All Healing Is Local

Happy birthday America.
I’m worried about you.
I don’t think I’m alone.
A lot of people love you— but that’s why we worry. We have a lot to lose if you are not healthy. You mean everything to us.
But there’s a path forward.
There’s a road we can go down. But it requires a choice and a lot of effort. We are up for it. We must be.

America, I’ve noticed a bit of a change since Covid came about in the way we treat each another.
On a national level, we demonize and brutalize each other. I mean it is plain ugly.

But on the personal  level, I am seeing more kindness, at least among people who know each other well.
I think the nastiness we are seeing has a lot to do with the impersonal nature of our national discourse. It is easy to label, disparage and judge people we don’t know. The vitriol is fueled by partisan “personalities” who traffic in snark and misinformation. They are effective at what they do so the level of anger is approaching tilt.
It’s scary because the constant fear mongering has one logical conclusion and that’s violence and estrangement.
The left views the right as an existential threat and the right views the left the same way.
It’s scary. Really scary.
As my friend pointed out last week, neither side possesses a mirror. Therefore, they have no ability to look at their own blemishes. And the truth is, both sides of the divide have a lot of explaining to do.
But I’m noticing that at the same time we are demonizing strangers, we are growing closer to the people we actually know.
That’s a good thing and may actually provide us a template for avoiding a costly and violent split.
Let me explain.
I firmly believe that if we remain on the course we are on, we will unravel as a nation.
If we continue to view each other as threats, it’s only natural that we will continue to pull apart and continue to talk past each other not too each other.
That’s not only dangerous, it is a recipe for destruction.
It’s apparent that we will not be able to count on our so-called leaders to mend our nation. In short, they are the problem and they are far from leaders. Leaders don’t divide. Leaders don’t lie.
Our leaders are failing us. They are failing us miserably. It’s shameful.
It will be up to ‘we the people’ to change things.
And again, the template can be found in the personal relationships we enjoy.
So let me share what I am seeing and experiencing. It can be expressed in two words: love and empathy.
The solutions to all of our domestic problems can be found in those two words.
I know it sounds trite.
I know it sounds sappy.
But tell me one challenge we have that can’t be made infinitely better with more love and more empathy.
With the advent of Covid,  I’m finding that my circle—which has always been nice—is even nicer.
There’s more appreciation. There’s more kindness and compliments. There’s more sharing and there is a lot more concern for each other’s well being. It’s fantastic.
Some of these people are left leaning and others lean right. But  they all put their relationships before their ideologies. I don’t think anyone feels they are sacrificing their principles they are just taking the time to hear and understand each other’s viewpoints.
They are listening.
What a concept.
And they see each other as people first not “libtards” or “Trumpers”. Imagine that.
There are times when I’ve seen some tension, but the tension always loses out to the affection shared by people who are true friends.
And that’s where the opportunity lies.
If communities across America designed places where people can meet and have safe, productive conversations we can get someplace in America and in our hometowns as well.
It won’t happen/can’t happen on social media.
It has to happen face to face.
Years ago, we did a lot of this work in Delray Beach through race relations initiatives, visioning exercises and other community projects that brought people from all walks of life together. Community dinners, neighborhood paint-ups—anything that brings people together and builds relationships is a step in the right direction. A step toward love and empathy.
If we care for each other, we will seek to understand each other. If we do that, division we are experiencing will be replaced by unity. And together we will move mountains.

20 Years Down The Road….

The 2001 Delray Beach All America City contingent. A quilt entitled “A Patchwork of Pride” accompanied the group which was ably led by Joe Gillie.

It’s been 20 years since Delray Beach won its second All America City Award in 2001.

It was a big deal back then.

More than 100 people made the trip from Delray Beach to Atlanta to attend a three day competition which included presentations from 30 really cool cities from across the country.

I was reminded of that magical time last week when we sat down to watch a new documentary on HBO entitled “Our Towns”—which is based on the wonderful book by James and Deborah Fallows who crisscrossed America in a small plane to learn and then share the stories of cities that rarely if ever make the news.

It’s a heartwarming documentary at a time when we need a reminder that there are places in this world and in this country that are working. There are still communities that share, care and dare to do big things—or little things together.

If you watch the documentary or read the book, you’ll want to visit Eastport, Maine, Redlands, California, Bend, Oregon and Charleston, West Virginia.

Five years ago, the Fallows who are accomplished journalists, put a call out to their readers: tell us about your towns. The responses poured in.

The writers had a hunch that beneath the headlines of division and strife that somewhere in America things were working, problems were being solved, opportunities were being created and hope was being rewarded. They were right.

They learned that developing a sense of community and a common language of change can help people and towns find a different path to a better future.

Along the way, we meet people tackling racial division, homelessness, polarization and economic despair by employing a can-do collaborative spirit.

And I thought, these are the traits celebrated by the All America City Award.

Over the years, the award itself has changed and is now focused on education. But back in 1993, when Delray won its first award and 20 years ago when it won its second before becoming the first city to win three awards with another win in 2017, the All America City Award took a broader look; education was still a component, but so was how communities worked to enhance their youth and senior populations among other topics.

In 2001, Delray Beach won the award by spotlighting three programs.

The Youth Enrichment Vocational Program provided high-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 23 with opportunities to learn job skills. The program was founded by Officer Johnny Pun and Community Service Officer Fred Glass. It was a bold and ambitious effort that led to the Delray Beach Police Department becoming the first PD in Florida to charter a school.

