just said thank you to a commission majority that ended the organization’s life without a plan. As a result, brides have no clue whether they can get married in the Fieldhouse this winter.

But I digress.

I have faith that the truth still matters.

And as I said, I am surrounded by angels.

Unfortunately, I fall far short of that description myself; I take it hard when people I love and respect are treated like garbage. I have the urge to put pen to paper when I see things I don’t like.

These little essays make a few of my long-time critics uncomfortable. They wish people like me would go away.

Well, I’ll stop writing when I stop caring. I hope that doesn’t happen for a long time.

I have angels to serve. That’s how I feel about so many of the contributors in this town.

These  angels sometimes call me with messages that urge me to think differently and deeper.

I got such a call last week after spending a night wrestling with some of the emotions resulting from the Old School Square decision.

I was told to look at the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, particularly the opening line. I wasn’t sure what to think about that request, but I read the lyrics and they spoke to me.

“O little town of Bethlehem,

 

How still we see thee lie.

 

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

 

The silent stars go by;

 

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

 

The everlasting Light.

 

The hopes and fears of all the years

 

Are met in thee tonight.”

Old School Square was the light that lit up a dark town back before it became South Florida’s hot spot.

It may go dark again…but one day that light will shine once more. But it won’t shine as brightly unless it is accompanied by a renewed focus on collaboration, community and yes… love.

That’s what I want to see, collaboration, community and love. I don’t think I’m alone.

If you love something—- you respect, nurture and protect it.

This was an organization made up of people who earned our respect, who deserved to be nurtured (not coddled) and earned the right to be protected.

We did not protect Old School Square.

I’m hoping against hope that it is not too late to do so.

I know I am not alone.

9/11 Twenty Years Onward

Delray firefighters run the stairs at the Old School Square garage in honor of those lost in 9/11.

The terrorists lived here.

Out of all the places on Earth, they were here in Delray Beach visiting our library, picking up prescriptions at the local pharmacy, lifting weights at the local gym and living in communities we know and love—The Hamlet, Laver’s.

Twenty years later, the fact that at least  7 and possibly 9 of the 9/11 terrorists lived in Delray Beach still feels astonishing. Another three lived in Boynton Beach.

It’s also proof that “it” can happen anywhere.

No place is immune from the dangers and hatred that plague our world.

So much has changed since Sept. 11, 2001.

So much blood and treasure has been spilled in the war against terror. Our lives are forever altered.

For a generation of Americans, 9/11 was a defining moment. Like the JFK assassination, we remember where we were.

I was working at the BRN Media Group at the time. The company was the publisher of the Boca News and we were in the newsroom when we saw footage of planes striking the Twin Towers.

We had no idea of the scope of what we were witnessing.

I was a year into my term on the Delray Beach City Commission and we were so thrown by the events that we didn’t even cancel a workshop meeting that night.

What were we thinking?

It was shock, not insensitivity that led us to keep the meeting.  It would take a little time to digest what had happened.

When we did, things changed fast.

Our Police Department became plugged into national intelligence briefings and formed a Homefront Security force consisting of dedicated volunteers who patrolled public sites and vulnerable infrastructure in an effort to keep us safe.

This was back in the days when the message from Washington was to “say something if you see something” suspicious.

Many of the volunteers were members of the Greatest Generation, men and women who served our nation during World War II. They wore berets and sharp uniforms. When I became Mayor, I was always so happy when they visited my office at City Hall to say they were watching out for all of us.

These were special people and an example of how a community can come together after tragedy.

We had firefighters volunteer to work on the pile at Ground Zero in New York and the department also displayed a touching piece of public art that honored the 343 NYC firefighters who perished that fateful day.

When we went after the Taliban who housed Osama Bin Laden a few of our police officers who were in the reserves were called to active duty.

In due course, we got involved in a program called Forgotten Soldiers and held community “packing” events sending socks, toiletries, DVD’s and other items to soldiers.

It was a unifying experience. And while we were living in a scary new world, we were in it together and we were supported by friends from all over the world. We never doubted that NYC and America itself would bounce back.

And we did.

Lower Manhattan became vibrant once more and we celebrated when the Freedom Tower, standing 1,776 feet tall was built where the World Trade Center once stood.

But for me and so many of my neighbors the lasting memories of that surreal time was the revelation that the terrorists lived amongst us.

Pretty soon the stories poured out. There were brief encounters with police officers but due to a lack of databases there was no way to learn who these men were. The hijackers were in our library using computers and neighbors recalled encounters that were weird at the time but chilling once we learned what these men were about.

It was all so hard to believe. All so impossible to comprehend.

I remember a sadness in the air

But also a sense of unity and resolve.

This act of horror will not go unanswered. These people will not break us. We are all Americans and we are rooting for each other and the world is rooting for us because we are the beacon for that world. We are the opposite of the hatred and cowardice these terrorists represent. We are America.

One nation. Indivisible. A beacon for the world.

