Delray Pie

I’m stealing this opening from a friend.

If he wants credit, I’ll reveal his name next week. If he wants to enter the witness protection program, I’ll try  to help.

But I love the analogy and I thought I’d share. So here goes.

Imagine, if you will, that every time you step forward to help, you get hit in the face with a pie.

That’s what happening to the good folks who have hung in there at Old School Square.

Last week, they went to a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting to discuss the results of a city commission workshop in which it was decided that the DDA should consider working with the non-profit to offer arts classes and to begin to get the Crest Theatre up and running again. I believe it was also decided that an invitation to negotiate will be made available to other organizations. That’s the right and proper thing to do. Let the best ideas win.

Without dredging up the ugliness, they got hit in the face with a pie from a board member who doesn’t have her facts straight.

The details of the latest pie in the face are not important. It’s the same tired, discredited arguments that have been made since Old School Square was terminated “without cause” (how’s that for irony?) in 2021. Still, Old School Square fired back with a letter to the DDA chairman requesting that the facts be read into the public record.

That’s a good and necessary step.

But there’s a deeper issue here and one that we really ought to understand and address.

But let’s digress for a moment.

Books– with lots of chapters and lots of words– have been written about how to build a successful city.

I wrote one of them and I’ve read a lot of them too.

Cities are complicated places; they succeed or fail for a variety of reasons. But if you boil it down, there are two essential ingredients for success. Let’s call them table stakes; the minimal entry requirement for success.

They are?

Drum roll please…

It must be safe to aspire, and it must be safe to volunteer.

That’s it.

The rest is negotiable.

Sure, it helps if you have a pristine beach or a city with what they call “good bones.”

Universities and cultural amenities are cool and good schools are a huge advantage but if volunteering is treacherous, you’re toast. If aspiration is anathema, you’re DOA.

Not only won’t you move forward, but everything that you’ve managed to build is in danger if citizens who aspire feel it’s dangerous, frustrating, or downright impossible to invest or volunteer.

I’m afraid that’s where we’ve been in Delray Beach. We’re digging out, but we have work to do.

It reminds me of that old saying: There’s a reason why we can’t have nice things—just yet anyway.

It’s hard to build community when there are elements who just won’t accept facts.

Of course, we are entitled to our opinions, but you really can’t have your own facts and function properly. The Earth is not flat and nobody at Old School Square took a dime of taxpayer money and stuffed it into their pockets. All public money given the organization was earned after services were rendered. For years, volunteers raised 75-80 percent of the money used to run our cultural arts center and did all the work, now the taxpayer pays 100 percent. That’s a fact.

The volunteers didn’t stick the taxpayers with a bill for the renovation of the Crest Theatre either. That project was funded by a generous donor who had a pie thrown in her face and withdrew her money.

Now the taxpayers must ante up millions for projects that were privately funded through the efforts of Old School Square.

If you’re an arsonist, you shouldn’t be able to burn down a house and then blame others for the destruction you caused.

Old School Square fired back at the latest pie in the face by stating the facts. That was the right thing to do.

But the larger issue is the pie throwing itself;  the larger issue is the sense that if you fall on the wrong side of the political divide, you face peril.

It’s not fun to write that sentence, but building anything of value requires radical candor. Problems don’t magically go away, if left unaddressed, they fester. In our community, we have a bad habit of just trying to plow forward. We skip the healing part, we skip the analysis and we sacrifice the learning and the reconciliation that’s possible if we talk through issues and try and find the lessons in painful moments.

The new composition of the city commission is making strides. We have kind people serving on the city commission. Our city and our world need empathetic leadership at every level.

I am not asking for some kumbaya moment. But I’m thinking we should take advice from Otis Redding and try a little tenderness.

Robust debate is healthy and necessary. If you see something you don’t like, speak out, even if you shake when you do so.

We can disagree. We can even compromise, imagine that?

But we cannot be successful if volunteers don’t feel safe to serve or disagree.

You can say Old School Square made mistakes, but if you are alleging corruption, you better bring the goods.

Margaret Atwood who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an expert communicator on dystopias and utopias.

She says we have a choice.