Community Neighbors Helping helped minority senior citizens living in one of the city’s poorest areas to improve their health, receive services and meet people outside their established environment. Finally, the city, in conjunction with the school district and community, had developed The Village Academy, a public school regulated by members of the community instead of a school board. The vision was to address the needs of at-risk elementary students living in low-income neighborhoods. This too was a bold and ambitious vision and was spearheaded by a community planning process known as the Southwest Plan.

Today, a mere 20 years later, only The Village Academy remains.

The charter school had a nice run before finally closing its doors. Johnny Pun, the energetic young officer, who dreamed of teaching kids to fix cars instead of stealing them died tragically in a motorcycle crash. Those who knew and loved Johnny —and if you knew Johnny you loved him— will never forget where they were when they received word of his accident. His bright light went out without warning. Some losses are just incalculable. I remember hearing the news and being unable to catch my breath. How can someone so alive be gone from us and his family forever? His loss leveled so many.

I’m not sure what happened with Community Neighbors Helping or its founder Edith Thompson, who was a full-time postal worker who spent her off hours tending to her neighbors. I remember Edith going to a local Publix to collect bread which she would give out to people who stopped by the National Church of God on Southwest 13th Street every morning. That initial effort grew to more than 20 local churches and senior centers.

Running a non-profit on a shoe string while working full time and raising three children is almost impossible to fathom.

I searched for Ms. Thompson and found her on Facebook. I’m not sure what happened to Community Neighbors Helping.  The last news story was written 19 years ago. Efforts and people come and go. That’s life I suppose.

The world is a constant whirlwind of change. People and efforts can be lasting or ephemeral, but they all matter.

The stories in “Our Towns” and in Our Town matter too.

We tend to get wound up about the latest project or passing controversy and I get it. Change can be difficult. It’s also a constant.

But these other efforts matter too. They are often lost and forgotten and that’s not good and it’s not healthy.

It can be easy to forget that communities can work.

America is not just talking heads screaming at each other on cable news or blowhard politicians pandering to the base.

Its neighbors taking bread to church so the hungry can have something to eat. Its officers looking at crime stats and saying there’s got to be a better way than just making arrests and throwing away the key.

It’s a community gathering in a A/C deprived church and dreaming of a different kind of school and making it happen.

That’s America. That’s also the real Delray.

So if you ask me what I miss, it’s not necessarily the old-time businesses that sometimes close—that happens. Although, I wish I could have one more breakfast at the counter of Ken and Hazel’s. I also wish I could go inside Boston’s on The Beach and be greeted by my friend Perry just one more time.

What I miss are the special people, the can-do spirit and the community based efforts that made me and so many others fall in love with Delray.

I miss the sense of community and of possibility—the belief that every year would be better than the last. For years and years that’s how it went.

The progress you see today has its roots in those special days. The problems you see today are because we have strayed from the formula that made this place so special.

The ingredients were simple:

Put Delray first.

Take your ego elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Don’t be afraid to say yes, to seek out new voices and to try. That spirit gave us Old School Square, a revitalized downtown, historic districts, new schools and some cool special events.

Somewhere beneath the vitriol and division, that heart still beats.

It’s the part of our DNA we would be wise to rediscover. Until then, let’s find the magic wherever we can. And let’s separate the signal from the noise—don’t let the naysayers get you down.

I’m reminded of the old song That’s life.

“And as funny as it may seem some people get their kicks

stomping on a dream.  But I don’t let it, let it get me down

Cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around.”

Yes it does. Thank goodness.

 

I wanted to note the loss of two very special people in recent weeks.

Dr. Henrietta Smith passed April 21. She was 98 and extraordinary.
Dr. Smith was an educator, librarian and storyteller. She edited four editions of the Coretta Scott King Award Collection published by the American Library Association. She won the 2011 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement for her body of work and lasting literary contributions.

She taught at FAU and later became the first Black professor at USF in Tampa. In 2006, at age 84, she accompanied a medical team on a trip down the Amazon River telling stories to the children in the small villages they visited. Like I said, she was something.

She was also the mother of retired Delray Police Officer Robin Smith, who had a fine career in our city.

We’d see Dr. Smith around town over the years at community events and she was always kind, gracious and understated. She will be missed and always remembered. A true legend.

We also lost Ben Ruby on April 25.

Ben was a wonderful man.

 Ben was married to Susan Ruby our terrific former City Attorney. I got to know Ben over the years and he was always great to talk to.

Just a nice man, with a great sense of humor and an unforgettable smile. He and Susan were married for 55 years and set a standard for us all. This was a love affair for the ages and it was great to be a witness to it.

Five years ago, we were blessed to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Ben and Susan. We were so fortunate to share in a celebration of a special marriage. It takes a lot for the spouse of a public servant to loan their loved ones to the cause of bettering the community. During late night commission meetings I would often look at Susan and think of Ben waiting for her at home.

Ben was a smart man and an accomplished technologist for DHL and the Miami Herald. He was active in the Sunrise Kiwanis Club in Delray Beach and an all-around good guy. He and Susan (whom I adore) are in our prayers.

 

Culture Is The Killer App

I don’t have a lot of interest in revisiting the recent Delray Beach municipal elections.

You probably need a break from the negativity. I know I do.

Out of all the analyses I’ve seen, I recommend you take a look at Randy Schultz’s take. I think it’s a pretty accurate analysis. Here’s a link:  https://www.bocamag.com/boca-delray-election-results-ruminations/

 

Still, I do think it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the topic of culture which was hotly debated during the last cycle and has been an issue for a very long time.

The fact that culture and civility continue to be debated indicates that it’s lacking. After all, if things were humming, we wouldn’t be talking about it. (We’d be humming. We’re not.)