 

On a personal note: Like many Americans, I lost a childhood friend on 9/11. NYC Firefighter Michael Boyle wasn’t working on that fateful day. But when he heard what was happening he went to Ground Zero to help his brothers and sisters. He was never seen again. He was 37 years old.

Mike was a great kid. He befriended me, the new kid in school, back in 6th grade. He was kind, a great athlete and just a good guy. His father, Jimmy Boyle was a legendary NYC Firefighter and union president and Mike was following in his footsteps. He was going places. I think of him often and found his name at the 9/11 Museum in NYC.

As for Jimmy Boyle, he died two years ago at the age of 80. His family said he died from cancer he contracted from the rubble and dust on 9/11. He searched Ground Zero for his son for weeks and each year on 9/11 he would retrace Michael’s steps in tribute by visiting the site of the towers.

I urge everyone to visit the 9/11 Memorial and take their children. We must never forget.

 

Visiting the Memory Motel With Charlie

Charlie Watts in all his sartorial splendor.

The death of drummer Charlie Watts hit hard last week.
Yes, he was 80.
Yes, we knew something was up when The Rolling Stones announced that he would not be joining them on their upcoming North American tour.
But Charlie was an icon and the Stones are timeless. How can this happen?

Of course, we know why. Our heroes are mortal. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Growing up in the 70s and early 80s, I was raised on what is now called ‘classic rock’.
We listened to WNEW and WPLJ in New York and Long Island’s very own rock station WBAB in Babylon.

It was an amazing era for music and I never had enough money to buy all of the albums I wanted to own. We went to Sam Goody’s and Korvettes for our record fix and on occasion we drifted into the city where— magically— my friend David knew where we could get European imports and bootlegs in Soho and the village.
Hey wait a minute…how did he know where to go?  We were only 11 or 12?

We went to see our favorite acts at Madison Square Garden , Jones Beach, Westbury Music  Fair and the Nassau Coliseum. The Kinks, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Foreigner, Billy Joel, The Doobie Brothers, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys, The Cars, The Police and more.

It was a golden era and I spent hours listening to Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John and scores of other amazing artists.
But at the top of the pantheon were the Big Four: The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who.

One of the radio stations, I can’t remember which, would have Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Who days—when the entire programming was devoted to those four bands. I listened all day and all of the night. (Kinks reference for you amateurs).

Those classic bands and so many others meant so much to me and my friends. So much to my generation and others too.
For my money, the 60s, 70s and 80s produced the best music ever made. Music that moved us, raised us, made us move and shaped how we viewed the world.

Is there a better love song than “Something?”

Is there a better guitar solo than the one in “Stairway to Heaven.”

Is there a better album than “Who’s Next” released 50 years ago this month.

Is there better rock music or more catchy riffs than the songs recorded by the Rolling Stones?

And now Charlie Watts is gone.

The steady beat driving the worlds greatest rock band has joined John and George, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and John Bonham in the hereafter. We’ve lost so many great ones. In recent weeks, we’ve lost Nanci Griffith, Poco’s Paul Cotton and Tom T. Hall, one of the truly great story songwriters (Harper Valley PTA). If you want to feel something just listen to Nanci Griffith sing about love on a late night in a grand hotel or take another listen to Poco’s “In the Heart of the Night.”
All will be missed.

Still, Charlie’s loss hit hard.
Delray’s Max Weinberg, a hall of fame drummer, called Mr. Watts a personal hero. He said he was devastated by the news.

When you love music, the players who create these magical sounds assume on an outsize influence on your life.
They are magical in so many ways because they  play notes that make you feel fully alive.
So when you lose someone who can do that…well, it stings. It really, really stings.

On This Train; Faith Will Be Rewarded

Historic and picturesque Newport, Rhode Island.

Happiness is found in life’s most ordinary moments. 
 
This week, I will be celebrating my 57th birthday.
And being in a reflective mood, I’m finding that as I get older I’m finally able to derive bliss from the simple things in life.
It has taken me awhile to get to this place.
But these days, these wonderful days, a beautiful sky, my wife’s laugh, a text from my sister, a call from a friend, a quick trip to  New England, watching my old dog sleep in his cozy bed, time with friends, a great book and the list goes on makes me happy to my very core.
 

Brené Brown once said, “We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard 💩happens. And then in the face of really hard stuff — illness, death, loss — the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.”

