Remembering A Lion: Alfred “Zack” Straghn

A civic giant.

When the history of Delray Beach is written, the name Alfred “Zack” Straghn is going to loom large.

He was a giant.

We lost Mr. Zack this week. He was 92 and still active, still vibrant, still finding what John Lewis called “good trouble.”

People were drawn to Zack Straghn because he told great stories, was enormously charismatic and possessed a hard-earned wisdom that came from a lifetime of living and working in Delray Beach.

He was born in Delray and told those of us who knew and loved him that the best decision he ever made was to never leave the city—even though at times he said it felt like a prison.

I’ve long believed that Delray is America in 16 square miles, but if you were African American in the 1950s and beyond the city was four square miles because you were not welcome east of Swinton and you couldn’t go to the beach.

Zack helped to desegregate our beach—it took eight years of protests to get it done. But it got done on April 29, 1962. Prior to that date, the city’s answer was to send Black people to an area of beach five miles away. That didn’t sit well with Zack and others and they decided to speak up.

“They sent us to another city to swim with a man with a shotgun watching us while we swam,” he told Channel 5 last year. “We are going to swim in the three miles of beach here and nobody is going to stop us because this belongs to us, we pay tax in this city and this is where we are going to swim,” he said.


I heard Zack tell that same story to a group of “young” lions a little while back at Donnie’s Golden Spoon restaurant on Northwest 5th Avenue. The young men sat and listened to every word. Zack and others held court at “Elders” breakfasts that I’ve been privileged to have been invited too on occasion over the years. It’s always an honor to be included; over eggs and bacon you are also served wisdom, history and spirited conversation about the future.

These tables and conversations are few and far between, but they are important. It’s where knowledge is shared, experience is relayed and subjects are debated with love, passion, wit and wisdom.

Alfred “Zack” Straghn saw it all in his 92 years in Delray. He saw heartache and discrimination. He saw births and as a funeral home owner he was there to usher people into “glory.”

He also saw progress in fits and starts. The beach he couldn’t visit until 1962 became a favorite place for him to reflect.

He would walk often with former City Commissioner David Randolph. I saw them a few times and I always wondered what they talked about on those early morning walks around town. So one day I asked Zack and in his distinctive voice—a voice so special and unique that once you heard it you never forgot it—he said they talked about everything: city politics, national politics, family, religion and life itself.

The great icons in our community were great because they share themselves.

They are visible.

They are available.

They teach. And if we are wise—we will listen.

If we want to succeed and build a better future we need to listen to those who came before us.

Zack is an icon and because he never went away and because he invested in the next generation of lions and lionesses he will be forever remembered and honored by those who will step forward to lead us in the future.

He was active in civil rights organizations, served briefly on the CRA, was a long time businessman, fed the needy on Thanksgiving, was involved in the Downtown Master Plan, counseled scores of elected officials and saw his children grow up to serve Delray too. One son, Randy, served with distinction with our Fire Department.

He was a voice, a steady presence, a leader and an inspiration.

When I was a rookie on the City Commission, Mr. Zack was presented with a key to the city by Mayor David Schmidt.

The headline that ran with the story in the Sun-Sentinel was “Activist Gets Key to The City He Unlocked.”
I thought that said it all. It was brilliant.

Over the summer, Zack was interviewed by a student for an initiative called the “Front Porch Project” sponsored by the nonprofit EJS Project.

In that interview, Mr. Straghn said “the best decision I ever made was to stay in Delray.”


It was a decision that paid dividends for all of us blessed to have known that fine man. He will be deeply missed.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Zack, your hometown is so grateful.

We Need Beacons Not Demagogues

Representative John Lewis on the bridge where he was tear gassed. He never took his eyes off the prize. 

Congressman John Lewis is an American hero.