It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when Delray Beach had a remarkable culture; remarkable not perfect. There’s a difference.

There’s always been strife, friction and some level of toxicity in local politics and community life. That comes with the territory. But it was largely manageable and what rancor existed was overwhelmed by the positive relationships that had formed throughout the city. Those relationships formed because major efforts were made to create initiatives that brought people together and asked them to work closely on topics of importance to the community.

Evidence of this dynamic is all around us.

Cities don’t succeed without a coordinated and concerted effort. The vibrancy we enjoy is not an accident, it’s a result of planning, tons of citizen input, relentless execution and investment–both public and private. The reward is our quality of life.

Over the years, these engagement efforts were acknowledged in the form of  a few All America City Awards which honors a city’s ability to identity its problems and create solutions that bring people together. It was nice validation, but the creation of a special sense of community was the real prize.

Another example of Delray’s strong culture was how we were able to navigate some really sticky situations and tragedies over the years.

From severe hurricanes and divisive development projects to a tragic shooting and the controversial move of Atlantic High School, we’ve had our fair share of challenges. But we survived them all with our civic fabric sometimes strained but largely intact.

Thankfully, we haven’t had any natural or man-made disasters to navigate of late, but yet we seem to be at each other’s throats a whole lot. Which begs a question.

Why?

Why are sea grapes such a fraught issue? Why is every CRA RFP (request for proposal) a bloodletting or a lawsuit?

Why has there been so much turnover at City Hall?

We can blame social media —and Facebook surely has served as an accelerant for political strife— but it’s more than that. It goes deeper.

Delray’s secret sauce is/was its culture. If we lose that, we lose everything.

Close watchers of all things Delray worry about the divisions they are seeing. They know these breaches don’t heal themselves and they long for leaders who work on the issues that drive us apart.

I long for the days when leadership was defined by people who could rise above the noise and inject much needed calm and common sense into the day’s heated debates. Today, we seem to laud the bomb throwers, grandstanders and loud mouths who launch missiles but never seem to get a darn thing done.

They start problems, but they don’t solve them.

They add to gas to fires, but never seem to think about how things might change if they took a deep breath and offered up a few words of conciliation. They are, however, always equipped with a barb.

Oh yes, these charmers are quick with a sound bite, quick to label and even quicker to condemn.

Here come the “special interests”—be very afraid.

Here come the “power brokers” —lock up your loved ones because they are plotting to pillage the village.

Malarkey—to quote my grizzled former city editor who once told me that malarkey was an Irish term that was three degrees worse than blarney. He was a colorful character but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, we can do better.

Because despite the great weather, the fact that we live in a place desired by just about everyone, we don’t seem to be very happy with how we choose our elected officials or how we handle difficult issues.

Rampant turnover, nasty elections and Facebook bullies are just symptoms. The disease is a poor civic culture.

Luckily, the disease is curable even though it won’t be easy.

It will require every stakeholder who cares to do their part and it will require us to raise our standards of behavior.

We need a reckoning.

Now I happen to think we’ve had many—Covid was a wake-up call, the nastiest mayoral race in memory was another, the Jan. 6 insurrection was yet another. Reckonings come in all shapes and sizes. They are international, national and local.

But reckonings can be healthy if we see them as teachable moments. To quote therapist and best-selling author Esther Perel, “reckonings require us to invest in the core facets of relational health: empathy, dialogue, commitment, responsibility, the sharing of power and resources.”

We have been through some traumas. Trauma requires healing and collective trauma requires collective healing.

It looks like we will eventually move beyond Covid-19 although the emotional scars will be with us forever. Our national divisions need to be addressed. We the people need to insist on that happening. So far, we haven’t.

As for our local divisions, we have a real opportunity if we choose to see it and seize it.

We can insist on better debates about community issues and more stakeholder input. We can insist on substance, performance, accountability and civility. Those words are not unreachable ideals; they are the basic table stakes of community.

If you lack of any these traits, you just cannot sustain success.

We have substantive issues to address, we have big time opportunities too but we won’t get to any of that if we don’t develop a winning culture.

So here’s what I’m suggesting:

We should develop a “Geneva Convention” for our elections and how we treat each other.

Post-Covid we need to go back to the old playbook and revive initiatives and programs that built community such as:

Community Dinners in which associations are invited to pot luck get togethers where they can meet their neighbors across the city.

Charrettes to discuss community issues and opportunities that are open to all stakeholders. We absolutely have to get away from a resident vs. business dynamic. Building a quality culture is not a zero sum game, it’s a win-win endeavor.

We need to facilitate intelligent discussions about development, gentrification, affordable housing, climate change and how it affects Delray, infrastructure, crime, education, culture, historic preservation, race relations and more.

It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it because these issues don’t go away if we ignore them, they just fester. But before we can address anything we have to focus on how we treat each other.

I believe, strongly, that if we create a more civil and professional culture in Delray Beach, we will end the turnover issues that have plagued our city and dinged our reputation .

And guess what?

We will end up getting a whole lot done. You can’t address problems or seize opportunities if you’re a divided community spending precious time settling scores and finding ways to be vindictive.

We can and must do better.

 

Farewell T.J.

Coach Jackson has been a valued mentor to scores of young athletes.

Last week, T.J. Jackson, the decorated football coach at Atlantic High School, announced that he would be leaving for a new opportunity which has yet to be announced.

When I saw the news, I was happy for T.J.

He’s a really good guy and a great football coach. It’s not surprising that his talents would take him away from Delray Beach.