Ain’t that the truth!
Therein lies  the great irony of life — we are constantly pursuing the extraordinary yet when we lose someone, we’re willing to give anything to hear the sound of their voice even if it’s singing off-key in the shower just one more time. One more time.
In my case, Covid reminded me that each moment we’re alive is impossibly fragile.
I first learned that lesson when I lost my mother far too young to cancer. But I had forgotten that lesson.
 I was 34 and in a hurry in those days, consumed by ambition and anxious to make a mark. I lost sight of the beauty of the mundane. I was restless and impatient.
But the gift of some hard knocks and the passage of time is that we discover that simplicity has true meaning. 
When I came home from a 39 day stay at Bethesda Hospital this time  last year, my friend Connor Lynch called me. 
“Doesn’t the grass seem greener?” he asked. 
How did he know?
Yes, the grass seemed greener and the sky seemed bluer. I told Connor that during my trip home from the hospital, I never enjoyed seeing Lake Ida Road more.  Connor knew from experience so he wasn’t surprised. 
A road that I travel every day every day rushing around suddenly seemed grand, like a picturesque boulevard. 
I don’t want to lose that feeling. 
So when life gets me down, and of course it still does from time to time (that Old School Square lease termination really stinks my friends) I still get angry. But my pique is tempered by my appreciation for the good things in life. The simple pleasures. 
We went to New England last week for a long awaited vacation that happened to dovetail with my year anniversary of getting and ultimately surviving Covid and a wicked case of double pneumonia that still robs me of my wind. 
Through Facebook memories I was able to revisit the experience  through the kind comments of so many nice people. It was painful and interesting and touching to hear from so many people. And I felt blessed. Extraordinarily blessed. 
A kind word carries so much power and influence.
Kind words heal.
The opposite is true as well.
Harsh words wound. They leave marks. 
On my vacation, I soaked in the beauty of New England which is extraordinary. Everywhere you look is a postcard. 
My wife and I enjoyed the water views, we sailed, looked for puffins, explored charming villages and marveled at the history we found in every town. 
I’m drawn to New England for a lot of reasons, some mysterious to me. It does remind me of  my hometown Stony Brook, New York, so maybe that’s part of it. But there’s something intangible too that just calls to me. 
Of course, I love Florida too. My wife and I have given a lot of time and passion to Delray Beach and so have our friends who were hurting last week over the aforementioned decision regarding Old School Square.  
I felt compelled to listen to their hurt last week, to make calls I wouldn’t ordinarily make while  on vacation. 
I was calling and texting from various points in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all of which felt like warm, inviting and friendly places even for this Yankee fan tooling around town with Florida plates on the rental car. 
My friends needed to be reminded that they mattered, that they did good things because they have been told the opposite.
 
I happen to believe that the truth matters.
And that even in a world filled with misinformation, propaganda and nastiness, the truth will eventually win out. 
It’s painful to wait, but you have to keep believing. 
In the past year, so many of my wishes have come true and so many of my prayers and the prayers of others have been answered. 
Amid the challenges, my faith has been cemented. 
I’m finally learning to be patient,  to be happy and to open my eyes to the beauty that surrounds us. Despite the noise, despite the nastiness, there is clarity, kindness and hope.
Always hope. Even in the darkest days. 

 

Wake Up Everybody

 

 

 

 

What’s happening at Old School Square is a microcosm of what’s been happening in Delray Beach for years now.

So I wasn’t shocked when the City Commission terminated Old School Square’s lease on a 3-2 vote ending a memorable three decade run by the non-profit. The decision was made without allowing OSS or the public to speak on the issue. OSS was not able to defend itself. The item was not on the agenda and the commission and city staff did not consider the ramifications of the decision.
Ready, fire, aim is not a good way to run anything. But it’s a really bad way to run a city.
But I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed for sure. But not surprised. The commission took over the CRA in similar fashion without discussion, public input or even an item on the agenda. It just happened —like that. And we’re supposed to believe there’s no coordination…hmmmm. See me about a bridge I have one for sale.
There’s been a full-press assault on the volunteer class in this city by certain political elements for years now.
It’s bad. It’s personal and it’s getting worse.
The people who give their time, money and loyalty to Delray Beach are being singled out, disparaged and disrespected. The institutions they support are also under fire. First they took over the CRA and now it’s Old School Square’s turn. But groups as disparate as the Beach Property Owners Association and the Northwest Southwest Alliance have also gotten tangled up in the mess. And a vast number of city employees have seem their careers and lives upended and ruined too. Record turnover doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens for a reason.
The problem is the division on the  City Commission and in the community itself. We are locked in a never ending battle that has made a once happy village a very unhappy place for those who want to be involved.
I can go chapter and verse on this subject. But it’s old and it’s tiring.
Let’s just say the nonsense is having real consequences.
We may have just lost the magic that made Old School Square. That magic was a volunteer/donor base that has given millions of dollars and countless hours to the arts for thirty years until they were called corrupt failures and asked to vacate the place they built.
This isn’t merely a management contract we are talking about. These people birthed the idea of Old School Square, they nurtured it, grew it and raised private money to preserve and enhance city buildings.
For decades, they were respected and acknowledged for their contributions and Old School Square was credited for launching the downtown’s renaissance.
When you have such a relationship and such a resource you treasure it. If there’s a problem, a question or a performance issue you sit down with your partners and you work it out.
You don’t take the organization and throw it in the garbage which is what has been done.
Sure, you can find a group or an entity to manage the facility. But it won’t be the same. It’s like when your favorite restaurant gets bought by a chain—it will look the same, but it won’t feel the same. The soul will be gone. And once it’s gone, good luck getting it back.
Friends, you can’t just find people like founder Frances Bourque and a who’s who of civic leaders by doing an RFP. These people loved the place, the mission and the city itself.
That’s what’s being lost here. That’s what’s not understood or respected.
My strong belief is that the issues being used to terminate OSS the entity are being manufactured in an effort to justify a personality conflict by two sides locked in a damaging Cold War.
Many of the issues being alleged are simply not true and were easily proven false by Old School Square’s board. Too bad they weren’t allowed to talk before they were terminated but when you are being set up it doesn’t make sense to let the target speak does it?
Sadly, brand new City Manager Terrance Moore allowed himself to be used to further a political agenda. That taints him in the eyes of many devoted citizens. He made a big mistake and that’s too bad because after 9 managers in a few years time we need him to succeed.
He will need to learn this community because he badly misfired on this important issue.
As an aside, with a pandemic still raging, a budget that needs adoption, positions that need to be filled, a police contract and a hurricane season upon us, it seems like a curious time to pick a fight with OSS. Especially when the organization just produced its biggest concert and landed its biggest ever private donation.
But here we are.
Oh yes, here we are.
We best wake up people. Delray is at stake. This is way bigger than even Old School Square.

