Realizing The Dream


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.


Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King believed that America could be a beacon for every other nation on Earth. The United States could extend opportunity to everyone regardless of their skin color or identity.
He believed that America would reach its potential if we created a society where people were judged not on the basis of the color of their skin but on the content of their character.

It’s a powerful idea and an enduring one.
Dr. King wished for and worked toward a post racial society. He gave his life in pursuit of his ideals.
Rep. John Lewis gave his blood.

The  Atlanta area Congressman was in the news over the weekend when he questioned the legitimacy of the presidential election and was in turn criticized for being all talk and no action. This blog does not wade into national politics but suffice it to say that spilling your blood for a cause qualifies as action.
Regardless of where you stand politically, race is never far from the American conversation. And so as we mark MLK Day 2017 and remember the remarkable life, words and achievements of Dr. King we also must acknowledge that living in a post racial society remains elusive.

New York Times arts critic Wesley Morris says we are actually living in a “most racial society”.
In discussing the incredible artistry of playwright August Wilson Morris writes:  “We’re living in an identity first culture and a time in which those identities are being pitted against one another for political sport.”
I have lived in Delray Beach for nearly 30 years and race is a major factor in the history, present and future of our city.
It lies at the heart of the failure of our commission to abide by our charter and appoint a replacement for a departing commissioner and it figures prominently in discussions relating to development, jobs, public spending, policing,  elections and representation in our community.
While we are a diverse community and while we rightly celebrate that fact, we remain extremely segregated in our churches, neighborhoods, friendships, sports leagues and community organizations.
It was the first thing I noticed moving here from New York in 1987–because it is stark and unavoidable.
When I served as mayor, I pushed a race relations initiative that had its triumphs and its failures because I sensed a desire for unity and because I was convinced that conversations and dialogue might bring people closer together. When people get together and look each other in the eye (as neighbors seldom do these days) they quickly realize that they share more in common than they might otherwise believe. They aspire on behalf of their children, they worry about their jobs and finances. They just want to get home safe.

We used to hold “study circles” to foster dialogue and community dinners too–where neighborhoods that ordinarily wouldn’t interact got together to eat and talk. These were simple things, but to this day,  a decade or more later I still run into people who enjoyed those dinners and long for the interaction. In a world where we hide behind screens and keyboards and pass judgment on people we don’t know, these simple human activities are more valuable than ever and in danger of being lost as we segregate ourselves with groups and people who look and think like us.
On the spectrum of Dr. King’s vision of a post racial society and today’s “most” racial society I fall decidedly on the side of MLK.
But while dialogue is essential and important, action is critical.
I have seen lots of progress in many areas over the past 30 years and some areas where we are plain stuck.
Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in neighborhoods once ignored. Attempts have been made and are being made to bring jobs and investment to areas of town that have experienced blight and flight.
Much of that investment has been made as a result of citizen visions and political leadership. That’s action. And we ought to be proud of it. Not many cities can match our record.
But more needs to be done, should be done and I believe will be done.
But the progress will be sustained  only if we tear down barriers that divide us.
I’m not referring to branding and identity efforts which seek to enhance pride and marketability.
But rather attitudes that define investment as a zero sum game or people who seek to pit one group against the other to serve their narrow and selfish needs. Be wary of people who label, divide, bully–especially those who claim to speak for the majority. They most often do not.
MLK’s life was also devoted to economic empowerment and opportunity.
Part of “the dream” was to see our children thrive in a society that offered abundant opportunities for all.
I have longed believed that once the capital investment was made in streets, parks and housing we could focus on the immense human capital that exists in Delray Beach.
Initiatives that focus on health, education, entrepreneurship, technology, leadership and the local economy are available to us and can and should involve the private sector.
The potential is limitless. The opportunities are boundless.
We live in a small city that I call America in 16 square miles.

We’re a fascinating blend. We have come a long way. We have proven that progress is possible.
I remain a believer.

That the best is yet to come. That the dream is not only possible but that it’s more desirable and relevant than ever.
It’s up to us to turn the dream into reality. We know how to do it.


  1. McCall Credle Rosenthal says

    Thank you, Jeff.

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