 

Mr. Jackson was the Eagles’ head coach for eight seasons, compiling a record of 68-23. His 2017 team made it all the way to the Class 7A state championship. And this past season, the Eagles won the Class 7A Tri-County championship after going 5-1 in what was a shortened season because of the pandemic.

 

But T.J. is so much more than his impressive win/loss record.

He is a beloved local figure, an inspiring young leader who earned the love and respect of hundreds of young men that he has coached.

Lee Cohen, a great supporter of Atlantic High football and all-around good guy, had this to say about his friend when news of the resignation was announced.

“Coach TJ understood the importance of not just having a winning team, but in creating a successful program.  Over the past 8 seasons, he led the Eagles to incredible success both on and off the field.  Following a challenging first season, the Eagles’ overall record was 66-16 over the next 7 years and included a trip to the state championship. He created a winning culture that included attention to education, discipline and respect.”

Delray’s current Chief of Police Javaro Sims and former Chief Jeff Goldman praised TJ for his mentoring skills and for his leadership in the community.

In scrolling through the congratulatory comments, my mind drifted back to when I first met TJ a number of years ago.

He was running a non-profit at the time called “Prep and Sports” which was teaching football skills and life skills to kids in our community. He was doing great work and was passionate about making a difference.

T.J. was quiet, almost painfully shy.

But as the saying goes, still waters run deep. T.J. knew kids, had his fingers on the pulse of the community and had a passion for football. That’s a great set of tools if you want to make positive change in the community.

T.J. and a partner brought scores of NFL players and prospects to Delray to train for the season or the NFL Combine, the annual showcase where aspiring players perform physical and mental tests in front of coaches and scouts. The players seemed to like Delray and I had a few lunches with players who expressed a strong desire to help kids find a positive path and they did.

T.J., former Delray Police Capt. Michael Coleman and former assistant community improvement director Jamael Stewart and a few others led that effort.

It’s the kind of activity that often goes undetected, but this is the type of work that builds a community by changing lives.

So let’s say it straight out: these guys change lives.

Michael and Jamael no longer work for the City of Delray. That’s a longer and sadder story for another day. But I sometimes fear that we are losing sight of the special efforts below the radar that make all the difference. If my instincts are correct and those efforts dry up we will be in trouble. Because if we care about the entirety of this community we need to care about the men and women who do this work.

And we should care. We either rise together or we will we fall.

It’s really that simple.

T.J. is a guy who helps people rise.

Losing him in this community is a big deal.

So was losing Jen Costello, a neighborhood planner who went above and beyond because of her passion for Delray—her hometown.

Back in the day, we had Officer Skip Brown organizing Haitian Roving Patrols and working with a wide cross section of the community. I don’t think anyone ever quite replaced Skip or Sgt. Adam Rosenthal who died 10 years ago last week while on the way to work in his police cruiser. Adam taught self-defense classes to women in our community and worked with kids interested in martial arts.

We also lost Officer Johnny Pun, who along with his partner Fred Glass, founded a charter school to teach kids marketable automotive repair skills. The Delray Police Department became the first department in the state to charter a school, an effort that the City Commission at the time was proud to support. Johnny died tragically in a motorcycle crash. He is deeply missed.

When these guys and gals move on, retire, pass away (or are shoved out) it leaves a void. You just don’t go to a job board and replace people like this. It’s not that easy.

Their success is borne of passion for a place and for the people who live there. When you find that, it’s gold.

When you lose it, well you lose a lot.

See you down the road T.J. We all know you’ll do great things at your next stop.

Many in Delray are sorry to see you go.

 

This Cannot Be America

This is not America….

A little piece of you,

the little peace in me,

will die. For this is not America.

Snowman melting from the inside

Falcon spirals to,

the ground

(this could be the biggest sky)

So bloody red, tomorrow’s clouds—David Bowie

 

In my heart, America has always represented a glorious destination.

America was the land of milk and honey. The place/ideal where my grandparents risked it all to come so that my parents and their children and grandchildren could have an limitless future—free from violence and hatred.

Free….that was the operative word.

Free to be safe.

Free to pursue dreams.

But not free of obligations.

In my heart, Americans are called to build community.

We have an obligation to take care of our own.

We have to pay our civic rent.

It cannot be all about us and our needs and beliefs or we will cease to exist.

Last week, we saw visual evidence of what many of us have long suspected. The Promised Land is breaking. The dream that is America is slipping through our hands.

We need to wake up because we are coming apart at the seams.

Here’s the state of our union.

–The pandemic is raging.

Real people are dying and our health care system is buckling under the weight of cases.

—We are struggling to distribute a vaccine—and people are suffering and dying as a result.

–We couldn’t secure our own seat of government.

—It took us half a year to pass a stimulus bill (that both sides wanted) while people suffered, businesses closed, families were evicted etc.

The bill our feckless Congress finally passed is deeply flawed. I know people who got $600 who don’t need it and I know people who need more help. You would think we’d be able to figure out how to target aid so that ‘we the people’ get the most for our buck. Or in this case–$900 billion.

–We can’t agree on election results—the very table stakes of Democracy.

We can’t even have an orderly or peaceful transfer of power after an election that wasn’t particularly close as Mitch McConnell noted on the Senate floor.

A significant number of us deny climate change even as we see the seas rise, wildfires rage and 100 hundred year storms batter us multiple times every year.

Nearly 400,000 people have died from Covid and yet when I scroll through my Facebook feed people I know are calling it a hoax, a bad flu, a government conspiracy and a plot to take our freedoms away.