A Year Later…

Covid Memorial

I really wish I didn’t feel compelled to write about Covid.

I wish that this damn virus was in the rear-view mirror instead of front-page news. Again.

But hospitals are filling up—again.  People are dying—again.

According to the Surgeon General —and most of the medical and scientific community— there is no reason for people to be dying. If this is something you don’t believe, fine. You should probably stop reading right about now.

But if you are on the fence, I’m going to try gently to convince you to take the leap and get the shot.

Here’s the pitch.
We have a vaccine and if you take it, the statistics tell us that you won’t die.

That’s it.

It’s a straightforward value proposition.

I know people— including a lifelong friend— who take issue with what I just wrote. They will not change my mind and I will not change theirs either. This is where we are as a society these days—locked into our positions, identified by our tribes and in possession of our own “facts.” For the record, I believe my sources and I think theirs are full of crap.

There….it’s out of my system.

But my friends, Democracies can’t last too long in this kind of atmosphere. Democracies rely on the acceptance of objective facts, a healthy regard for science and the rule of law. Yes, we have a right and an obligation to question things, but after a while we should opt toward the evidence.

Democracy also relies on freedom.

We wield that word like a cudgel these days. Some people view mandates as restrictions on our freedoms—and they are.

But freedom also comes with responsibility. We have a responsibility to others. We have never been able to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. There have always been rules of the road.

As the old saying goes: My right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.

I fear sometimes that we forget that fundamental pillar. You do not have a right to get others sick.

But this isn’t another piece for the culture wars. It’s testimony.

A year ago, I was in Bethesda Hospital with Covid and double pneumonia. The virus almost took my life.

I didn’t want to let on at the time, but I did not think I was getting out of there alive. A lot of people on my medical team would have agreed.

At the time, Covid took everything from my breath and my strength to my ability to think, walk and take care of myself. Spending six weeks flat on your back in a hospital with a mask on your face, attached to hoses and ports is a traumatic experience. You are left alone with your thoughts and your fears; the days go on and on and on. And the nights are terrifying.

I’m reliving the experience through the “memory” feature on Facebook. I was blessed with a daily dose of kind messages from friends who live near and far.

When all you can do is hold a phone that proved to be a lifeline and a source of inspiration at a time when I desperately needed both.

So here I am a year later.

Back to work.

Back to the gym.

Back home with my family.

But things aren’t the same.

My perspectives have changed, I hope in a good way. You learn to appreciate life more than ever when you almost lose it.

It took me a full 10 months to feel anything like my former self physically and as I take inventory a year later, I have to say that things have changed for me and millions of others.

I can’t sleep well.

I’m tired.

My brain is not as foggy, but my memory is not as sharp.

My joint pain is gone (and it was awful) and I stopped losing my hair, but my breathing is just not right.

Every day, for parts of the day, I feel like I can’t take a deep breath.

It feels like there’s cotton in my lungs, an obstruction that comes and goes. It’s hard to explain.

And I am one of the lucky ones.

I share this because I want you to know that Covid is real, very dangerous and more than a little mysterious.

It affects people in different ways. My wish is for people to live their lives, but to be aware and to try and do the things it takes to stay safe.

The best thing you can do is to get a vaccine.

That’s the bottom line my friends. Sent with love and concern. No need to send me your theories on Fauci, magnets, 5G, Bill Gates etc. I’m not interested. I’ve read about those theories and I’m comfortable that they have been debunked. Bottom line: I trust the science. And if you’ve read this far, I’ve warned you.