An icon of the civil rights movement who marched and bled with MLK.
Rep.  Lewis is 80 now and ailing from cancer.
But his voice, tinged with passion, experience and wisdom, remains compelling.
Amidst all of the noise and the endless punditry, John Lewis remains a beacon.
Let’s listen to what he has to say: “I see you and I hear you. I know your pain, your rage, your sense of despair and hopelessness. Justice has, indeed been denied for far too long. Rioting, looting and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit in. Stand up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive. History has proven time and again that nonviolent, peaceful protest is the way to achieve the justice and equality that we all deserve.”
America is at a crossroads.
We are being forced to confront issues that have festered for far too long.
Systemic racism, inequality, a lack of opportunity, homelessness, health care disparities, political dysfunction, division and a general coarseness that permeates our day to day existence.
This is not what we are supposed to be. This is not the promise of America. This is some dystopian version and if we don’t wake up we risk the great experiment that is America.
This is not to say that everything is broken.
Last week’s Space-X launch is a reminder of our technical and entrepreneurial prowess. That the founder of the company is a citizen of three countries  is an important reminder that we are a nation of immigrants and that most who come here do so to contribute and build the Dream that benefits us all.
I capitalize the word Dream because it deserves more attention. America means something. The Dream means something.
MLK’s Dream. The American Dream.
It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth dying for.
But the Dream is not automatic is it?
It’s not a birthright. It’s something we have to fight for and work to achieve.
I take issue with both the left and the right on this.
I don’t want to redistribute the nation’s wealth. I don’t want to punish those who succeed.
I think we ought to grow the pie. The beauty of America is the pie doesn’t have to be finite. We can grow it, we can include more people and we can root for them to succeed.
But we have the resources to provide a social safety net too. And if you succeed you should pay your fair share.
And that’s my problem with the right.
You don’t like Obamacare? Great where is your plan?
Can’t we all agree that everyone will need health care and that in a great nation that cares for its people that we ought to design a world class system and give people access to the very best care possible?
I don’t want to hear that climate change is a hoax, because it isn’t.
Sea level rise is real, super storms are menacing us and we are experiencing more severe weather events.
Isn’t it time we did something to protect the world we live in and the one we will leave our children and grandchildren?
We can go on heaping  blame on one another. We can continue to divide, bully and label.  But it’s a waste of time; blame and fault finding doesn’t get us anywhere.
The endless division doesn’t create opportunity, doesn’t solve racism and doesn’t ensure that we won’t all be consumed by rising tides.
Time and time again, this blog argues that we can think globally but act locally. Here’s how.
We can create more housing here for families and young people but we will need to stand up to the NIMBY mentality. And we can design that housing so that it enhances our community and doesn’t ruin it.
We can listen to each other instead of troll each other.
We can break down racial barriers —if we want to.
Delray is diverse but segregated. Why?
We can agree that having a strong local government can be a great advantage. We all want and need governmental services.
It has been a rocky several years marked by scandal and turnover. But there are a number of super public servants working in our city and we are blessed with outstanding police and fire departments—-and right about now we should be exceptionally grateful for that.
But so few us vote. So few of us participate. It’s important that we do.
Rep. John Lewis, who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge only to be met with violence and hatred shows us the way.
It’s not looting. It’s not apathy.
That’s the wrong way.
It’s being an active citizen. It’s using our voices.
It’s about working toward a more perfect union.
One of my friends said something changed when Americans saw that knee on George Floyd’s neck.
Something fundamental.
I agree.
It’s up to each of us as to what that change will mean.
We are at the crossroads.
Do we choose hate and division? Or love and collaboration?
Sounds like an easy choice doesn’t it ?
But too often we choose hate and division. It’s why we are at the crossroads.
Isn’t it time to try something else?

With Rights Come Obligations

Someone I admire sent me a note over the July 4th weekend.

He knows I struggle with the division I see in our country and right here in our own community.

I suspect I am not alone in that struggle. It seems like every week there’s another flare up that drives us further apart. This week, sadly, is no exception.

So my friend referred me to a link that discussed a concept called “civil obligations.”
We often talk about civil rights and they are important, but I am beginning to think that without obligations and responsibilities, rights are just not enough to build a strong and enduring society or community.

I’m happy that my friend turned me on to the writing of Sister Simone Campbell, known as “the nun on the bus.”

Sister Simone is the executive director of NETWORK, an organization that advocates for socially just federal policies.