This lunacy takes a toll on those of us who respect scientists, respect election officials (my goodness Wendy Sartory Link did a great job in Palm Beach County), feel deeply for families who have lost loved ones to a deadly virus and revere those front line health care workers who are true heroes.

Our beautiful country is in peril.

Russian hackers looted our computer systems, put bounties on the heads of our soldiers and have bullied our allies.

China is run by an autocratic dictator who is brutalizing Hong Kong, stealing our intellectual property, locking up dissidents and loaning money to needy countries in an effort to make them beholden to Beijing.

Iran and North Korea are threats to Americans and our allies. And the list goes on.

Here at home, Florida is a Covid tinderbox.

Small businesses have been ravaged—each empty store front comes with a story of a dream dashed, livelihoods lost and a part of the fabric of our community lost.

It takes a toll. The death and division weighs heavy on us all.

Crises—whether they affect families, businesses, communities or nations– can either bind you together or drive you apart.

In the wake of the assault on the Capitol, a friend reminded me that on 9/12—a day after we were attacked by terrorists— we were all Patriots united in our resolve to love and protect each other. Sadly, over time that feeling dissipated.

The events of January 6 could have a similar galvanizing impact or the moment could be lost. But so far, we have retreated to our respective “sides.” It’s shameful.

The real challenge will be maintaining these United States. The real challenge will be finding a way to live together and serve our nation’s needs of which there are many.

To date, a productive way forward is eluding us and if we don’t figure this out, we will pay the heaviest of prices—we already are.

It’s time to wake up America.

We don’t have to agree. Let’s face it, we will never agree. But we do have to agree to live together peacefully and mind the guardrails or we will lose it all.

Disagreement over philosophy is one thing, but what is most worrisome is we are walking around with our own set of facts. I don’t see how that works.

As Daniel Moynihan once said: “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Somehow we have to find our way through this fog.

We have to get to work on rebuilding the broken Promised Land.

The issues loom large.

Racism remains a sickening and very real problem.

You may not think Covid is real, great have at it.

But if there was some kind of conspiracy nobody told me about it as I was confined to a hospital bed for 39 days so sick that I was unable to lift my head. And I’m doubtful that 370K Americans agreed to die to make a hoax look real. Come on.

As kids, when we played sports, occasionally we thought the refs blew a call and we lost the game. Our parents told us to question the refs and protest respectfully. But if the referee stood by the call we were also taught to shake our opponents hands, congratulate them and wish them well. We’ll compete in the next contest. “We’ll get you next time” sure beats burning down the stadium.

As for the election…Mitch was right it wasn’t all that close. In our system, the states call the shots and if you don’t like the verdict you can go to court. But you better have evidence—allegations aren’t enough.  If you fail in court, that’s it.

We don’t want Congress overturning elections. We don’t want to insurrectionists storming the seat of government. This is not America, because if it is, we’re done.

Two thoughts went through my mind as I watched through tears the scenes from Washington D.C. last week.

I thought of 9/11 and I thought of when Jerrod Miller was shot and killed in Delray.

As many of you know, many of the 9/11 terrorists were living and training in Delray. It was a stunning revelation that added to the shock of the tragedy.

I was a City Commissioner at the time and I remember hearing from neighbors who were stunned and hurt that these monsters lived among us. I remember how we gathered as a community at Old School Square and the Community Center to pray, grieve and console one another. We were unified.

When Jerrod Miller, a 15 year-old, was killed in February 2005, we experienced anger and a level of sadness I could never adequately describe. But we came together, we tried to heal. We consciously fought our emotions to save what was good about our community and resolve to work on what was broken.

The truth is we were hard at work on race relations before the shooting—people were engaged and involved. After the shooting, we doubled down on those efforts. We went to church—together. We met in living rooms and held each other’s hands. That’s impossible in a pandemic, but we should be able to figure out how to draw each other closer—especially now.

We must find a way at every level of our society to re-engage, re-connect and remember who we are.

We remain a glorious destination. Now we have to find a way to get there together.

On The Path

The staff at Bethesda is truly remarkable.

When I entered the hospital with a positive Covid test and double pneumonia in July, I tried to think about how I could shed light on the virus and maybe help others by raising awareness.