This is for the people on the fence, and I know a few. I hope you take the leap. I will help you take the leap if you want.

This is about all of us. Let’s stamp this darn thing out before we get a variant that comes back to bite us all. This one already is—especially here in Florida. The next variant may elude the vaccine’s protection.

By my math, more Americans have died of Covid in the past 17 months than in four years of the bloody Civil War. Enough already.

Enough.

Try A Little Tenderness…

Tony the heroic lawn guy.

Otis Redding was right.

“It’s all so easy

All you got to do is try

Try a little tenderness.”

Actually, Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods wrote the lyrics to that classic song, but Otis…well Otis…he brought the emotion.

So when you listen to that song you just feel it in your soul.

“When you get weary, try a little tenderness.”

The words empathy and tenderness have been rattling around in my head these days.

Naïve and romantic old me keeps thinking that if we deployed those words, sent them out into the world to do their magic, good things might happen.

Last week, I read a story about a lawn guy named Tony who was walking to work on Dunes Road in unincorporated Palm Beach County when he saw a car veer out of control. The driver was having a seizure and ended up on the front lawn of what turned out to be a rather nasty couple.

Tony went to render help; he grabbed the fender as the car rolled forward. Unfortunately, the car crushed his bag lunch, but he tried mightily to get the seizure victim out of the vehicle. He yelled for help as the man convulsed violently inside the car.

The owner of the home where the car stopped came outside– not to help– but to yell: “Get off our lawn! Get that man out of here! Have him die somewhere else!”

Oy….

Tony happened to recognize the seizure victim and knew where he lived, a few doors down. He ran to the man’s home, and they were able to summon help.

The Sheriff’s Office was happy to report that they received a call from the seizure victim a few days later. He called officers to find out Tony’s phone number, “I want to talk to Tony. He saved my life.”

The grateful man and his wife found Tony and gave him a big hug to thank him for his actions.

The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office honored Tony with accolades and a photo on social media. The posting prompting an outpouring of love for Tony and a heaping of shame for the less than charming neighbors who were more concerned for their lawn than their neighbor’s life.

They should try a little tenderness.

And frankly, some of the vitriolic social media commenters may also want to consider a dollop of restraint.

Shame can be a teacher, but hatred and threats…well that just leads to more hatred and more threats.

We can do better.

About 10 years ago, we started a charity called “Dare to Be Great.”
The non-profit picked 10-12 Delray kids a year and we helped them pay for college. We also mentored the students and did what we could to connect them to opportunities.

We had one young man, who came to the United States from Haiti with his father. He told us what it was like to say goodbye to his mother (who he never saw again) and come to a country where he did not speak the language. He told us how a church gave him clothes and how he went to school every day passing gang members who tried to either recruit him or hurt him. He learned the language, excelled academically and when he went to Atlantic High School, he became an International Baccalaureate student and a leader in the school’s Criminal Justice Career Academy. His story blew us away.

He told us that his dream was to become a Delray police officer and eventually an FBI agent.

Long story short, we gave him a scholarship, he went to the University of Florida and excelled. With the help of then Delray Beach Police Captain Michael Coleman we were able to arrange an internship with the Gainesville Police Department.

But when the young man graduated, citizenship issues prevented him from getting a job in Delray. That was a real loss because this exceptional young man spoke Creole, which would have made him a great asset to our department. Eventually, he was able to sort things out and he ended up taking a job with the San Diego Police Department. He would visit with us when he came home to Delray.

Last week, he let us know that he realized his dream of becoming an FBI agent. He also let us know that he was grateful for the support—for the kindness extended to him by this community.

The next day, I saw a video of a speech that Vice President Kamala Harris gave to a group of Dreamers— “undocumented” kids who came to this country with their parents and went to college or the military. Their legal status remains in limbo year after year because our dysfunctional, divisive and polarizing politics doesn’t allow us to compromise or fix things.

How sad is that?

Come on folks, figure it out. That’s what we elect you to do.

And before you write to tell me that you don’t like the Veep, that’s great, but remember “try a little tenderness.”

Anyway, the Vice President told the kids that they were home.

This is their home. We care for you.

America, the beautiful. The land of opportunity.

Community is what provides that opportunity. Tony the lawn guy saved a life because he cared. A young man who came here with nothing is dedicating his life to law enforcement in a country he has come to love and cherish. He did the work but was helped along the way by teachers, mentors and a few philanthropists who cared.

Like Otis sang all those years ago…we do get weary.

I think we’re weary.

Maybe we ought to try a little tenderness.

This other stuff? Well it just isn’t working.

 

 

Peace, Love & Understanding

Delray’s Pride Intersection was vandalized in June.

Back in my newspaper days, we were trained to look for trends.

The first time something happened it was news.
The second time something happened we were told keep a close eye.
The third time something happened my editor called it a trend and we were tasked with trying to explain what was happening.
Well, by that definition we may want to pay attention to a troubling series of recent events. Let’s hope it doesn’t portend a trend.
In recent weeks, we saw the Pride  intersection in downtown Delray vandalized. The perpetrator is looking at a hate crime charge. In June, a group of teenage boys were said to be wreaking havoc in downtown Delray Beach, destroying property and harassing people.

