ALCEE UNPLUGGED

An experienced Florida journalist speaks to a reflective Alcee L. Hastings as he soaks up love from ‘his people,’ – the deep extended family-like network of Black Floridians who love and support him unconditionally.

Alcee L. Hastings
PHOTO BY ALAN LUBY FOR THE FLORIDA COURIER
The elder statesman of the Florida congressional delegation, U.S. Representative Alcee Lamar Hastings of the 20th Congressional District, shares a juicy secret with longtime friend Everee Jimerson Clarke.

Many experienced Black attorneys in Florida can tell you the impact Alcee Lamar Hastings has had on their lives as a living, fighting example of a sharptongued trial lawyer; or as mentor, fraternity brother (he’s a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi), or friend.

Though I’m a journalist rather than an attorney, count me in as one of the many whose lives “Alcee” – as he has always been known to the legions of Black Floridians who have passionately loved and supported him over the years – has positively impacted.

My “Alcee moment”

In the 1980s, I was a young budding writer and wannabe broadcaster living in Fort Lauderdale. In 1988, the owner of WRBD-AM, a Black-owned and formatted radio station there, tapped me to take over a live call-in radio show from a very popular community leader.

My first show, he said, would be to interview then-Judge Hastings, who was in the midst of congressional impeachment hearings. He gave me no instructions as to how to get the judge on the air, but that’s who he wanted.

I didn’t stop, wouldn’t stop, till I made it happen. (How I did it is a trade secret.) Then I contacted the so-called “mainstream” press and informed them that Judge Hastings was going to give his side of the story on the hearings over the airwaves of a local Black-owned AM radio station.

At 5 p.m. on a Sunday, it was showtime. Media from all over South Florida descended upon our radio studios, and listeners from everywhere called in to support the judge. My debut call-in talk show was a huge hit.

From that moment I was permanently propelled into the role of host of the live, call-in talk show called “The Voice of the People,” which became a staple in South Florida.

Father’s Day 2019

As the congressman sat in a West Palm Beach hotel foyer while waiting to receive a Father of the Year award from a local group, I was able to share that story with him and his son Jody. They were both elated to hear it and it brought joy and laughter to them both.

I was pleased to bring a smile to his face at a time when a moment of laughter could mean so much. “Thanks,” I said, “for launching me to another whole level in my broadcast journalism career! It gave me a voice in the community.”

And that’s when our most recent conversation started.

Why he came

“Daphne, I’ve gotten many awards and honors, but I’ve never gotten one for Father of the Year, so that’s why I’m here,” quipped the congressman when asked why it was important to be to this event despite the serious illness he made public six months prior.

So on Father’s Day at the Marriott City Place Hotel in West Palm Beach, he accepted the prestigious award from his longtime pal,  92-year old Everee Jimerson Clarke, on behalf of her organization, the Pleasant City Family Reunion Committee, Inc. Clarke has been honoring outstanding men in and around South Florida for 18 years and now it was Congressman Hastings’ turn.

‘Loved and respected’

“It is indeed a pleasure to have our distinguished guest here tonight, He’s someone I’ve loved and respected for years,” said Clarke, a former model and beauty queen who owned a charm school where she hosted many beauty pageants and taught modeling, poise and etiquette to many young ladies in earlier years.

She and Hastings shared many tender moments on stage reminiscing and sharing pleasantries throughout the evening. He couldn’t help but quip about the name “Pleasant City.”

“I love the name,” he said, referring to the section of town in West Palm Beach where Clarke and so many other Blacks lived during segregation.

Pleasant City is home to many great success stories in the Palm Beaches, and today remains a predominantly Black town and the center of distribution of Clarke’s newsletter which she has published for decades.

Would he really come?

Her decision to honor Hastings at this time posed an interesting dynamic; not many tickets were sold to the otherwise impressive affair honoring Hastings.  It was probably in part because many assumed he wouldn’t actually be there, considering the seriousness of his recently disclosed illness. But as Hastings said earlier, he wouldn’t have missed such an honor.

In typical fashion, Hastings saw the bigger picture of the honor and seized the opportunity to talk about Black fathers. One might have expected the statesman to use his voice to whip Black men into place with his platform – as former President Barack Obama frequently did – considering the broader popular opinion about Black men and the children they father.

But for the most part, Alcee didn’t. Instead, we witnessed a softer side of the congressman as he shared a sentiment that Black men could appreciate.

Above and beyond

“It’s humbling to represent so many dads,” said the father of three as he sat next to Jody. “It’s a good thing this organization is doing because we couldn’t need fathers more. And to salute men in this community is excellent.”

He went on to explain that so many Black men have gone above and beyond their calling as biological dads, and have found the wherewithal to father other kids in the community.  

“We have school teachers who are fathers to their students; we have men in recreation who father underprivileged children in the community; we have coaches who become fathers to their ballplayers; we have clergy who father countless kids in their congregations. You find fathers who find the time to spend with countless children in the community,” he pointed out.

Loved and supported

Hastings himself has been beloved by children of all ages, as demonstrated during some of the most troublesome moments of his longstanding career. Schoolchildren holding signs of support could be seen on the evening news dating all the way back to the 1980s when he faced impeachment as a judge on bribery charges. Over the years, the children in his district have loved the man who also loved them.

But he pointed out that young men under 25 must do better-taking care of the children they father. “We do have a problem there,” he stressed. “We didn’t always have that problem.”

While also at the podium, the congressman opined over the state of the nation.

Time to go “These are extremely difficult times in this nation,” he indicated. And while he never mentioned President Donald Trump by name, he made it clear that Trump must be voted out of office.

Hastings continued to speak about the political arena.  

“And yes, I did read the Mueller Report…..which means I don’t really have a life! But I can’t understand how so many of my colleagues didn’t find the time to read the report.”

With that said, Hastings offered no opinion on the content of the report or whether the president should be impeached. Instead, he closed his speech with words that signified the harsh reality of the current moment.

“I’m fighting another battle right now – a battle with cancer.”


Next week – The fight of Alcee Hastings’ life is now underway.

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