I hoped that by sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of my experience I could —in a small way—serve my community.
I thought by sharing my specific experience, others might find something they could connect with.
My Facebook posts and now my blog were greeted with generous displays of love and caring. I’ve heard from many of you and your comments have given me strength and boosted my spirits. But more importantly, I’ve heard from several of you that my story made you stop and think about the virus and the safety of your loved ones.  For that and more, I thank you.
That’s the good.
The bad is the virus itself.
It’s dangerous.
It’s scary.
And it’s potentially lethal.
It’s important that we know that and respect that fact. It is not a flu and it is not a hoax.
It’s also not going away the day after the election.
I wish it would. But as we experience yet another surge in America and across a good swath of the world, it’s becoming apparent that we are up against a dangerous hydra that will alter our lives for the foreseeable future.
The ugly of this virus can be put into two buckets. The political aspect and the long lasting effects that some will experience.
The politics of this pandemic can be frustrating.
  I will probably be attacked for pointing out the seriousness of the virus because some believe that Covid is an overblown hoax. That’s OK, bring it.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion but not their own facts. I just don’t share those views. I trust in science. Not that science gets everything right, especially on its first pass, but eventually our best and brightest scientific minds figure things out.
The other bucket relates to the potential long haul of this disease.
For some, even when you recover, there are lingering issues to deal with.
When I decided to write about my experience I committed to telling the truth even if that truth is well…ugly.
So let me say that while I feel much, much better I’m still struggling.
My breathing is improving but still not quite back to normal. I remain very sore, my physical strength is returning but is vastly diminished and I suffer from horrible stabbing pains in my left leg and steady pain in my right arm.  I have daily headaches and have experienced Covid related hair loss.
All of that is bearable—even the leg. And it sure beats the alternative. I know I’m very fortunate.
But there’s an emotional aspect to this virus as well.
So here’s my confession—I’m a little off these days.
I get sad a few times a day.
It comes in waves triggered by stories I hear about people who have lost their lives during the pandemic or songs that just get to me. I get restless at night, have some trouble sleeping and feel anxious for no reason.
I’m really worried about my family and friends. I’m really worried about our community and the world itself.
I think about kids missing out on a normal social life and about senior citizens who are at risk and unable to enjoy their lives —cut off from grandchildren and others who enrich their lives.
I worry about small business owners and the unemployed and I think about the families of the more than one million people who have died worldwide in the pandemic.
I also worry about our medical workers, teachers, first responders and essential workers who fear for their health every time they leave for work.
I’ve been told that the flood of emotions I’m experiencing is to be expected.
Last week, I learned about a concept called “survivors guilt.”
Readers of this blog may remember the name Skip Brown.
Skip is a friend, a retired Delray police officer and a Vietnam veteran. I had the honor of pinning the Bronze Star he earned in combat to his chest a few years back. It was one of the great thrills of my life.
Skip has taught me a lot over the years and he explained the concept of survivors guilt, the idea that you feel pressure and question why you survived while others died.
We spoke on my way to a pulmonologist appointment I had last week. When I walked into the doctor’s office I was told of other patients who died and how lucky I was to have made it considering the violence of my pneumonia and the damage the virus did to my lungs.
Hearing the stories of those who didn’t make it, leveled me. It just leveled me.
It’s important that I share that because you may know someone who gets this virus and it’s important that we be there for them not just with medical care but with spiritual and emotional support as well.
I believe I was spared for a reason. I’m not sure why, but I’m searching for answers.
I’ve been wrestling with what to do with my second chance.
I’ve been told by people I love and respect that the answers will come and I believe they will.
I’m on a path and I have to trust.
So far, several people have come to my rescue. And I believe that there may be some divine intervention involved.
The call from Skip came at just the right time.
A call from Max Weinberg, yes that Max Weinberg, which inspired me and pointed me toward a book I need to read.
Two calls with friends who recommended psalms that are relevant to my experience.
A conversation at work about grace, healing, love and faith.
At the height of my illness, so many people sent messages of love and kindness.
I was overwhelmed; grateful for each and every message of hope. Thankful for every prayer.
I vowed then that I would share my story because I wanted to let people know not only about the virus, but about doctors and nurses, family and friends, prayer and hope, love and friendship.
I experienced the power of community in the midst of a period in our history where we are angry and estranged.
I feel compelled to tell you that love and community feels a lot better than anger and division.
I honestly don’t know what I will do with my second chance.
I’m going to trust in the path laid out for me.
So when the darkness washes over me, when the waves hit, I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to keep working. I’m going to keep breathing—for as long as I can.

Thankful…

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

It’s my favorite because it celebrates gratitude which for too many of us is an unsung concept.

I’ve learned that if we only focus on what’s wrong or what bothers us, we will never be happy. But if we focus on what we are thankful for in our lives we often realize that things aren’t as dire as they might seem in those stressful moments.

After losing my sister in law last month and seeing several friends and personal heroes of mine pass in October, I felt a sense of dread. What I was experiencing was much deeper than sadness, this was different, it was heavy and I felt exhausted.

Of course, you press on. You go to work. You call friends. You attend to social obligations and in my case you look after senior dogs and two demanding cockatiels, when all you want to do is crawl off and be alone.

During this period, I got a call from an acquaintance who reminded me of a simple concept and it lifted my mood instantly. It was Halloween time and he was feeling overwhelmed with commitments. The last thing he wanted to do was take his children trick or treating. But then he realized that if he changed one word he could change his mindset—almost instantaneously.

The advice was to trade the word “have” to “get.”

So instead of having to take his kids trick or treating, he gets to take his children around the neighborhood. And what a privilege that is.

For me, instead of ‘oh, boy I have to go home and feed, walk and medicate my dogs’, I get to do those things. My 17- year- old blind rescue Chihuahua is still happy and alive and cute as can be. And my beloved golden, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, is still wagging his tail and giving me more joy than I can express. I get to be take care of them. For that, I am thankful also beyond words.

Luckily, I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, including a great career, interesting business opportunities and challenges, a wonderful wife and children and terrific friends.
I’m also thankful for the heroes in the community that I get to write about on this blog and for all of you who read my ramblings and reach out via comments, texts, emails, social media etc. It means the world to me.

I can’t list all of the people that I am grateful for, which is a wonderful “problem” to have. But in a broad brush, I am truly thankful for all those who serve our community whether it’s their job or whether they volunteer.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton are the communities they are because of these people and those who create economic, educational and social opportunities for all of us.

So I am thankful for the disrupters, the entrepreneurs, the leaders, the philanthropists, the business owners, the investors, the educators, social workers, health care professionals and those who protect and serve us.

From the time I was a little boy growing up on the north shore of Long Island I have admired those who came before me—those who paved the way so that others could grow and succeed. My first hero was my grandfather, a Russian immigrant who sacrificed everything so that his children and grandchildren could come to America—the land of opportunity. The land of hopes and dreams. My grandfather Abraham  and my other grandparents overcame enormous hardships and challenges and escaped from those who would have killed them because of how they worshipped. They gave us a chance to succeed in a great country.