There have been reports of the kids, some on bikes, some in ski masks, vandalizing storefronts, and screaming vulgar expletives at folks walking downtown in the middle of the day.

Ugh.

Then last week, a few yards away from the Pride Intersection,  the owner of the Ramen Noodle factory, was accosted by foul-mouthed idiots after being told politely that the restaurant was closing and they would have to eat their pizza—bought elsewhere—somewhere else.
I first saw a video of the incident when a friend sent me a link to Tik Tok. It nauseated me.
I then saw some newspaper coverage and was told the restaurant owner who videotaped the encounter on his phone had posted it on the restaurant’s Instagram page.
The post elicited hundreds and hundreds of messages of support , which was heartening to see. There are still many more good people than hate filled clowns. Thank goodness.
But still, such incidents leave a mark.
Seeing hatred up close is never easy. And seeing it unfold in your own community rattles you to your core.
The thugs in this particular video seemed to be middle aged and one appeared to be grossly inebriated slurring his speech. The other was coolly nasty, which was even more disturbing in my view.
The restaurant manager stood his ground and kept his cool. He remained polite despite a vicious barrage of stupid insults.
I found myself growing anxious watching the video because these seem to be the type of confrontations that can  spiral into senseless violence. Luckily, this time, it didn’t. But words sting and leave marks as well.
Let’s hope this isn’t a trend. But it does feel like something is wrong in our society these days.
There’s an awful lot of anger, hatred and violence in our world.
It’s scary and it’s alarming.
These “things” tend to build and accelerate.
Only love can drive out hate.
It’s time we summon our better angels before the haters in our midst ruin our community and our world.
We have the power, on the local level, to make our communities kinder and therefore better places.
The time is now and the tools are there for us to use.

History & The Human Touch

Old School Square

Sometimes buildings stand for so much more than bricks and mortar.

Historic buildings contain stories. So many stories.

They tell the tales of their towns.  If only the walls could talk.

In Delray Beach, Old School Square has the best stories.

Stories of civic renewal.

Stories of healing after tragedy.

And stories of celebration after civic achievements.

So many important moments in the history of our town have happened within the walls  or on the grounds of Old School Square.

That should mean something. That does mean something.

I thought about that fact last week as I was watching a debate unfold over the future of the organization.

I think the conversation is long overdue.

But the tone of the conversation distressed me greatly. And it ought to worry you too if you care about this community and this institution’s role in our past, present and future.

The best “tough” conversations come from a place of love, where all parties understand that while there may be disappointments, grievances, hurt, questions and hard feelings— at the end of the day there is love and respect. For tough conversations to yield the most value, there needs to be a foundation in place.

Historic buildings are important, and they are often beautiful, but it is the people who inhabit and care for those buildings that make the difference. They animate our buildings and they make or break our community.

I would argue that the people who have supported Old School Square over the past 35 years are some of the best people you can find here or anywhere.

They aren’t perfect. They have made mistakes. But they have also done amazing things—transformational things that have had an outsize importance to our city.

But before we talk about some of those amazing feats, here a few particulars:

  • The three buildings on the campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  •  The oldest, which used to be a two-story story public school, was built in 1913.
  • The second building, once a high school, was built in 1926 and enlarged in 1937.
  •  The third building, a charming gymnasium, was built in ’26.

The second and third buildings were designed by Sam Ogren Sr., a legendary Delray architect. They were lovingly restored under the watchful eye of another beloved local architect, Bob Currie, who passed away a few years back.

Both are gone but not forgotten—at least that’s the hope and how it should be. Special contributors should never be forgotten. Want to know if your community is healthy? Ask yourself whether the elders  are held in esteem or if they have been put out with the garbage?  It’s a fool proof test. But I digress.

Back in 1988, when the buildings made the National Register, the block was surrounded by a chain link fence and a non-descript concrete sidewalk—no paver bricks in those days. To the west, there was a whole lot of blight, crime and despair. To the east, there was vacancy. Downtown wasn’t quite on life support, but it was close.

My friends, vacancy and blight are not recipes for charm.

But if you study history, you will understand that towns go through cycles. When you’re up, you can’t imagine being down. And sometimes when you’re down, you have a hard time imagining how things could ever turn around. “Ya gotta believe”, as Mets fans used to say.

When the original buildings were built in ’13 and ’26 things were looking up in Delray.

The Delray High School cost $12,000 to build in 1913. And when it opened on November 28 of that year the entire town was in attendance, according to the narrative you can find on the National Register of Historic Places website. Now I’m sure somebody stayed home, but you get the picture, the opening of the school was considered one of the most important events in the history of the town.

But time passes and by the 80s, the buildings and the campus were a mess. Can you imagine a rusty chain link fence at main and main?