“Writing dystopias and utopias is a way of asking the reader the question, “where do you want to live?” she recently said. “And where you end up living is going to depend partly on what you do now.”

Yes indeed. What do we do right now?

We have a choice.

I hope we choose kindness and support those who value building a community where it is safe to dream, volunteer, invest and aspire.

If we don’t, there will be nobody to throw pies at, volunteers and those who aspire will find somewhere else to give their time, talent and treasure. We will lose what took decades to build. We already have when it comes to Old School Square.





  1. I have found that in the last several years, people’s sense of history only goes back a week or two. Perhaps that is why there is this lack of gratitude and appreciation for the accomplishments of the wonderful Francis Bourque and her group of dedicated volunteers. With only her vision as a guide over three decades ago, they transformed some badly deteriorated buildings into the thriving center of downtown Delray Beach known as Old School Square. Rather than attack her and her nonprofit with unfounded allegations, we should be celebrating their accomplishments and utilizing their expertise in correcting the horrible mistake that the former City Commission made in terminating their lease. Jeff, I hope that the current group of elected officials heed your words and bring back the spirit of volunteerism that made Old School Square great in the first place.

  2. Frances Bourque says

    It should be noted that Paul is currently on the OSS Board . He has been serving during this difficult and challenging time, when giving up and walking away was not in his psyche. So he and the volunteers who both made OSS a star in our City’s crown , and have refused to forget why we have done what we did and are doing it now.
    Some very unhappy person, unable to understand why one really volunteers, remarked that we must have gotten something out of our time at OSS, else why wouldn’t we just go away? Why are we working so hard “to get back in?” The implication, of course, was we “ TOOK SOMETHING ! or there must be SOMETHING left” that we want! “
    Happily , I can say with all honesty and beam with so much pride , because she was exactly right! Except, she knows nothing about the rewards and pride to be part of the generosity of spirit that can never be deposited in a bank , only to see the calculations of the Soul Bank grow in each and every volunteer who walked the grounds of OSS! This person would wander the alleys and blocks looking for what we took away and what we got , she would never recognize! I pray, many of you folks who live in Delray, might wander over and join the fun and joy that the continued growth and success of the future of OSS will enjoy!

  3. It is just sad. Pure and simple sad. Good people who cared about OSS and the city put up funds to protect it and perfect it. How foolish to turn that down and then insult the giver. What a sad commentary on the act of shared goodness. I’m so sorry to hear this yet again.

  4. It’s sad how this country has devolved into a “If I repeat a lie often enough it must be true” method of controlling the narrative

    It may work with the MAGA base but it’s not going to work here in Delray, not when the facts are irrefutable

    The voters, the community, the stakeholders have spoken… time to move forward, not backward

  5. Excellent article Jeff – sorry you had cause to write it. It can never be said enough – THANK YOU to all the volunteers and staff that made OSS a major (the major) focal point of our downtown.

  6. Gloria Rejune Adams says

    Having been involved with OSS since its inception, first as a volunteer, then six months later hired to work with Frances Bourque, I have its history emblazend in my
    mind.@. The volunteers who served in those early years were diligent and dedicated. We worked hard to bring OSS to fruition. With little more than a desire to succeed those Board Members strived to put OSS on the cultural map of Palm Beach County. On the National Register of Historic Places it was a highly visited site and held a secure place in the history of the State. What has happened to this wonderful site is an abomination. The former commissioners should be ashamed of their actions and the hstm they did to this city. You can’t replace commitment with harrassment. So much has been destroyed.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Beautifully written Gloria. You can’t replace commitment with harassment is a line for the ages. As soon as I wrote this blog, someone I’ve never met nor heard of condemned decades of volunteers by labeling them “thieves.” She not only proved my point, but she illustrated what’s wrong in our culture. She has no evidence, my guess is she doesn’t know those involved nor does she know the history. Just my guess, because if she did there would be no way to conclude that these people are thieves. Yet she condemns, publicly. She has every right to do so, but one has to wonder about the chilling effect of this kind of discourse. Gloria, thank you for years of passionate and excellent work. Those who know, know. Those who don’t illustrate their ignorance. I feel sorry for them.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.