I suppose my DNA explains my issues with bullies and those who stand in the way or don’t care whether others succeed or have opportunities.

The “I’m in the boat pull up the ladder” group and the trolls that afflict every community are not my cup of Celsius (shameless plug for our fitness drink).

No, I much prefer those who unite to those who divide, those who encourage to those who criticize and those in the arena trying to make things better to those who sit on their couches and complain about everything.

I’ve seen good people attacked, ridiculed and lied about—but I am thankful they get up every day and keep pushing.

They and we get to serve and what a privilege that is. They and we don’t have to.

And for all those who try—who take a beating but keep on chugging along– I am grateful. You bring so much to so many.

Happy Thanksgiving.

See you after the holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

A House Divided

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”—Abraham Lincoln.

I was thinking of Lincoln last week as I watched news coverage of the historic House vote on impeachment.

As member after member rose and went on record for or against, we saw the stark and dark divisions in our country laid bare for all to see. Of course, it was nothing new. We see it every single day and have seen it for years.

And I thought of Lincoln. And whether our better angels have departed for good.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham reminds us that we have been through worse and have always come back and for sure we have. But I have this nagging feeling that somehow what we’re seeing is different.

And I thought of Lincoln.

I went to the Internet to re-read his “House Divided” speech. I hadn’t read it in decades, since I was in school.

The House Divided Speech was delivered on June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, after Lincoln had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate.

The speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the seat, held by Stephen A. Douglas; the campaign would climax with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

At the time, even Lincoln’s friends regarded his speech as too radical for the occasion.

But when you read it, you can’t help but feel that it is tame by today’s standards. The language is almost poetic, the writing is outstanding and while he argues passionately against slavery it is devoid of personal attacks. Instead it is full of ideas and optimism.

It concludes with the following line: “We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.”

It is vintage Lincoln, acknowledging the high stakes and the possibility of failure, but ultimately ending on an optimistic note.

I don’t see that optimism today. That belief that things are going to get better, that problems are going to be solved and divisions will be repaired.

Not on the international stage where a teenager chastises the world’s leaders for doing nothing to save the environment and not on the national stage where we see a constant barrage of attacks, lies and accusations. Even locally, we see a ton of negativity especially on social media which can be a cesspool.

In such a world, is there a place for our better angels to make a stand?
Are people willing to put the world, nation and their own community ahead of their tribe?

What will it take for good people to rise up and say enough is enough?
Do we sit idly by as standards and rules that seemed to work for so long get obliterated?

Or will we continue to bicker and watch the heat and anger rise and take us to ever more dangerous places?

It’s a fundamental choice to make, but the path to something better is not clear.

As a hyperlocal blog, I invite you to cruise some local Facebook pages and see what you find.

It seems like almost every post that has to do with local government attracts a large share of cynicism and snark.

Pebb Capital, a fine firm with a deep track record of success in real estate, ponies up a whopping $40 million to buy the Sundy House and the first comment you see is a cynical prediction that the historic structures will be bulldozed and the historic neighborhood trashed. Followed by comments such as “Delray is shot,” no longer charming or in the least appealing. Really? Is that true?

Should we be concerned about historic properties? Of course. But there doesn’t seem to be any trust in the process or in the officials responsible for enforcing the city’s codes and land development rules.

In reality, with Pebb Capital in town, we will actually see the long-awaited investment promised. We won’t ever see 10 story buildings downtown and if you want to see real traffic try navigating Glades Road after 4 p.m.

To be sure, there is plenty to be concerned about in Delray and I have written extensively on those topics. I will note that you only spend time on the things you care about. So when we see columns on instability at City Hall, poor leadership, a lack of long term thinking, incivility, the lack of talent attracted to public service and rising rents downtown it’s not coming from a nasty place but from a love of this community and a desire to see it thrive and be a happy place. I hope the other comments I referenced on Facebook come from that place too. Sometimes I have my doubts.

While fixing the national scene may be a bridge too far, we can always start at home.

Groups like WiseTribe offer a great template for building community.

Another suggestion is to go back to the old playbook.

Delray made significant strides beginning in the late 80s when the city began to offer a slew of ways for citizens to get engaged. From citizen police academies and resident academies to visioning charrettes and neighborhood dinners, there was a concerted effort to find, recruit and bring citizens to the public square so they could work together and building a better city.

It worked.

As important as those initiatives were, they may be even more important today. We cannot let social media be the only or even the primary way for citizens to engage. For sure, there is a place for Facebook. But it is a poor replacement for face to face meetings and social media does not provide a meaningful way to facilitate important conversations.

It’s hard to demonize someone sitting across a table from you, but very easy to do so on Facebook, especially since the platform allows for the use of fake identities.

Sometimes the old fashioned ways are best; face to face conversations still have a place in our hyper connected world. If we lose the ability to relate to our neighbors we will lose the common ground that builds community and with it our sense of belonging.

 

Mother To Son: A Poem for Libby Wesley

Ida Elizabeth Wesley

She was known by some as the “mother of Delray Beach.”

To others she was the founder of the Roots Cultural Festival, the namesake of a plaza on West Atlantic Avenue and a legendary retired educator who touched so many young lives.

To most people she was simply Libby.

To me, she was a guardian angel and I adored her.

Elizabeth Wesley passed away last week and I feel this loss deep in my bones.

It’s a big loss for Delray Beach because Libby was more than an icon, she was an inspiration, a visionary, a community leader and a role model.