And that’s where we pick up our story when a visionary named Frances Bourque looked at those sad buildings and saw something else—a brighter future. She rallied the community and before you knew it, the eyesore on Atlantic and Swinton became a source of civic pride and inspiration.

Pride and inspiration are two things that should never be given short shrift in a city. Civic pride enables belief and belief creates trust which helps you to get things done.

Trust means you can go to the voters with a bond issue and ask them to go into debt and raise their taxes because there is a need to beautify your town, fix your parks and pave your streets.

Trust means they will vote ‘yes’ in resounding numbers. But if you don’t have pride, if you don’t trust your local government to deliver, you won’t be able to pass that bond or turn that blight into Old School Square.

Inspiration is also critically important.

Old School Square’s renovation was a catalyst for downtown Delray Beach.  It inspired others to believe in the future of the central business district.

And because the downtown is the heart of our community when it came back to life so did Delray. I would argue that Old School Square is the singular civic achievement in modern day Delray history. It sent a message to everyone who cared to listen: this town is serious about bettering itself. This town is aspirational. And aspiration is the best economic development strategy you can ever deploy.

Frances Bourque’s dream (disclaimer: I adore her) was brilliant because it addressed our past, our present and our future. Very few ideas touch on all three, but Old School Square celebrates our history, informs our present and has the promise to educate, entertain and inspire future generations.

When the fence came down and the buildings were restored our civic pride came back. We were no longer “Dullray”—we were a city on the move with vision, dreams, hopes and a bright future. What a gift the project that is Old School Square has been to all of us. Some of that gift is intangible–for instance the value of having a place to convene cannot  be measured, but it’s important nonetheless.

Look around South Florida and you will see that very few communities have a place to gather. Old School Square is our place to gather.

It has been an important convening space since it was restored. It is where we’ve hosted Town Hall meetings, it’s where we gathered to welcome the New Year, to celebrate All America City victories and talk about the future of our city during our famous charettes. On the stage, we have seen music, dance and even ice skating. In the beautiful Crest Theatre we have welcomed foreign leaders, authors, thinkers, historians and even a Supreme Court Justice.

Old School Square is also where we gathered to grieve and talk to each other after 9/11 , the Parkland horror and the tragic shooting of Jerrod Miller in 2005.

The beautiful spaces inside the buildings are where we held race relations meetings, where we had tough but important conversations and where we have seen 30 years’ worth of performances and art that has moved us. Yes, if only the walls could talk.

But luckily people do.

I have met local children who were inspired by performances and exhibitions at Old School Square. Some went to art school and one special young woman became a professional photographer after taking courses at the venue. This community came together and gave that young woman a scholarship—that’s what community is all about and it doesn’t happen without a place to gather.

A few months ago—in the wake of the gloom and stress of Covid– Jimmy Buffett—the legend himself– chose Old School Square’s amphitheater to re-launch his live music career. People loved it. They needed what Jimmy brought to us over four magical nights under the stars. Not everyone got tickets, but there were only 1,200 available. But he was here and some of the shows were broadcast on the radio. As Commissioner Adam Frankel noted last week that was a gift to all of Delray.

In a few months, Delray resident Max Weinberg, a member of the E Street Band and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, will host a concert and exhibit at Old School Square because he has fallen in love, like many of us have, with this town and our cultural arts center. Max, like many of us, has been inspired to serve and to give back.

Service and charity are what drives great cities.

You need good people to show up, roll up their sleeves and get to work. But those people need to feel supported and appreciated for their efforts. If they don’t feel supported, they will stay home or take their talents elsewhere. It’s just that simple.

Again, Old School Square is not perfect.

But it’s important to this town.

Old School Square has suffered, like every other arts organization, because of Covid. It needs our help and support now more than ever.

There is no doubt that many of Old School’s Square’s challenges pre-dated Covid and those challenges include funding, turnover among staff and board members and other organizational and financial issues. Some of those issues are really serious—nobody denies that.

As much as has been accomplished—and an awful lot has been accomplished—I think most agree that Old School Square can and should be even more. That’s not a knock on the organization, just an acknowledgement of its vast potential.

Last week, I heard some CRA officials bemoan the cost of Old School Square.

And it is expensive. No doubt about it.

But what about the return on that investment? That’s a good conversation to have and maybe that return can be better so let’s talk about that. But communities make mistakes when they only focus on costs not benefits.

Regardless, it’s important that the institution survive. Having a non-profit that raises private dollars and give citizens a place to volunteer and serve is a good thing. Can that non-profit improve? Absolutely.

It needs to.

Because if Old School Square thrives, Delray is a better place.

So it’s important for us to support the institution and to work together to fix its problems and realize it’s vast potential. Without giving you chapter and verse, the organization has hit a rough patch—rough enough that the powers that be realize the need for a broad conversation about the future.