Sister Simone is a strong believer in civil rights. She notes that the civil rights movement was forged by a community, but the advances were focused on individual rights. An unintended consequence is that some people feel threatened by those rights —as if there are not enough rights to go around. So they created their own movement. As a result, we have an endless cycle of friction.

Here’s how Sister Simone describes the dynamic:

“A democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole. So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.”

I think she’s on to something.

So what are civil obligations?

Let’s let Sister Simone explain.

“Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.”

She continues: “The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.”

Isn’t that cool? Doesn’t it make sense?

I don’t think being armchair citizens, tweeting and posting gripes is enough. We need active participation. We need voters, candidates, volunteers, mentors, servant-leaders and philanthropists.

The City of Santa Monica measures happiness and I always thought that was interesting. We seem to measure property values and not much else.

We ought to take our civic temperature and judge not only whether stakeholders are happy but whether they are emotionally invested here.

Do they know what Old School Square is all about? Do they use the library? Do they vote? Would they volunteer to serve in some sort of capacity? Are they interested in schools, helping our police department or mentoring young people? The list of ways to engage is endless.

In my experience, while some people will just show up to  work in the community, it helps immensely if we  ask them to get involved and to create a culture of participation.

But whether your community values participation or employs a top down model of governance, we the people have an obligation as well.

An obligation to be informed; to seek facts and be independent thinkers. An obligation to vote—so few of us do— especially in local elections.

Rights are accompanied by obligations. We have to exercise those rights, protect them and work on behalf of the whole.

With America divided and so much friction in our local communities, the call to embrace civil obligations is more important than ever.






Dr. King: Lessons in Leadership

On Monday we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the blog, we’re not quite ready to leave that day behind just yet. This year, it seems important to stick with Dr. King a little while longer.


For students of civil rights, leadership, non-violent resistance, communication and community building, the life of Dr. King offers a cascade of lessons.


On my personal quest to be a better leader I have looked often to King’s life, writings and speeches for inspiration and learning. What makes Dr. King such an enduring figure is that regardless of how often you read his speeches, letters and famous quotes you somehow come away with a new insight every time you delve into his work. He was an incredible man. And like all the greats– Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt, Churchill—his message transcends time and offers us contemporary lessons and solutions if we care to look.


This year, I’ve concentrated on the leadership lessons we can learn from Dr. King’s life.


First, great leaders do not sugar-coat reality.


Indeed, regardless of how painful… great leaders tell the truth, even if the truth is dangerous, ugly, uncomfortable and messy. Dr. King laid bare during his lifetime this nation’s ongoing struggle with race and inequality. It would have been safer to go along to get along, but we wouldn’t be celebrating his legacy if he did.


Second, great leaders engage the heart as well as the mind. Dr. King’s gifts—his soaring rhetoric, the poetry of his writing, the beauty and power of his message–weren’t bogged down in statistics or dry facts, but enhanced by his magnificent abilities to move us as people and to point out how our fates are tied together as brothers and sisters.


King also taught us that great leaders do not accept the status quo and that they create a sense of urgency for positive change.


Again, lesser leaders might have been content to shoot for incremental gains in civil rights—not Dr. King. He framed the issue as an urgent one for our nation and as a result achieved monumental progress in what has proved to be an enduring struggle.


Dr. King refused to settle or buckle after setbacks, another leadership lesson we can learn from his example. Instead, he urged his followers to keep their eyes on the prize. He had a leader’s ability to communicate a clear vision for a better future and throughout the journey he always acknowledged the sacrifices and contributions of those working alongside him. He dared us, invited us, and taught us to dream—that’s what leaders do.


As a result, the movement wasn’t about one man’s vision; it was about a movement that was bigger than any one person.


And that’s why we celebrate and why Dr. King will be remembered as long as good men and women strive for a more perfect union.


MLK Day: Quotes Sure to Motivate


We’re  strong believers in the power of words.
We’re also firm believers in the power of leadership to facilitate transformational change.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day we offer some of our favorite quotes from one of our favorite leaders.
Enjoy, dream and more important put these thoughts into action:
“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.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
  “The time is always right to do what is right.”
   “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
 “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”
 “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
 “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

 “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

 “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

 “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”