She made her biggest impact on the youth of our community because she believed in them and that’s why her Roots Cultural Festival featured oratorical contests and other events that showcased the intellectual talents of local children. She was proud of her community and she wanted the world to see the potential that she saw in every child.

She was a big believer in education and was always teaching.

She was a big believer in community so she was always seeking ways to bring people together and strengthen Delray Beach.

Libby led with love, like all the great ones do.

Many people have their own Libby stories. And I’ve heard a few of them over the years. The common thread was that she made you feel special. Everyone felt special and loved in her presence. That’s what the great ones do, they move you and inspire you to do more, be more and love more.

Here’s my Libby story.

I got to know her when I was a reporter writing about the Roots Festival but our relationship deepened when I was elected to the city commission.

From the beginning of my term in 2000, Libby would speak of a “covenant” between city government and its citizens. I have to admit I wasn’t totally sure what she meant, but she asked the commission not to break the covenant and told us that we needed to work together to move the city forward. As a government, we shouldn’t move forward without considering the needs of the people. All of the people.

We met frequently and at every meeting I would learn something. Our meetings were often emotional—at least they were for me. I can’t say I experienced that with too many other people but something about Libby touched me very deeply. It was her depth of feeling. Her concern for others. Her insights. Her inherent goodness. It was also the way she spoke and the way she looked at you.

She was in a word: remarkable.

And I loved her very much. We all did.

I felt privileged to spend time with her. And I knew that with every meeting she would impart a lesson and I would be better for having listened.

She was close with so many of my friends—Bill Wood at the chamber of commerce, Lula Butler at the city, Joe Gillie at Old School Square.

She inspired all of us and our friends and children too.

For places to grow and for positive change to occur, they need to be shaped by people like Libby Wesley. Communities need people who are in it for the long haul and who lead with love.

We were so lucky that Libby came here from Defuniak Springs to lead and inspire us.

When I left office in 2007, Libby came to see me and she gave me the best gift ever.

It was a cassette tape of her reciting the Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son,” a hopeful poem about not giving up. She softly sang that poem to me two years earlier after a tragic shooting took the life of a young man. The shooting challenged our community in ways I can’t begin to describe. She held my hand during those trying times and told me it was going to be OK. I guess I looked uncertain, so she said it again and I believed her.

Two years later, as I left office she signed off on the tape by telling me that she loved me like a son and that yes I had kept the covenant.

“You know that you hold a special place in my heart,” she said in a follow up email that I looked at after she passed. “That is why you were chosen to be one of my “children by love.”

She had many, but I still feel so lucky to have been one of her children. Mrs. Wesley could have had a million sons and it still would have been special.

What a gift she gave to me.

What a gift she was to Delray Beach.

Here’s the poem.

It’s beautiful.

So was Elizabeth Wesley.

Mother to Son

BY Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—

Bare.

But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Many Soulful Miles

Yulia at Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park.

“Never underestimate your dreams. If there is a will, there is a way to get anything you want in life.” –Yulia

 

Did you ever want to chuck it all?
Start fresh.

Pick up and go.

Are you intrigued by adventure?

Do you admire the risk takers, the ‘go for it’ segment of our society who just seem to know how to live, really live?

I think it’s a feeling many if not most of us have experienced and while we may fantasize or even dip our toes into something different, the ties that bind tend to keep us in our place.

Not so for my friend Yulia Konovnitsyna.

She’s on a grand adventure as I write this. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Because an adventure implies a beginning, a middle and an end. My friend Yulia has changed her life and has adopted a new way of living.  I’m living vicariously through her travels with her dog Milo across our great country.

I’m having a great time doing so. Even if sometimes her posts stir a longing deep in my soul for change and transformation.

The Grand Tetons, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park and many, many stops along the way.

Yulia shares her photos and thoughts on social media—and they are sensational. She is a digital marketing entrepreneur and somehow she is managing to grow her business, serve her clients and live a life of adventure.

She’s sharing under the name “Many Soulful Miles” and I find that moniker fitting. Yulia is a soulful person and very much an old soul.

While she’s young in age, she positively oozes wisdom.

I started to hear about her a few years back through my friend Karen Granger, then the president of the Delray Chamber of Commerce.
“You’ve got to meet Yulia,” Karen would gush. “She’s amazing.”
Knowing Karen’s keen sense of people and her ability to spot talent I was intrigued.

So Yulia and I met at The Coffee District and I was very impressed.

My three passions are community, entrepreneurship and leadership—and Yulia ticked all three boxes. She was building a community through Creative Mornings Palm Beach,  she was clearly a leader of that movement and she was an entrepreneur with an inspiring immigration story.

We became friends. She asked me to speak to Creative Mornings (which was an honor and a thrill) and I was happy when she announced that she was hitting the road with her adorable dog Milo.

I look forward to her posts—the photos and videos are magnificent. But it’s the occasional long form posts that I relish. Her thoughts on travel, on work, solitude, narcissism, friendship, self-reliance and the beauty of the places she visits are just wonderful. Soulful too…and we all need a little more soul these days.

As I stare down my 55th birthday in a few weeks, chances are I will never quite replicate what Yulia is doing but who knows? Maybe, just maybe Diane and I will steal away with our rescue dogs for an adventure. But right now, it’s August and I’m still trying to plan a vacation.

I have a strong hunch that this is more than an adventure for Yulia. She may have found a way to live her best life, yet another reason to admire her.

Who knows where the road will lead? Nobody really does. But if you make them soulful miles, well then maybe, just maybe you’ll discover the answers to a lot of life’s mysteries.