The opportunity here is a huge one. It’s an opportunity to re-invent, re-set and build something even better. It is also an opportunity to improve how we handle things in this community when problems arise.

A long time ago, I sat on a dais with other elected officials.

For four of my seven years in office, I sat in the middle of that dais with a gavel and a nameplate that said mayor. It was a privilege and an honor and a responsibility. We saw ourselves as stewards. If a key segment of the community or a key organization had a problem, then we had a problem. We were in this together.

The people who have served this city have always viewed Old School Square as a treasured civic asset. They also viewed the relationship as a partnership and a collaboration. When things went right, we celebrated. When things got off track, we worked together to fix things to the best of our ability.

But we never lost the script, we were faithful to the basics. Healthy cities need places to gather. We were fortunate to have a great place to gather. Old School Square’s campus is beautiful, the buildings lovingly restored, the classrooms brim with possibility and the conversations that could be had within those walls are critical to our future.

Those are the basics, and they are awfully special.

We need to think about how we treat that place. And we also need to think about how we treat the volunteers who keep that place going with their time, money and talents.

There’s no doubt that we need accountability, there’s no compromising on that measure when public and donor dollars are at stake.  But we need sensitivity as well.

We need to remember that we are in this together. It is always better to help than condemn.

There is a great opportunity right now to re-invent and create a brighter future together.

 

The Spark Of Inspiration

Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the special people featured on the Apple Plus series.

Have you seen the TV series “Dear…” on Apple Plus?

If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.
But even if you don’t have Apple +, the premise is worth discussing.
“Dear…”  is inspired by the “Dear Apple” advertising campaign, where customers share stories about how Apple products have changed their lives. In the same vein, this docuseries features celebrities reading letters by people “whose lives have been changed through their work.” Each episode focuses on one celebrity.
So far, I’ve seen episodes featuring film director Spike Lee and Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Steinem, gymnast Aly Raisman and Oprah Winfrey.
The premise is at once simple and beautiful:  Our life’s’ work creates ripples. 
Sometimes we see those ripples. Often times we don’t. 
But the important part is to recognize that we all matter and what we put out into the world may impact  people in profound ways. 
If we are lucky, we hear from those we affect.
Those messages sustain us.
Those messages inspire us.
Those messages encourage more art and more creation. As a result, we have a chance to be better and do better and move forward. Those ripples we create matter. They matter a lot. They can and do create waves. 
Exactly a year ago, I got Covid. I don’t know where I got the virus, but for me it was almost a lethal dose. 
The virus that almost took my life, changed my life. As it has changed lives across the globe. 
We are fragile beings; here today, gone tomorrow. 
So today really matters. Our work matters. Our art matters and that art should be broadly defined. 
Your art can be music, writing, teaching, running a business, volunteering or being the consummate friend, father, brother, mother, wife, leader. 
There are opportunities every single day to make a difference. We can inspire or we can deflate, we can encourage or bully, we can love or hate. 
Years ago, I chose to love. There are times where I have been able to do so and there are times when I have fallen woefully short. 
But Covid, that dreaded virus ended up giving me a wonderful gift.
Let me explain. 
From an early age, I was attracted to public service. My first expression of that art was journalism. I enjoyed telling the stories of the people in my community which was and still is Delray Beach. 
I wrote about police officers and firefighters. I wrote about musicians and entrepreneurs. I wrote about community organizers and about people who dreamed about building a better community. 
That work changed me.
Telling stories made me want to make my own stories and apply some of the ideas I had seen from a vast array of special people. 
So I went into local politics with a few simple goals: leave the town better than I found it and support the people in my town doing good work. 
I would judge my success or lack thereof by a single metric: at the end of my term in office– knowing I couldn’t please everyone–if I could look in the mirror and feel I had earned and kept the support of those doing good work in the community I would feel that I achieved my goal. If I lost the support of those investing, volunteering, building, connecting, protecting and educating I would have considered my term a failure.
  
The Dear…series celebrates people doing what I tried to do on a scale I can’t begin to fathom. The series celebrates inspiration. 
Isn’t that wonderful? 
Inspiration and aspiration is the oxygen of the world. If we aspire and inspire we can progress. 
We need progress.
Progress is more than an app. It’s more than a viral Tik Tok video or a social media post that gets scores of likes. 
All those things are fine but progress is writing a Broadway show that inspires young people to learn about our founding fathers.
Progress is a young Black director making movies that depict the Black experience in America and prompts us to ask questions and think about our beliefs. Progress is an Olympic gymnast whose courage in the face of abuse inspires others to speak out and raise awareness. 
Each story in Dear honors those who inspire, but just as important the docuseries shines a light on those who found inspiration and made their own mark on the world. 
Maya Angelou once said our legacy is what we do to inspire others. People will forget what we did, but they won’t forget how we made them feel. We can choose to make them feel good and we certainly have the power to damage them as well. 
We all have the power to create a legacy, to inspire, motivate and empower others. It’s a choice. One we can make every day.